Astronomers: Salary Overview
Astronomers study the nature of time and the origins of the universe and develop scientific theories and models that aim to explain the properties of our world.
Their job responsibilities may also include planning and conducting scientific experiments and studies to test theories, writing proposals and applying for funding, doing complex mathematical calculations, designing new telescopes and scientific equipment, developing computer software that model data, writing scientific papers, and presenting their findings during scientific conferences and lectures.
Your exact role as an astronomer will depend on your employer and industry of employment.
Most astronomers work in offices and may visit observatories a few times a year but some astronomers also work full time in observatories.
As an astronomer, you may have to work at night because observations are usually made during nighttime.
You may also have to travel frequently for research or scientific conferences and may temporarily work away from home at national or international facilities.
Astronomer Salary by Level of Experience
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for astronomers in the United States was $114,590 in May 2019; this means that half of the workers in this occupation earned less than this while half earned more.
Salaries for astronomers vary widely depending on the industry of employment, the astronomer’s level of experience, and the region.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,420 while the top 10 percent earned more than $185,780.
As an entry-level employee, you should expect an annual salary of less than $58,000 but your total compensation will increase as you earn experience.
According to careerexplorer.com, mid-level astronomers earned around $105,680 a year in 2018, translating into a rate of $50.81 an hour while senior level astronomers earned around $147,710, or $71.02 an hour.
Astronomer Salary by Industry
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41% of astronomers were employed by colleges, universities, and professional schools while 20% worked for the federal government.
Traditionally, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense have been two of the largest employers for astronomers in the federal government.
Those who work for the federal government earned a median annual wage of $148,110 as of May 2019 while those who are employed by colleges, universities, and professional schools earned around $86,850 a year.
Astronomers who work in research and development services earned, on average, $135,210 a year, as of May 2019.
This field includes organizations such as the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Goddard Institute in Maryland, and other private and federally-funded laboratories.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for astronomers and physicists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028.
However, competition for jobs at colleges and universities is projected to be strong, and holding a Ph.D. and completing a post-doctoral program should increase your job prospects.
Astronomer Salary by Compensation Package
Astronomers are typically working full-time and are paid a base salary but their compensation package may also include bonuses, health coverage, paid vacation, and other benefits.
It all depends on the employer, the industry, the astronomer’s role within the organization, and their level of experience.
According to payscale.com, experienced astronomers may earn up to $10,000 a year in bonuses and $5,000 in profit sharing.
Some astronomers may also write books that address the general public and some of these books become bestsellers bringing additional earnings to their writers.
If you’re passionate about science and you want to study the nature of time and the origins of the universe, studying astronomy will qualify you for a career that can be both financially and professionally rewarding.
* Based on information from the May 2021 salary report from the BLS. The figures represent accumulated data for all states of employment for Astronomers. BLS data represents averages and medians for workers at all levels of education and experience. This data doesn't represent starting salaries.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.