How much time do astronomers spend looking through telescopes? (Beginner)

I'd love to have a job looking through a telescope all night, every night. Isn't that what astronomers do?

Nowadays, the bulk of the work astronomers do is on computers. They spend a small portion of their time at telescopes actually taking data. Astronomically-useful telescopes rarely have eyepieces you can look through. Radio, ultraviolet, or infrared telescopes collect light that you can't even see with your eye! Telescopes that collect visible light often have electronic cameras called CCD cameras that create an image in a computer. Many telescopes are used to create a spectrum (the light is split into a rainbow, and the brightness of each color is measured). Radio telescopes record signals that astronomers can reconstruct using a computer to make an image or a spectrum.

Astronomers spend weeks or months or years analyzing their data using computers. They also do calculations that help them understand what they're seeing, and then write papers about their results to share what they've found with other astronomers. Some astronomers never even make observations. They just work along with observational astronomers to make theoretical computer models. On the other hand, some astronomers work at observatories, making observations for other astronomers or helping visiting astronomers use the equipment.

This page was last updated June 28, 2015.

About the Author

Britt Scharringhausen

Britt studies the rings of Saturn. She got her PhD from Cornell in 2006 and is now a Professor at Beloit College in Wisconson.

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