Difference Between Astronomer & Cosmologist

This article can help you better understand the similarities, differences, and primary responsibilities of astronomers and cosmologists, which are two scientific careers dedicated to the study of space and the universe. Read on for more information about these interesting careers.

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Comparing Astronomers to Cosmologists

Astronomers and cosmologists are scientists who study space in an attempt to better understand the universe. Though cosmology is a branch of astronomy and both of these careers require an interest in solving difficult problems, cosmologists often focus their study on the future, origins and evolution of our universe, along with its galaxies. The following article will outline some of the key similarities and other differences between astronomers and cosmologists.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Astronomer Doctoral degree $104,740 3%
Cosmologist Doctoral degree $114,870 (for all physicists and astronomers) 7% (for all physicists and astronomers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Astronomers vs. Cosmologists

Astronomers and cosmologists are both concerned with developing theories about the way the universe works. Though they share a desire to improve our understanding of space and can often be found working in the same places, the focus of their research is very different. Astronomers are primarily interested in celestial bodies, like planets, stars, and galaxies, and use equipment like telescopes and complex computer systems to observe and record data. Cosmologists, on the other hand, study theoretical concepts about the universe as a whole, including the Big Bang theory and particle physics; they use data collected by satellites and other spacecraft to test these theories.


Astronomers are scientists who study space. Because space is so vast, there are many different subcategories in the field of astronomy; many astronomers choose to focus their research in a particular area, such as solar astronomy, radio astronomy, or planetary astronomy. The majority of astronomers can be found working in colleges and universities, teaching courses and conducting research. Many astronomers are also employed by the federal government, particularly at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Defense. While most astronomers spend a significant amount of time working in offices, laboratories, or classrooms, some travel frequently to present at conferences or contribute to international research projects.

Job responsibilities of an astronomer include:

  • Using scientific instruments to measure energy output from extraterrestrial and celestial bodies
  • Developing new instruments, equipment, and software to observe and analyze data
  • Contributing to professional journals, research papers, and other publications
  • Fundraising to support continuing research efforts
  • Creating programs of study for college-level astronomy courses and providing instruction to students


Cosmologists work to learn more about the origins, age, and evolution of the universe as a whole. They are typically concerned with broad theories like string theory, dark energy, and multiverse theory. Modern cosmologists use data collected by satellites and telescopes to map and measure things like the estimated age of the universe and its rate of expansion. The vast majority of cosmologists work in academia, usually under the supervision of the department of physics or astronomy at major colleges and universities. They act not only as professors of cosmology, but also conduct their own research or work as part of a team to test and refine theories.

Job responsibilities of a cosmologist include:

  • Collaborating with mathematicians, computer scientists, and other cosmologists to conduct research
  • Developing and implementing new approaches to existing cosmologic theory
  • Supervising the work of undergraduate and graduate students, both in the classroom and in a research setting
  • Preparing and delivering presentations at national and international conferences

Related Careers

If a career as an astronomer interests you, you might also consider becoming an aerospace engineer who designs many of the spacecraft and satellites astronomers use in their research. If you find a career as a cosmologist interesting, you may wish to learn more about a career as a computational biologist, which is a scientist who applies theoretical concepts to better understand biological systems.

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