What is Astrophysics
Astrophysics is a branch of science which deals with outer space. This subject involves the application of the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the birth of the universe, the birth, life and death and death of planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and other celestial objects. Astrophysics derives from or is similar to, two other branches of science which deal with space, cosmology and astronomy.
Astrophysicists study the universe and seek to understand how it functions and what role we play in it. NASA, the largest organization for space research, employs astrophysicists who discover the evolution and beginning of the universe, its workings, and the presence of life on other planets and stars.
Eligibility Criteria (UG & PG) of Astrophysics
For a B.Sc. Astrophysics:
The minimum eligibility criteria that students must meet to apply for B.Sc. Astrophysics courses are-
- Candidates must possess a Higher Secondary qualification (class 12) from a recognized board.
- Candidates must have acquired a 50% minimum aggregate score.
- Candidates must have studied Mathematics and Physics as two of the main subjects in their class 12.
For an M.Sc. Astrophysics:
At the postgraduate level, students must fulfil certain eligibility criteria to pursue a Master’s degree in Astrophysics, some of which include-
- Candidates must have completed a graduate course in a Science stream subject of study.
- Candidates must have acquired at least 50% as the aggregate score in the qualifying examination.
- Candidates must have scored well in the entrance exam as applicable to the university.
Entrance Exams for Studying Astrophysics
At the undergraduate level, students can pursue a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Astrophysics.
The course entails the exploration of the composition of the universe, development of new techniques of observation, and dispelling the myths to uncover the truths with regards to the universe.
Admissions to these courses are conducted either based on merit, i.e. the candidate's performance in class 12, or via an entrance exam wherein candidates have to sit for a common test and are granted admission based on their performance. Some of the entrance exams conducted for a B.Sc. course in Astrophysics are:
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER): The IISER Aptitude Test is conducted at the national level for admissions to its B.Sc. and M.Sc. programs at any of the seven institutes across India.
Banaras Hindu University Undergraduate Entrance Test (BHU UET): This is an entrance test conducted by the Banaras Hindu University for granting admissions to aspirants to its various undergraduate courses such as BA, B.Sc. and B.Ed. among others. Based on the scores of students in this university-level exam, they are granted admission.
Siksha O Anusandhan University Admissions Test (SAAT): The SAAT is a national-level admission test conducted by SOA (Siksha O Anusandhan) University for admissions into its various UG and PG programmes. Conducted both online and offline, the exam score grants admission to aspirants to the Odisha-located university.
At a postgraduate level, students may pursue a degree in M.Sc. Astrophysics. In this course, both the observational and theoretical aspects of Astrophysics are covered and students are provided with basic research skill training with various optional modules focusing on Gravitational Dynamics, Stars and Nebula, Accretion Physics, and other topics.
Common Post Graduate Entrance Test (CPGET): An entrance exam conducted by Osmania University, the CPGET grants admissions to aspirants to the various PG programmes offered by the university. The exam is held in offline mode.
Andhra University Common Entrance Test (AUCET): Andhra University conducts this state-level entrance exam to grant admission to students in the university’s postgraduate programmes offered in Science, Commerce, Management, Humanities, Journalism and Mass Communication, and Teaching.
Scope of Astrophysics in India and Abroad
A significant development in the field of Astrophysics has come about with the increasing execution of spacecraft missions which map celestial bodies and produce their close-up images. As a result, there has been a surge in employment opportunities in the field. A fresh graduate in the field is usually introduced into a research team with a project already underway.
A lot of Astrophysics professionals receive employment opportunities from the federal government or in observatories and laboratories supported federally. Additionally, many consulting firms provide professionals to the government for fulfilling certain requirements or performing certain tasks. In India, lucrative opportunities can be found in major establishments like the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Space Physics Laboratories, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) or in non-profit organisations like Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers.
