Astrophysicist Catherine Heymans uses NASA’s famous Hubble Space Telescope to try and understand the many mysteries of the universe. Read on to find out why she feels her job might be one of the best on this (or any other) planet...
Then I went on to do a PhD, and what I loved most about that was the opportunity to travel to La Palma in the Canary Islands to use large telescopes there. My research used the data collected from these visits to find out how much dark matter there is in the universe. Dark matter makes up a more of the universe than normal matter (which is what we’re made from) but beyond that we don’t really know what it is. We do know that it’s useful though, as it surrounds our galaxy and holds it together.
Then I tend to meet up with my post-graduate students to discuss their progress, and meet with people more senior than me to talk about how I am getting on. I also give tutorials to undergraduate students, which takes about an hour.
Quite an important part of my job is writing proposals to get money for future projects, or for trips to visit the telescopes. Our work uses the Hubble Space Telescope at Nasa and several large telescopes in Hawaii. At the moment we’re trying to get funding to build telescopes up in space – like Hubble, only bigger and better!
Finally, a big part of my day is spent working on computer programs to analyse our data. We have to write the programs ourselves so that we can make sense of the information coming from the telescopes.
As for more technical skills, maths is one of the most important things you need, as well as being organised and understanding computers.