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Difference Between Astronomers & Astrophysicists

Astronomers and astrophysicists are scientific researchers. There are a number of areas they can specialize in and the key differences between these professionals are the emphasis and purpose of their work.

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Comparing Astronomers to Astrophysicists

The professional contributions of astronomers and astrophysicists are similar, yet distinct. Astronomers tend to concentrate on studying specific things in the universe, such as a planet. Astrophysicists are more focused on how the universe originated and how it has evolved, and may also perform studies to identify habitable planets.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)**
Astronomers Doctoral Degree $97,583 3%
Astrophysicists Doctoral Degree $81,165 8% (for physicists)

Sources: *PayScale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Astronomers vs. Astrophysicists

There is a lot of common ground between the work that astronomers and astrophysicists can do. They may develop theories, perform observations and research and then document their findings. The focus of their work may also be similar. Astronomers operate things like telescopes or use computer programs or radio telescopes to gather data. A practical application of their work is providing detailed information about other planets. While astrophysicists may concentrate more on research, their work can be used to help locate things like black holes.

Astronomers

A Ph.D. in astronomy is required to become an astronomer and to be eligible to advance to roles in management. Postsecondary academic institutions employ the highest percentage of astronomers, while others work for the government or research companies. Astronomers focus on outer space and what it contains, such as planets. They use telescopes and/or computers to explore space and it's common for them to work at night so that they can have a better view of the universe. They may specialize in specific fields, such as cosmology or galactic astronomy.

Job responsibilities of an astronomer include:

  • Creating a theory
  • Determining what to study to prove or disprove their theory
  • Conducting research
  • Applying for funding for their research
  • Presenting their research to others
  • Maintaining detailed accounts of their work

Astrophysicists

Astrophysicists are physicists who specialize in understanding the universe. Most positions in this field require applicants to have a doctoral degree, and a Ph.D. is also necessary to pursue management opportunities. Astrophysicists may work in scientific research or be employed by colleges, universities or the government. They concentrate on trying to answer questions about things such as the origins of the universe and whether there is life on other planets. Astrophysicists benefit from having good observation skills and the ability to focus for long periods of time.

Job responsibilities of an astrophysicist include:

  • Observing planets and other things in the universe
  • Conducting research on specific regions of space
  • Performing calculations
  • Documenting their work
  • Developing conclusions from their research
  • Writing about their research

Related Careers

Since the work that astronomers and astrophysicists do is very similar, those who are interested in these careers may be interested in some of the same career alternatives. One option is to be an aerospace engineer, because they focus on building things that can operate in outer space and be used for research. Another option is to focus on studying the planet we live on and pursuing a career as a geoscientist.

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