Astronomy is the study of observable and theoretical objects beyond the reach of earth’s atmosphere. This includes planets, moons, solar systems, stars and galaxies. An astronomy degree educates students on the observation of space, time, processes, and physical concepts. The degree will cover research techniques used in astronomy. Cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole, and is closely related to astronomy.
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Types of Degree
A degree in astronomy is awarded as a Bachelor of Science degree (BSc Hons). However, students can study a four year degree, awarded as a MPhys (Master of Physics). This degree comprises of three years at undergrad level, with an integrated Masters degree.
Astronomy is often studied as a physics degree with astronomy. This allows for students to develop their knowledge of physics whilst specialising in astronomy.
A full time degree will take three years of full time study to complete. Some courses will offer a wide range of opportunities throughout. Increasing the duration of the course to four years for a placement is common. Studying abroad for a year in a foreign country is another possibility.
Those enrolled on astronomy courses can expect research led teaching. This will take the form of lectures and tutorials. Students will undertake various laboratory training due to the practical nature of the industry. Students will work in small groups and attend problem solving workshops. You will also need to demonstrate how to transfer knowledge into practice.
Assessment is through a variety of:
- written exams,
- laboratory practical exams
- research projects.
Depending where you choose to study, you will undertake a range of core and optional modules. The first year of study will focus on physics with an introduction to astronomy. The second year places an emphasis on theory and practice, equipping you with the skills for year three. The final year of study allows you to specialise in your preferred area of astronomy. This allows you to further increase your career prospects in this area.
Some popular modules include:
The Structure of Stars. Throughout this module you will study the physics behind star formation. Understanding the evolution of stars with various masses will be a main part of your studies. Your knowledge will be enhanced on stellar structure and evolution.
Mathematics for Physics and Astronomy. As maths features throughout physics and astronomy, students must study mathematics for physics. This will be in the first year of study for most courses. This will provide a solid foundation of knowledge to analyse physical and astronomical behaviour.
Cosmology: Normally studied in the third year of study. You will be exposed to cosmology through the basic concepts of the Big Bang Theory of the Universe. You will develop awareness of the contemporary controversies in cosmology, alongside studying the formation and evolution of galaxies.
Other example modules offered include:
- experimental physics
- computing for physical science
- quantum mechanics
- structure of galaxies
- atomic and nuclear physics
- the stars and their planet's
- thermal physics
- observing the universe
- synoptic astrophysics
Entry can be competitive with 10 institutions offering astronomy across the country. Typically, you will require the following grades at A Level to apply:
- A Level Grades: A*AA – BBB
- UCAS Points: 152 - 120
You will need to have studied maths and physics at A Level. It would also be useful to have studied chemistry and further maths.
Astronomy will require good knowledge of these subjects. General Studies and Critical Thinking will count as one of your three A Levels.
For specific information regarding entry requirements you should contact your chosen uni.
As astronomy focuses greatly on physics, the career prospects are high for astronomy graduates. This will allow roles in both a relevant industry of work and a diverse range of areas. Career prospects improve with the completion of a placement year in the industry. Most placement employers offer students full time jobs upon completion of their degree.
Some common job roles for astronomy graduates include:
Astronomer: Upon graduation it is possible for students to pursue a career as an astronomer. A career as an astronomer can vary greatly. Some job roles will focus on research of the universe, whilst others spend their time planning and supporting space missions. An obvious place of work for an astronomer would be at NASA in the United States. However, working for such a large government agency may require a postgraduate degree.
Theoretical Astrophysicist: A theoretical astrophysicist examines the physical makeup of the universe. As well as researching the phases that planets and stars go through over time. The post is highly research led with most of the findings being presented in a written report format. Occasional verbal presentations being necessary. To become a more advanced theoretical astrophysicist a PhD in Astrophysics may be required.
Other job roles that are well suited to astronomy graduates include:
- observational astrophysicist
- astronomy lecturer
- physics teacher
Last year, 87% of graduates of physics related subjects were in full time employment or further study. With an average salary of £21,500.