The scope, however, is more varied and plentiful abroad in organizations such as the Niels Bohr Institute, Naval Research Laboratory, Space Telescope Science Institute, and most importantly, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
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With regards to the course objectives, a course in Astrophysics contains some common subjects, some of the most important of which are:
- Properties of Matter
- Special Relativity
- Oscillation of waves
- Physics of field and matter
- Modern Physics
- Practical Physics
- Thermal Physics
- Quantum Mechanics
- Classical Mechanics
- Linear Algebra and Calculus
- Nuclear and Particle Physics
- Statistics Physics
- Dynamics and Relativity
- Research Methodology
- Positional Astronomy
- Stellar Atmosphere
- Celestial and Fluid Mechanics
- Space Physics
- Electromagnetic Waves and Radiating Systems
- Astronomical Techniques
- Plasma Physics
- Lasers and Applications
Careers in Astrophysics
Accomplished graduates in Astrophysics receive plenty of employment opportunities from institutes and organizations which are involved in research, theoretical work, and teaching in Astrophysics both in India and abroad. They typically get hired as Research Scientists with institutions that fund research and are provided with grants to pursue research work in the field of their interest.
A career in Astrophysics can be overly exciting and rewarding for those who are genuinely curious about the universe and the secrets that its vast expanses of unexplored regions hold. Astrophysicists receive plenty of support to actively pursue the observation of new planets, their stars, and galaxies, and upon making new findings can even receive awards, considering that their discovery has helped further our understanding of the universe.
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Astrophysics and Astronomy are volatile areas of research with discoveries being unearthed now and then.
Our very understanding of the universe today has stemmed from Astrophysical and Astronomical discoveries, and it continues to develop as more studies and extensive research continues to reveal more about the universe. Some of the latest hot topics in Astrophysics include:
A new study reveals an unexpected atmosphere on hot Neptune, 260 light-years away: A team of researchers from the University of Kansas has crunched telescope data from NASA to discover what appears to be the atmosphere of an unusual exoplanet, located about 260 light-years away, which they have dubbed “hot Neptune”. The planet is slightly larger than Neptune, orbits a Sun-like star, existing where planets were assumed to not exist at all. Recently, the spectrum of the hot Neptune’s atmosphere has been measured.
Some exoplanets may have a direct view of the Earth: Three decades after Carl Sagan suggested the photographing of the Earth as seen from a billion miles away, two astronomers are now suggesting a different perspective. They hypothesize that certain exoplanets existing far beyond our solar system can observe the Earth and its life with a direct line of sight.
A clumpy halo surrounding the Milky Way galaxy: Astronomers from the University of Iowa have observed a “clumpy halo” of hot gases from dying or birthing stars, surrounding our galaxy. This halo, named the circumgalactic medium (or CGM), possibly played a significant role in the formation of the Milky Way approximately 10 billion years ago and is considered to be the area where matter is unaccounted for ever since the universe’s birth may be located.
Job Profiles and Top Recruiters
Job Profiles in Astrophysics
Aspirants who have acquired a degree in Astrophysics may go directly into research, as the majority of candidates do, or they can choose to teach the subject. Some of the common job profiles offered to candidates holding a degree in Astrophysics, along with the responsibilities that each of these jobs entails, are illustrated below.
Utilizing telescopes positioned in space and ashore to observe celestial bodies; gauging radio, X-beam and infrared signals from extraterrestrial sources; composing proposals and hypotheses on space, time and the universe’s inception; dissecting and translating gathered information; introducing their discoveries in papers or at meetings.
Studying the stars; their work can take place in many specialized areas. Solar astronomers study the Sun, which is the nearest star to the earth, cosmologists study the history of the universe, and planetary astronomers study the compositions of planets.
Specializing in certain kinds of celestial bodies or events in the universe, like black holes; development and testing of scientific theories; writing research proposals; analysing relevant data; composing scientific papers to present their findings.
Working with colleagues of the department on building or modifying the course curriculum; studying the advancement of areas within the Astrophysics discipline; delivering lectures over various modules in an established program; carrying out activities in support of departmental academic work; contributing to the research profile of the department; undertaking student support and tutoring.
