Free Online Lectures and Courses for Astronomy

Astronomers use tools like telescopes, cameras and spectrographs to study interactions between materials and energy within the universe. These scientists learn about galaxies, solar systems, planets and stars through careful observation and measurement recording. Astronomers also refer to natural sciences and mathematics to form and test theories.
An integral part of a student’s astronomy experience is the quality of equipment and facilities they have access to. Astronomy departments at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Harvard University and the University of Tokyo give students access to some of the best observatories in the world. The quality of a school’s facility will determine much of an astronomy student’s intellectual development and research abilities, so these factors should play a role in one’s decision to apply to a specific program.

Sample Courses

Astronomy majors at the undergraduate level will gain an introduction to this field by taking a survey course that covers the Milky Way Galaxy, the orbital behaviors of planets, telescope basics, star identification and cosmology. Astronomy departments typically require students to take math courses up to the calculus level in conjunction with their program, in order to keep up with the astronomy curricula. Astronomy students will also need to take foundational courses in physics to grasp key Newtonian concepts.
Graduate students are exposed to more challenging concepts, exploring the diffusion of particles across space, chaos theory and dynamical systems. These students often use departmental facilities to record their own observations about our solar system and cosmology. These students will also fine-tune their telescope and spectroscopy analysis techniques, learning how to use current observational technologies to their fullest extent.

Possible Specializations

One of the most popular specializations within astronomy is astrophysics, or the study of how physics operates in the universe. Students who pursue this track will dedicate a significant portion of their time to advanced physics courses, and will then apply learned concepts to their astronomy studies. Other specialty fields for budding astronomers include atmospheric climates, physical sciences and atmospheric chemistry.

Degree Types

Students can pursue astronomy at three major degree levels: bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D.. Since astronomy has so many physics and math prerequisites, it is extremely rare to find associate programs in the field.

Bachelor’s

This degree gives students enough time to cover essential concepts of astronomy, while delving into calculus, computational physics and differential equations. Students that graduate with a degree at this level can often find assistant researcher roles within astronomy software departments, telescope operations and observatories.

Master’s

Students that move on to a graduate program can gain collegiate level instructional opportunities by becoming a teaching assistant. At this point in their academic careers, students might begin to specialize in astrophysics, astrobiology or atmospheric climates. Those studying astronomy at this level will often turn to astronomy facilities and technical resources to catalog their own research and measurements. Their findings often contribute toward a research thesis, which is the capstone of their astronomy degree.

Ph.D.

Before they can enter a Ph.D. program, many colleges require astronomy students to take a qualifying exam, administered by a faculty committee to ensure that a student’s comprehensive astronomy knowledge meets doctoral studies standards. Once admitted to the program, students will be expected to conduct their own research investigations. The outcome of this research is meant to be used within their final dissertation. Ph.D. and master’s graduates can explore astronomer roles with government labs, observatories, planetariums and universities.

Students and prospective employees within the astronomy fields should consider membership with the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical League. These organizations provide exclusive access to conferences, online networking, award ceremonies and publications.

Ideal Candidates for Astronomy

Observant individuals are likely to thrive in astronomy, as students and researchers are required to examine minute shifts and cosmological occurrences with telescopes, photographs and spectrographs. Some stars and planets only become visible during certain times of the year, so patience is another trait that suits prospective astronomers.
Astronomers need to have a strong sense of curiosity, since conducting measurements and analysis can become repetitive and tedious. Researchers must continue to press forward, even when errors or faulty equipment call for experiments to be conducted again. Students will also need to be resourceful, because their academic program might not provide access to top-notch facilities.

Career Pathways

Research by the American Astronomical Society shows that there are actually very few astronomy positions within North America – just 7,000 – a paltry amount when compared to 40,000 physicists. Over a fifth of astronomers in the U.S. are women, and one-fourth of astronomy Ph.Ds. have been received by women. However, less than one percent of astronomers identify as racial minorities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, astronomers make an average of $106,360 a year, or $51.14 an hour. The job outlook for this field is moving at an average pace, growing about 10% before the year 2022. The majority of astronomers work in research and development facilities, followed by colleges, government offices, and scientific consulting services.

Prospective astronomy students can get more information during their college search by working with admissions counselors, contacting local planetariums and observatories, and reaching out to faculty members. Honors societies and professional guilds can also help college students locate academic funding and career opportunities.

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Astronomy Journals & Trade Magazines

  • Journals

    • Advances in Astronomy

      This open source journal works diligently to publish original peer reviewed research as quickly as possible and currently accepts content covering all aspects of astronomy and astrophysics.

    • Astronomy & Astrophysics

      This is a monthly open source, peer reviewed journal that tackles topics from all areas of astronomy and astrophysics that is published by EDP Sciences.

