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The Job

To do their work, astrophysicists need access to large, expensive equipment, such as radio telescopes, spectrometers, and specialized computers. This equipment is generally available only at universities with large astronomy departments and government observatories, therefore most astrophysicists are employed by colleges or the government.

A primary duty of most astrophysicists is making and recording observations. What they observe and the questions they are trying to answer may vary, but the process is much the same across the profession. They work in observatories, using ground- and space-based telescopes and other equipment to view celestial bodies. They record their observations on charts or, more often today, into computer programs that help them analyze the data.

Astrophysicists work to understand the beginning and the end of the lives of stars. They use spectrometers, telescopes, and other instruments to measure infrared radiation, ultraviolet radiation, and radio waves. They study not only the formation of stars but also whether planets formed along with them. Understanding the lives of stars will help astrophysicists understand the origins and future of the universe. Their work is often tedious, requiring multiple measurements over time. The answer to one question, such as the age of a specific star, often leads to more questions about nearby planets and other formations. To address these larger questions, astrophysicists from all over the world must work together to come to agreements.

Most astrophysicists who work for universities also teach. Depending on their branch of research, teaching may be their primary duty. Astrophysicists share their findings with the scientific community. They often travel to conferences to speak about their findings and to listen to other scientists discuss techniques or research. Discoveries are also shared in professional journals, such as The Astrophysical Journal. Many scientists spend time compiling their data and writing articles for such journals.