"The best thing about a career in astronomy is that there’s never any danger of getting bored or of running out of things to work on." PROFESSOR BRYAN GAENSLER, DIRECTOR OF THE ARC CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE FOR ALL-SKY ASTROPHYSICS
Discovering how stars change as they age, unravelling how the universe began and is evolving, and investigating black holes are just some of the amazing topics astronomers tackle in their jobs. Probing our universe and revealing its fundamental features is a key area of scientific research - and it’s remarkable how much is yet to be understood.
Australia has a strong astronomy industry, with astronomers working at observatories, universities, research organisations such as the CSIRO, and museums. Australian astronomers produce internationally acclaimed research and run world class facilities.
The future of astronomy in Australia is exciting, with our nation being one of two finalist countries being chosen to host the Square Kilometre Array – a multi-billion dollar facility that will be the most powerful telescope ever built. Many Australian astronomers are eminent leaders in the field, including Brian Schmidt who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011 for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.
"The best thing about a career in astronomy is that there’s never any danger of getting bored or of running out of things to work on. What we know about the Universe is completely dwarfed by all the things we don’t know. When I wake up each morning, I can never predict what surprising new thing I might discover that day," says Professor Bryan Gaensler, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) and based in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney.
"Australia has a very healthy and rapidly growing astronomy community, which has established itself as one of the world leaders in the field. Our particular strengths are both in traditional optical astronomy and in radio astronomy," says Professor Gaensler.
"Some of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world are in NSW and in WA, while our astronomers are world-renowned for their innovation and technical brilliance in building cutting-edge cameras and other instrumentation for the world’s biggest optical telescopes around the globe."
Most astronomers have science degrees with a major in physics or specifically in astronomy. Graduates with computer science, mathematics and engineering majors are also employed in the astronomy industry.
"There are lots of exciting developments in astronomy in Australia. In optical astronomy, a new telescope called SkyMapper, based near Coonabarabran, is about to begin taking data. SkyMapper will provide a spectacular new way of looking at the sky by covering huge swathes of space in just a few minutes, allowing us to discover rare and dramatic events that have not previously been known about," says Professor Gaensler.
Australia is also a 10 per cent partner in the Giant Magellan Telescope – a project to build an enormous new observatory in Chile, to begin taking data in 2018.
"In radio astronomy, we’re hoping the Square Kilometre Array will be built in outback Western Australia and Australian astronomers have already built some cutting-edge prototype telescopes on that site to demonstrate the superb ‘radio quietness’ of this part of the country and to showcase our technical innovation. The Square Kilometre Array will answer fundamental questions about dark matter, dark energy and the origin of life."
A rapidly growing new area in Australian astronomy is supercomputing. Astronomers are now turning on some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, designed to perform massive simulations of the entire Universe, and to process unprecedented amounts of data from new telescopes.
'Space and Astronomy' is one of three priorities identified in the Australian Government’s Super Science Initiative - the others being 'Marine and Climate' and 'Future Industries' – indicating the importance of astronomy in Australia.
- Australia has invested more than $400 million in the last few years in both innovative wide-field telescopes and the powerful computers needed to process the resulting torrents of data.
- 16 professional observatories are run in Australia, which host numerous telescopes.
Starting salary: $65,000 +
Source: University HR Classification, Graduate Careers Australia
Consider enrolling in one of the following courses and majors to prepare yourself for a career in the Astronomy industry.