What kind of work does an astrophysicist do?

  1. What kind of work does an astrophysicist do?
  2. jcsd
  3. cronxeh

    cronxeh 1,232
    Gold Member

  4. Believe it or not, there are some people who can not perform an internet search to save their souls! :smile: You're talking to one.

    Andromeda would be a good person to ask. That's her current college major. Briefly, and if I'm lucky Andromeda will expand/or correct me if I'm wrong, astrophysicists are physicists who study the universe, how it works, what is happening right now, and lots of other interesting subjects.
  5. Misskitty's got it about right. There's no "official" definition and anyone who deals in astronomy stuff at all nowadays could probably get away with calling themselves one. The term usually is used in referring to people who are most arguably physicists who happen to do reseach relating to astronomy (such as someone actually in a physics department who works with dark energy).
  6. cronxeh

    cronxeh 1,232
    Gold Member

    An interesting observation:

    from an infinite distance away, the Earth seems like a point, so studying the cosmos from a single point is tricky - consider a point on a plane, and try looking through it and determine the shape and size of things far away. In essence, even if we are moving and have a somewhat stereo view through special techniques, it is still like looking through a point
  7. i am working on my PhD in astrophysics. What I basically do each day is reduce and interpret observational data. In the future I hope to add some simulations and theoretical studies to help with the interpretation.
  8. SpaceTiger

    SpaceTiger 2,977
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
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    This thread is worth a look. I'm probably more theoretically-oriented than matt.o is, but in either case, most of the day is spent on a computer.
  9. :bugeye: Never thought of it like that...Excellent perspective Cronxeh.
  10. yes, SpaceTiger you have been working on your 'grad studies' longer than myself. the theory will come for me yet! i have to agree, 90-95% of my day is spent on a computer, possible 5-10% reading papers (or more precisely, physicsforums.com!).
  11. ok, interesting topic.
    i have another question:
    since i'm going to college the coming fall,
    what is mostly required to enter this field?
    other than high grades on maths and physics.
    Are there any intellectual considerations?

  12. cronxeh

    cronxeh 1,232
    Gold Member

    "desire, discipline, and dedication" and lots of curiousity and open mind
  13. I'd vote for some computer science, a dab of chemistry, mixed in with a lot of work ethic and enthusiasm. :smile:
  14. Yes! Learn computer programming!!!!!
  15. wow.. i didn't know that we should have knowledge in computer programming.. that's extremly cool.. well, but for what use? can anyone please explain?
    about desire and dedication.. i don't just have those.. i have also an infinite passion and i guess what led me to choose such a major is my love for "mysteries" for i think that our Universe is the biggest mystery ever known and well the everlasting mystery
  16. SpaceTiger

    SpaceTiger 2,977
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    Oh goodness yes. In my opinion, it's getting to the point where an astronomer who can't program is about as bad as one who can't do math! Whether I'm doing observational or theoretical work, I spend most of the time running codes of one sort or another, whether it's simulations of physical systems, handling of large data sets, or simple file manipulation scripts. My advice is to learn no less than two computer languages, one low-level one for numerical simulations and one high-level one for simple data and file-handling tasks. My languages of choice are Fortran and Perl, but I also know bits of C, C++, Supermongo, IDL, bash shell, Tcl/Tk, PHP, and Pascal. In addition, it's good to be familiar with Mathematica (or an equivalent) and Latex (this forum is a good place to practice).

    Another thing that I found was lacking from my undergraduate astronomy education was statistics, so see if you can study up on that. In particular, study distribution functions and error-finding techniques.
  17. jtbell

    Staff: Mentor

    It's not just for astrophysicists, but for most all physicists. In many fields, experimentalists spend a lot of time writing software to acquire, analyze and manage their data. I was in experimental high-energy particle physics in grad school, and that's what I spent most of my time doing. Theoretical physicists often use computer simulations, or generate their results numerically. Lots of equations for interesting systems can be solved only numerically, not algebraically.

    Programming can also come in handy for finding a job, or as a fallback option in case you decide you don't really want a career in "pure physics" after all. That's sort of the way it turned out for me. When I finished grad school, I decided I wanted a teaching-oriented position rather than a research-oriented one. I got the position I'm in now because the college wanted someone who could teach some computer science in addition to physics.
  18. my friend is in programming, i asked him about the languages suggested.
    He told me that some are for webdesign and webscripting like php, i still didn't understand clearly the main use of programming.
    Can anyone give me a specific example?
  19. Example: the professor I'm working with this summer does a lot of his research in modelling how galaxies collide. A large part of his research involves running computer simulations on supercomputers to see if his theories are true in this regard (for example, modelling what happens if a small galaxy goes near a large one and such). There aren't really any programs out there for this, so he writes his own.
    Does that help?

  20. Consultant work for Star Trek.
  21. SpaceTiger

    SpaceTiger 2,977
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    You certainly don't need to know all of the languages I listed, I was only giving you a taste for the level of exposure to programming you'll get.
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