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How Much Do Astrophysicists Make?

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Star-Struck Scientists Look for Answers in the Universe

Were you the kid who loved staring at the night sky? Fascination with the universe, along with strong skills in math and physical science, could open the door to a career as an astrophysicist. The average annual salary for an astrophysicist is $87,621. Most astrophysicists work full-time, but regular hours for most jobs mean you can achieve a good balance between work and family life.

Job Description

Astrophysicists seek answers to the big questions: What is the nature of the universe, and how did it begin? They use highly sophisticated equipment, including telescopes, radar and infrared-imaging devices, to collect data about the stars, planets and other astronomical phenomena. They develop hypotheses to explain the universe, conduct research and write reports to detail their findings. Some astrophysicists work in education, teaching advanced high school students or at the university level.

Education Requirements

A career in astrophysics requires a master’s degree at minimum, which generally means two years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree. Very few undergraduate programs in astrophysics exist, so students planning to enter the field usually major in mathematics, physics or computer science. Admissions to graduate programs are competitive, as is the job market, so it’s important to maintain a high grade point average and take as many advanced math and science classes as possible. It may also be helpful to join a local astronomy club to meet people in the field, participate in related events, and learn about possible internship and job opportunities.

Most astrophysicists hold a doctorate, which can take three years or more to earn after the master’s degree. Doctoral students take advanced coursework in astronomy, computer sciences, math, physics and statistics. A doctoral candidate must conduct original research and write a dissertation.

About the Industry

Astrophysicists typically work in offices and laboratories, and, believe it or not, they typically hold regular business hours. Much of the data they need is collected via technology rather than through observation of the night sky with the naked eye. Some astrophysicists travel to access special equipment or go to remote locations.

Astrophysicists work for government agencies such as NASA, the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. They work for private companies, some of which have contracts with the government to advance space research. Astrophysicists may teach and conduct research at colleges, universities and planetariums.

Years of Experience

Salaries for astrophysicists vary due a variety of factors, including job title, geographic location and years of experience. Here are some averages to expect, depending where you are in your career:

  • Entry-level: $79,980
  • Mid-career: $92,020
  • Experienced: $100,620
  • Late career: $105,780

Job Growth Trend

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects information on jobs in the space industry as a whole, so job projections specifically for astrophysicists are not available. The Bureau expects that there will be about 8,600 job openings between now and 2024 for astronomers, atmospheric and space scientists, and physicists. Relocation may be required for the job you want, as employment opportunities are generally concentrated in areas surrounding research centers and industry hubs.