Astronomer

Research and Development

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Astronomers apply the principles of physics and mathematics to learn more about the universe. They gather data on the characteristics of planets, moons, stars and other objects using telescopes and computer programs. Astronomers usually specialize in certain types of celestial bodies or events, such Future Growth Very Strong as black holes. Typical duties include developing and testing scientific theories, analyzing data and writing research proposals. They also spend time composing scientific papers and presenting their findings to others in the field. (Source: Study)

Knowledge, skills and attributes

Astronomers help people understand the mysteries of the universe. They come up with theories of how stars are born and how the universe evolves, and they conduct research to collect data for analysis. They use telescopes and scientific instruments to study planetary phenomena and measure light, radio and X-ray emissions from space. There’s plenty of work with the public, too. Some astronomers run planetariums, putting together public presentations or discussing findings at science conferences. Raising money for research is part of the job as well.

Astronomers need specific skills for the job. Because the field blends physics and chemistry, astronomers need to know how to use scientific methods, such as observation and measurement, to answer research questions. To solve problems, astronomers need thinking skills, including logic, reason and judgment. Computer skills help them analyze large data sets or make complex calculations. Also, communications skills are invaluable. Astronomers write papers, reports and lecture notes that are technical, but easy to understand for students, the public and other astronomers. Public-speaking skills enable astronomers to present findings to peers.

Duties and Tasks

  • Develops analytical methodologies and techniques to investigate the structure and properties of matter, the relationships between matter and energy, and other physical phenomena.

  • Tests the reliability of these methodologies and techniques by performing tests and experiments under various conditions.

  • Prepares scientific papers and reports, or supervises their preparation.

  • Supervises and co-ordinates the work of technicians and technologists.

 

 

Telescope
(Source: ingimage - purchased)

Working Conditions

Most astronomers work within a team of scientists. They usually work full time, although research may also be conducted at night when some objects are more visible. Astronomers primarily work in offices. At times, they might be required to work in observatories or to travel internationally to facilities with specialized equipment. They may also travel when presenting research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), colleges and universities employed the majority of astronomers in 2015, while others worked for the federal government or in private research and development departments. (Source: Study)


Educational Requirements


Most astronomy positions require a Ph.D. in the field of astronomy, which usually takes 5-7 years to complete. These programs are likely to contain courses in astrophysics, stellar and planetary physics, galaxies, cosmology, interstellar medium and optics. Mathematics and computer science are also emphasized.

After completing a Ph.D. program, aspiring astronomers often enter one or more postdoctoral research positions, which can take roughly 2-3 years to complete. They typically work under senior astronomers before taking on more complex projects. Astronomers who are employed by the federal government may need to obtain proper security clearance. (Source: Study)

Did You Know?

Satellite disk
(Source: ingimage - purchased)

On July 21st 1969, the world gathered around TV sets and collectively held their breath as Neil Armstrong declared his famous words, "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind," and set foot on the lunar surface for the first time.

It's a moment in history that's etched in the memories of people who saw it.

It has since transcended the decades to still be a defining moment in the world's modern history.

On that cold, squally day in central west NSW, the Parkes Radio Telescope, 'the Dish', played an integral role in getting the television pictures of man first walking on the moon to the world.

To cover the landing, NASA was set to use a telescope at Goldstone in California as the main receiver, with Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra set to be backups.

The Parkes Telescope was chosen due to its size (being 64m in diameter, it had seven times the sensitivity for collecting signals).

"NASA wanted to have three stations equally spaced, so as the Earth rotated, they could have continuous coverage," says John Sarkissian, an Operations Scientist for the CSIRO based at the Dish.

"The Parkes Radio Telescope was recognised as a world leader in radio astronomy. Within the [astronomy] community, everybody knew that they were the go-to country."

On the day, the Dish had to overcome a number of significant hurdles in order to play the critical role that it did.

"The conditions at the time here were terrible," says John.

"Just moments before the moonwalk began a violent wind squall hit the telescope. The Dish was fully tipped-over at its most vulnerable when it was hit by two gusts exceeding 110km/h, and that actually made the telescope slam back against its zenith axis pinions causing the tower to shudder and sway.

"John Bolton, the Director of the observatory at the time, ordered his men to stay on the Dish, and just as Buzz Aldrin switched on the TV cameras, the winds abated and they received the signals.

"The astronauts may very well have been on the Sea of Tranquillity on the moon, but it was most definitely the ocean of storms here at Parkes at the time.
"

The Dish
(Source: National Portrait Gallery)

For the first eight minutes of the broadcast NASA switched between the pictures that were being received by Parkes, Honeysuckle Creek and Goldstone, before finally settling on using Parkes' signal for the rest of the two-and-a-half hour moonwalk.

The other significant challenge faced by the Parkes team involved the timing of the moon rise above NSW and the start of the moonwalk.

Due to a change in the mission schedule, the moonwalk was to begin later than originally planned at 4.20pm AEST, meaning Parkes was to become the primary receiving station as the moon would've set in the USA.

But Neil Armstrong decided to begin the moonwalk earlier, meaning the moon hadn't yet risen above Parkes.

Just before 1pm the Parkes scientists thought of a solution to still be able to cover the landing.

"John Bolton realised that if they positioned the [second, weaker] receiver just right, they could actually pick up the signal," says John.

"Just as Buzz Aldrin switched on the TV camera, they were able to pick up the signal.

"What started off with Parkes perhaps not getting any pictures, ended up with them getting the entire picture and the majority that the world saw. And all this happened during a wind squall."

John says he's proud to work at the Dish and be surrounded by its rich history.

"It was a great moment in the history of the Parkes Telescope. We allowed the world to witness that remarkable event with the greatest possible clarity, and at the time, the rest of the world had no idea what the conditions were like here.

"When Armstrong said, 'It's a giant leap for mankind,' he meant it, and the world understood it as that," he says.

"It really is something that Australians should be proud of."

(Source: ABC News)

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