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According to some science experts, astronomy may be the most important field of study for human beings. Having mostly explored Earth, astronomers busily search the next frontiers of discovery and understanding: space. But while everyone may enjoy gazing up at the night sky in wonder, only a few very talented individuals go on to become astronomers. Astronomy jobs are often research or education based, and can give astronomers ample time to devote to their particular area of interest.
There are several different ways to classify astronomers. Observation-based astronomy uses real data to draw conclusions or gain insight about what has been observed. Theoretical astronomers rely on physics and new technology to create theories about how the universe functions. Other classifications depend on the specialty of the astronomer, or what type of equipment they use. Astronomy jobs can vary by the classification and experience of the scientist, but most tend to involve research or teaching.
Astronomy jobs in the educational world can be great for those who seek to perpetuate a fascination with space. Often available at colleges and universities, astronomy teachers can greatly influence and inform young minds. Many astronomy jobs in the educational system also involve mentoring young astronomers and helping them discover their own passion and potential in the scientific world. By furthering interest in the science, astronomy jobs that focus on teaching are a vital means of keeping the study of space alive.
By nature, most astronomy jobs feature a large amount of research. After achieving requisite degrees in science, many new astronomy professionals spend time obtaining grants and fellowships to do specific research. These short term projects allow the astronomer to publish research findings and make a name for him or herself in the scientific world.
Because the science is largely theoretical, very few tangible results have been discovered as a result of astronomical study. Unfortunately, this means that careers in the business world are difficult to find for many astronomers. For astronomers with engineering or building skills, obtaining work at a defense contracting firm or instrument facility may be a great option that allows them to utilize both sets of skills.
Many astronomy jobs are also found with government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). By working with a government-funded project, astronomers have the opportunity to assist with missions to space. By advancing the technology and capabilities of government space programs, astronomers are able to greatly increase human knowledge of space, as well as captivate new generations of minds by continuing to send rockets to the sky.
@Soulfox -- that may be the very reason NASA has often looked at ways of getting more private funding. If some of the astronomical discoveries and scientific advancements NASA finds are worth investing in and developing, the Agency will find investors.
As for universities, you will find some astronomy departments with endowed chairs because private investors believe the work going on in those departments is important. Let's hope that state of affairs continues so that astronomy departments will rely less on the government and more on a mix of funding sources.
What is truly depressing is that astronomy classes are often among the first on the chopping block when universities look to cut budgets due to funding cuts, recessions and for other reasons. Heck, it is often a challenge for NASA to secure funding as its missions are considered necessary only by the occasional president.
If astronomy is, indeed, the most important field of study for human beings, we have a strange way of showing it.
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