    • Communicating Astronomy with the Public

      A unique, peer reviewed journal dedicated to bridging the gap between science and the general public by directing its content to those involved in interactions with the public.

    • International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics

      This international journal publishes original research that has been peer reviewed in all areas of astrophysics, with accepted papers first appearing online and later in print.

    • Journal of Cosmology

      This broad reaching journal is the product of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics publishing research and reviews in the fields of astronomy, astrobiology and quantum physics.

    • Journal of the British Astronomical Association

      This is the official journal of the 124 year old British Astronomical Association and is published every other month in the tradition of the best science in observational astronomy.

  • Trade Magazines

    • Astronomy

      A consumer centric publication presents dazzling photographs and illustrations along with in depth coverage of astronomy and tips for amateur observers.

    • Astronomy Now

      Filled with breathtaking photography and news from around the world of astronomy, this U.K. publication is available online and in print.

    • Popular Astronomy

      This magazine publishes interesting and entertaining articles every two months providing news from leading observatories coupled with advice for backyard ...

    • Sky and Telescope

      Considered by many the premier magazine for hobbyists, enthusiasts and serious amateur observers who are interested in news, product reviews and ...

    • Sky News

      This Canadian magazine published six times a year covers a variety of topics of interest to non-professional observers. Each issue considered includes an ...

    • The Astronomer

      An online and print publication that publishes monthly since 1964, providing items of observational interest to committed amateurs with almost 30 years of back ...

Astronomy Grants & Scholarships

  • Grants

    • Air Force Summer Faculty Fellowship

      Deadline: August – November

      Award Amount: Costs

      The United State Air Force provides research fellowship grants to full-time faculty from U.S. colleges that cover the costs of an 8-12 research residency at an Air Force facility.

    • American Astronomical Society

      Deadline: June 6th

      Award Amount: Cost of round trip ticket

      Eligibility is limited to individuals from US institutions and is intended to cover the cost of airfare to international meetings or the International Astronomical Union General Assembly.

    • Sigma XI Research Grant

      Deadline: March 15th and October 15th

      Award Amount: $5,000

      This program is funded by the National Academy of Sciences for the purpose of aiding research in astronomy including travel and equipment expenses.

  • Scholarships

    • J. Clarence Karcher Scholarship

      Deadline: March 15th

      Award Amount: $1,400

      This award is in honor of former University of Oklahoma-Norman Prof. J. Clarence Karcher and is for students who are majoring in astronomy or another selected ...

    • L. Earl Slusher Scholarship in Astronomy

      Deadline: N/A

      Award Amount: $2,500

      Offered by the Ohio State University Department of Astronomy eligibility is limited to juniors and seniors astronomy majors who have demonstrated excellence ...

    • Leo V. Standeford Astronomy Scholarship

      Deadline: March 7th

      Award Amount: $500

      The University of Minnesota Mankato awards this scholarship to individuals who are astronomy majors or minors and who have had at least a 3.3 GPA and 6 or more ...

    • Miller Scholarship Award

      Deadline: First Friday in March

      Award Amount: $1,000

      This scholarship is for either incoming freshman or transfer students to Ball State University who meet the eligibility requirements and must be used for ...

    • The Gott Gold Tooth Award

      Deadline: N/A

      Award Amount: $500

      Texas Tech University was created thanks to a gift from Preston Gott because of his interest in astronomy and is awarded to a student who has shown exceptional ...

Astronomy Internships

Astronomy Student & Professional Organizations

  • Student Organizations

    • Astronomical Society of the Pacific

      The society works with museums, planetariums, schools and others to provide information and inspiration by connecting scientists and teachers to promote ...

    • Royal Astronomical Society

      Based in London, the society's goals include supporting the study of astronomy and related subjects, as well as the publication and sponsorship of academic ...

    • Sigma Pi Sigma

      Known as the physics honor society, this group exists to recognize the highest standards in physics scholarship with members drawn from accredited colleges and ...

    • Society of Physics Students

      This student organization's membership is open to non-physics students who have an interest in physics. They operate under the American Institute of Physics.

    • The British Astronomical Association

      This British organization is known worldwide for its support of observational astronomy among professionals and amateurs.

  • Professional Organizations

    • American Astronomical Society

      The purpose of this professional society is to advance worldwide understanding of astronomy through research and outreach, as well as providing training and mentorship to the next generation.

    • American Institute of Physics

      This organization of professionals and students boasts a membership of more than 120,000 who are engaged in the advancement of physics.

    • American Physical Society

      This professional society acts the voice physics by disseminating information with the goal of advancing physics through collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

    • International Astronomical Union

      Through its numerous committees and divisions, the IAU organizes and hosts a variety of symposia, discussions and meetings aimed at promoting astronomical research and understanding.