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What are the different kinds of astronomers?

What are the different kinds of astronomers and what do they do?

There are a couple different ways to classify astronomy jobs. The simplest is "observationalist" or "theorist". Observationalists take data with telescopes or spacecraft and then explain what it means. Theorists use physics to make computer models or simulations of things in the universe. However, many times this isn't a clear distinction since observationalists use physics theories to explain their data, and theorist models have to match observations.

Another way to classify astronomers is by subject specialty. For example, I'm a planetary scientist; I study planets and moons. Other astronomers include stellar astronomers (study stars), solar astronomers (the sun), galactic astronomers (study the galaxy), extragalactic astronomers (who study all different galaxies and the structure of the universe) or cosmologists (study the origin and evolution of the universe). Your specialty can also be in the use of a specific telescope type, for example, there are radio astronomers who study many different objects with radio telescopes. There are also instrumentationalists who specialize in building new equipment. Sometimes you'll be multiple things, like an extragalactic astronomer and cosmologist, or a planetary scientist who builds new instruments. There aren't really clear-cut distinctions here either, but these kinds of classifications are generally what astronomers will respond with when you ask them "What kind of astronomer are you?"

September 2002, Lynn Carter (more by Lynn Carter) (Like this Answer)

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