Astronomy and Astrophysics
The study of the universe and all the stuff—and non-stuff (what?)—in it.
For millennia, humans and turkeys alike have been staring up at the sky, pondering life, where we all came from, and occasionally drowning in the rain. Occasionally.
Turkey astronomers aside, astronomy has captivated some of the best and most brilliant minds throughout history: Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and even (Sir) Isaac Newton. Their discoveries have helped all us regular-minded folk anchor the earth in its place in the universe.
We now know that the sun is the center of our solar system, our solar system is in the Milky Way galaxy, and the Milky Way is one of the billions of galaxies in our universe. Some astrophysicists even consider the possibility of multiple universes, if you can fathom it.
We certainly can't, but we aren't astronomers.
Astronomy and astrophysics, while prominent in pop culture, is actually a fairly small field. There are only about 6,000 professional astronomers in North America, which allows for a lot collaboration, research, and dialogue on a global scale. The bad news: it's also pretty competitive. Quality education is paramount, and advanced degrees are a requirement for any position in research or academia. Get ready to be in school for a long while.
Your inner science nerd may be saying "yay" but your wallet will be singing a different tune.
The good news is that astronomy and astrophysics majors pick up quite a few marketable job skills, including analytical thinking, problem-solving techniques, a solid foundation in STEM subjects, and the ability to handle technical scientific equipment. This can lead to a wide variety of careers from academic and government research to computer programming and engineering.
You might even have an interest in science fiction or fantasy writing, but also want to immerse yourself completely in scientific fact and theory. Behind every important scientific discovery is genuine curiosity and passion. Without it, we'd still be worried about falling off the edge of the earth. Ouch.
Famous People who majored in Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Neil deGrasse Tyson, of The Cosmos
- Carl Sagan, famous astronomer and researcher of extraterrestrial life
- Stephen Hawking, the robo-voiced genius
- Rajesh Koothrappali, character from The Big Bang Theory
- Edwin Hubble (of that telescope, yes)
Percentage of US students who major in Astronomy and Astrophysics:
Stats obtained from this source.