Astronomers use sophisticated scientific equipment such as telescopes that employ radio-wave and x-ray imaging technology to study the universe and develop theories based on their observations of phenomena in space. This occupation requires extensive knowledge of advanced mathematics and physics, and most astronomers are engaged in research jobs that require a Ph.D. The majority of astronomers work for the federal government or teach, though nearly a quarter work in private industry.
National Salary Data:
Data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that astronomers working in the United States earned an average of $101,630 per year as of May 2011. Half of all astronomers earned an annual income of between $61,020 and $143,340, while the median of all salaries reported was $95,500 per year. The lowest-paid 10 percent of all astronomers working in the country earned $50,440 or less per year, while the highest-paid 10 percent earned $163,950 or more per year.
Pay by Employment Sector:
As of May 2011, slightly over half of all astronomers working in the United States were employed by colleges and universities. The BLS reports that astronomers employed by educational institutions earned the lowest average salaries by employment sector, $90,930 per year. Those employed in scientific research and development services reported an average annual salary of $99,810. Astronomers employed by the federal government earned the highest average salary, $131,510 per year.
Pay by Area:
Of the few states that reported specific salary data for astronomers in 2011, those in Massachusetts earned the highest average salary, $112,340 per year. Astronomers working in California reported the second-highest average income, $103,220, and those working in Hawaii earned an average of $100,750 per year. The highest-paying metropolitan area for astronomers as of May 2011 was the Washington-Alexandria-Arlington area, where astronomers reported an average annual salary of $118,710 per year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 2,200 astronomers were employed in the United States as of 2010. The BLS expects that this occupation will add jobs at a rate of about 11 percent between 2010 and 2020, slightly below the national average for all occupations, and that employment for astronomers will approach 2,500 jobs by the end of the decade. The BLS expects strong competition and suggests that many astronomy candidates will need to work through several temporary postdoctoral appointments before settling into a steady job.