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What’s the Difference Between an Astronomer and an Astrophysicist?


Hello everyone and it’s time for another
Deep Astronomy Vlog post. These little video snippets are designed to
offer you some career advice if you’re a young person just starting out and wondering
what a career in astronomy is like. I base my advice on the 35 years or so experience
I’ve had working in the field of astronomy. I’ve been at this since I was in high school
and every once in a while, I like to take out some time to share my experience with
you. One question I get a lot is, “What’s the
difference between an astronomer and an astrophysicist?” Well the short answer is that there isn’t
one. There. All done. Now all you people on YouTube who’s time
is SOOOOO valuable can go now. Thanks for watching and as always, Keep Looking
Up! Okay, are all the short-attention span people
gone? Now that all the social media viewers who’s
attention span won’t allow them to watch anything longer than a minute are gone, I
can elaborate. There is absolutely no difference between
someone who is working as an astronomer and one working as an astrophysicist. The job is the same, what’s different are
the people who use the titles. Let’s face it, astrophysicist sounds way
cooler than astronomer and saying you are one to people who aren’t in the field makes
you sound very impressive. The thing is, studying astrophysics isn’t
all that hard compared to many of the other physical sciences. For example, the curriculum for getting a
PhD in physics, actual hard physics, is more rigorous than that for astrophysics. At the University of Colorado for example,
where I went, graduate students in the astronomy department didn’t have to take Jackson’
E&M, a course notoriously difficult and considered by many a ‘weed-out’ course. And there were many courses like that that
physics graduate students had to take but the astrophysics students did not. Even in undergraduate studies, I got my physics
degree at a time when CU did not offer an undergraduate astronomy degree. It was made available in my senior year and
when I looked at the courses astronomy students had to take versus the ones I took going through
the physics program, I was glad I went through the physics program. It was more rigorous and I feel like it better
prepared me to do astronomy better in my career. My opinion is that a physics degree is better
than an astrophysics one. When I say it’s less rigorous, I’m talking
about the course work one has to take to get the degree. I feel like the physics degree was more valuable. So back to our question: what is the difference
between an astronomer and an astrophysicist. My experience working with the hundreds of
astronomers I’ve met over the decades is one of personality. Look at all the people who insist – and by
insist I mean they get upset or correct you if you call them anything else – who insist
on calling them as astrophysicist. There’s a pattern there: usually they are
involved with the general public and are building a brand for themselves. I’m not going to name any names, but you
can easily see who I’m talking about in this magical scicomm age where the echo chamber
is deafening with everyone teaching astronomy. Try an experiment and call them an astronomer
and watch their reaction. I do it sometimes just to irritate them. Then there are those whom you won’t really
hear about because they are the ones actually doing the work in astronomy. Making the discoveries, designing the observatories,
building the cameras, processing the data and doing the math for the modelling. These guys could care less what you call them
and unfortunately you won’t really see them unless you get a job yourself in the field. Try to be one of those guys when you get a
job. You’ll be glad you did. Actually I take that back. If you watch our weekly hangouts on Thursdays,
then you will meet some of the smartest guys in the room. One of the reasons we do those hangouts is
so you’ll see what the work of astronomy is like and meet some of the most awesome
people working in the field today. So, if you want to meet the real rock stars
of astronomy, watch our hangouts on Thursdays at 3pm ET. I guess I’d better qualify this opinion
with the statement that of course not EVERYONE who claims to be an astrophysicist is an insecure
attention-grabber, but I’m sorry but in my experience, most of them are. I had one guy get downright indignant when
I introduced him as an astronomer. He corrected me and was huffy for the rest
of the presentation. Points if you can figure out who it was. So don’t get caught up in the whole astronomer/astrophysicist
thing. If you’re good at your job, do good science,
write papers people cite, build telescopes that work and people want to use, or cameras
that show things no one has ever seen before, people can call you an astrologist and it
wouldn’t matter. Ok, I take that back, I think most astronomers
would correct you on that one. My point is, when your work speaks for itself
you are the coolest guy in the room no matter what they call you. Well that’s it for this vlog post Space
Fans, thanks to all of you for watching. I’ve got two more SFN episodes in the hopper
and getting ready to be posted soon, I also have a new space video on the way in about
a week or so. If you have a question you’d like to pose
about becoming an astronomer for a future vlog post, please leave it in the comments
below. I check the comments across all videos everyday. Also, let me know what you think about this
whole astronomer/astrophysicist thing. Is it just an ego thing like I’ve alluded
to or is there more to it for you? Let me know. Thanks for watching and as always, Keep Looking
Up!

