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Astrophysics career salary

Astrophysics / January 25, 2017

Astrophysicists have the universe at their fingertips.Astrophysicists have the universe at their fingertips.

David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Stargazing might be a lovely summer night activity, but it can also be a lucrative career path. And the need for those who understand the fundamental nature of the universe is growing. Competition for coveted permanent research jobs for astrophysicists is fierce, but opportunities in applied research, development and technology are out there.

Median Pay

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't keep records specifically for astrophysicists, but in 2010, the BLS put the median annual salary of physicists at $106, 370 and the median annual salary of astronomers at $87, 260. The median annual salary for physicists working in research and development was $102, 420 and $80, 130 for those working at universities. For those working at universities, the median annual salary for astronomers working in research and development was $92, 040 and $64, 070.

Salary Ranges

According to, the annual salaries of astrophysicists working in governmental positions in 2013 ranged from $57, 000 for those working with the Smithsonian Institution to $131, 000 for those working with the U.S. Navy. Other astrophysicist positions ranged from $55, 000 to $93, 000 annually. reported in June 2013 that the average annual salary of am astrophysicist was $74, 000.

Getting the Job

Astrophysicists need a Ph.D. for most jobs, and with competition for permanent research positions keen, those who hold Ph.D.s. increasingly are in a better position to land higher-end positions. Many astrophysicists begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. Senior scientists typically supervise these two-to-three-year positions. As they gain experience, however, budding astrophysicists take on more complex tasks and earn greater independence in their work.

Important Qualities

Beyond academic degrees, astrophysicists need strong mathematical, analytical and problem-solving skills, as calculations are a daily part of the job. They must be able to express their research in mathematical terms. And despite the stereotype of the lonely scientist at work, astrophysicists need strong interpersonal and communication skills to collaborate with researchers and teams on research projects. Many positions also call for strong writing skills for reports or funding applications.

Job Outlook

Employment opportunities for physicists and astronomers will increase 14 percent through 2020, especially at universities and national laboratories, the BLS predicts. Despite competition for high-level jobs, opportunities should be good in the applied research, development and related technical fields. But astrophysics and astronomy heavily rely on federal government funding, which, reports the BLS, could alter the outlook from year to year and as administrations change.