Some of the top recruiting companies and organizations of aspirants who hold a degree in Astrophysicists are:
- Nainital Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA)
- Bangalore Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
- Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES)
- National Centre for Radio Astrophysics
- TIFR, Pune
- Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune
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While salaries may vary depending on the job role, responsibilities, research area and experience, the average salaries for each job profile can be estimated as:
AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY
Rs. 80,000 - 9.00 lakhs p.a. (Approx.)
Rs. 3 - 8.50 lakhs p.a. (Approx.)
Rs. 2 - 6 lakhs p.a. (Approx.)
Rs. 4 – 11 lakhs p.a. (Approx.)
Required Skillset for Astrophysics
A largely research-based area of study, Astrophysics as a career requires aspirants to possess certain skills and qualities which ensure their success in the field. Some of these skills are:
A solid grasp of Mathematics and Science concepts- A major part of an Astrophysicist’s work requires them to solve problems by the use of mathematics as well as scientific methods and rules.
Critical thinking- Astrophysicists should be able to use reasoning and logic to determine the weaknesses and strengths of alternative approaches, conclusions or solutions to a problem.
Decision-making and Judgement- These professionals must have strong skills in judgment and decision-making when it comes to determining the costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
Complex problem solving- Complex problems arise now and then in the field of Astrophysics, requiring professionals in this field to have a knack for solving them. The process of arriving at a solution includes evaluating options, reviewing relevant or related information, and finally implementing solutions.
Financial resources management- When astrophysicists receive research grants for a project they are currently working on, they must have the ability to manage and fully utilize these grants by deciding how much to spend on getting work done, and keeping track of each expenditure.
Systems analysis and evaluation- These professionals should be able to determine how a system works and how a change in operations, environment, and conditions will reflect on the outcome. They should also know how to identify indicators or measures of system performance and determine the actions required to improve performance.
Course Curriculum for Astrophysics
A course in Astrophysics is designed to equip students with an in-depth understanding of the universe and its elements, celestial objects and their properties, as well as the Earth.
Students are trained in very basic research methods because a career in Astrophysics is typically largely research-oriented. The course trains them in observation techniques, as well as different methods of arriving at solutions to certain problems.
A basic course in Astrophysics is typically aimed at:
- exploration of the composition of the universe,
- revelation of the truths and dispelling the myths about the universe,
- development of new techniques for observation to better understand the solar system.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: Is Astrophysics a good career?
Unlike astronomers who are primarily concerned with the experimental side of science, astrophysicists lean towards theory and advanced mathematics. Having used some statistical analysis and algebra, a person could achieve great accomplishment in the field of Astrophysics.
A career in this field, therefore, is very lucrative and rewarding and can lead to enormous recognition in Astrophysics.
Question: Is Astrophysics difficult?
Many sub-specialities fall under Astrophysics. While certain disciplines may be difficult for some, others may pique their interest more. One will require a fairly thorough understanding of fluid dynamics and nuclear physics.
Then, depending on the discipline, other more exotic subjects of study are required. Astrophysics is not difficult if one can find the discipline that suits their interest and their knowledge best.
Question: Can I pursue an M.Sc. in Astrophysics after a BE?
The eligibility criteria for M.Sc. Astrophysics can differ from university to university. Depending on the colleges in which you wish to apply, the required subject combination as a prerequisite may differ. Some may allow a BE degree.
Question: What is the difference between Cosmology and Astrophysics?
Astrophysics is a branch of study concerned with the physics of the universe including the physical properties, interactions, and behaviour of celestial objects. On the other hand, Cosmology is a branch of study that pertains to the universe as a whole and the largest scales of its phenomena. Certain events like the Big Bang are cosmological areas of study.
Question: What is the difference between Astronomy and Astrophysics?
Astronomy is the science which deals with the study of celestial bodies like planets, stars, comets, nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. Astrophysics is a branch under Astronomy which is concerned with the physics of the universe including the physical properties, interactions, and behaviour of celestial objects.