36
Comments
  • An Astronomer, works in the dark night Skies,
    An Astrophysicist, works in the Dark of abstract ideas.

  • Astrophysicists seem more like theoreticians to me, but an astronomer sounds more like a get-the-data kind of fellow. That is, astronomy "feeds" data to astrophysics, and this data "weeds" out whatever theories are contradicted.

  • For me they are the same thing, I doesn't matter that much. They are doing the same job, contributing to the field of astronomy.

  • I once read that astronomer is the less stressing work you can get. I suppose astrophysicist is more stressing for that moments when somebody calls you astronomer 🙂

  • thanks. was it Zubrin? he's always assertive because he is pushing an agenda (and rightfully so because he is correct)

  • Its super unique to hear you went to cu. At first i wanted to go to CU Boulder for astrophysics and what not but then decided on South Dakota School Of Mines for a General physics degree. I feel that yes, a general physics degree is better than just aststrophysics, but my ultimate goal is astro. In general, i also am a high school student about to graduate at the end of this month and ive been fascinated with astronomy since my freshmen year. Im so excited to be going through with my dream.

  • The difference between an astronomer and an astrophysicist is the same as the difference between a 100M sprinter and a 110M hurdler.

  • I totally understand your point: I worked as R&D engineer in different companies and research institutes… But I always loved hanging out with technicians rather than "Mister Doctor Engineers" (i guess you guys understand what I mean)

    I always found technicians are the Real MVP: they know their stuff… they always bring brilliant ideas… they are always down to earth when hanging out with a beer (*cough* after work of course)…

    Meanwhile, on planet "Mister Doctor Engineer", people are sizing their… let's say… ego (to be polite)

  • Always used to wonder that, and now u say it's all down to what's sounds cool rather than the actual work 😂

  • I love astrophysics.. I am planning my career in astrophysics too. So glad to see this vedio finally being post. Love♥ from India.

  • I admire to be an astrophysicist. For me when people really get enrolled in astronomy then they should try to work hard on the subject rather than wanting a publicity. They should be devoted to this beautiful subject and prove their work. I think you are right – Our work speak for itself.
    This vedio really did helped and I'm looking forward for new post.

  • Your answer inadvertently explains why i did a 'Physics with Astrophysics' degree, and not a simplely-titled 'Astrophysics' degree – the faculty must have known that people in Physics expected 'Astrophysics' degrees to be smaller, simpler courses – which wasn't the case with the course i did. I'd always wondered about that, and now i have my answer. Thanks, Tony 😀

  • Tyson and Cox are both tier one communicators. Tyson being that and a Director of Hayden, cox being that and a contributing researcher and professor. I would categorize Tyson as an Astronomer, Cox as an Astrophysicist. Not sure how to define the difference (they both look up), but both gentlemen (and the many others!) have perhaps the hardest job of all: helping this community communicate better to enthusiasts, to help combat the desperate state of education in the US and globally, and to keep more people thinking scientifically regardless of their career choice. As you put it, kind Sir, when you are the the King SME in the room, what does it matter what they call you. Humble opinion from a dedicated enthusiast.

  • Isn't it funny that they call astronomy and astrophysics a science, when in fact it is all sci-fi, fantasy?? All ideas, hunches, then they try to make them work by fitting those ideas into equations that they come up with to "corroborate" an idea… And the reality is that they don't even know what our sun is or how it works, do you think they figured the rest of the universe?? lmao It is just like getting a major in Lord Of The Rings or something.

  • Thanks Tony. I've been dreaming of becoming an astronomer since I was 9 years old. Your videos help me a lot to when I am studying the subject.

  • sir I want to became a scientist so I don't have a idea so please give your contact number

  • It’s an ego thing! All of the astrophysicists commenting below have no idea what the hell is going on in this video!! Maybe they should’ve taken a course in physics? Or better yet, maybe not!

  • I love astrophysics i want become astrophysicist and i am on my way would you help me plz i am from india.

  • Kid holding a cup and looking at a woman meme so what you're saying is that if I major and get a PhD in astronomy it'll be the same as an astrophysicist, or in other words, have a PhD in astrophysics

  • @Deep Astronomy
    I agree with you.
    Besides you seem quite cool.
    A bit like Hubert Reaves ^^ only a lot younger.
    Greetings from Belgium

  • loved this video, subscribed! i feel like it took me a long time and i've come a long way to finally be able to take a physics course in college for private reasons and honestly i had forgotten why i was even going into physics, but this video inspired me and rekindled that sense of wonder i feel with the subject and its possibilites! so thank you

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