Astronomical Data Scientist

Job Summary

Scientific / Technical Staff
Number of Positions Available
Work Arrangement

Job Description

Caltech is a world-renowned science and engineering institute that marshals some of the world's brightest minds and most innovative tools to address fundamental scientific questions. We thrive on finding and cultivating talented people who are passionate about what they do. Join us and be a part of the diverse Caltech community.

Job Summary

Astronomical Data Scientist

IPAC at the California Institute of Technology is soliciting applications for an Astronomical Data Scientist to work on the Near-Earth Object Surveyor (NEOS) program. NEOS is a NASA Planetary Defense mission that will launch in late 2027. The NEOS observatory consists of a passively cooled 50 cm telescope located near Sun-Earth L1 equipped with a wide-field camera that will image the sky simultaneously in two mid-infrared bands. Operations will be optimized to detect, track, and characterize Near-Earth Objects, particularly those that pose a hazard to Earth, and more distant small bodies in the solar system. NEOS will detect approximately 100,000 Main Belt Asteroids, NEOs, and comets each day against a background of tens of millions of distant stars and galaxies.

IPAC is developing and will operate the NEOS Survey Data System (NSDS) that ingests raw data from the flight system, processes those data into calibrated images and source detections, performs automated searches for moving solar system objects, assesses the quality of the survey data, and distributes data products to NASA archives and the user community.  The NSDS makes use of machine-learned based automated classifiers to differentiate between real and spurious detections of moving object candidates and to identify comet candidates in the detection stream. An initial classification framework based on a Deep Learning U-Net architecture has been developed, trained, and validated using simulated data. The NSDS is seeking expertise to maintain, optimize, and extend this framework as higher fidelity simulations become available and as the project transitions to using real on-sky image data.

This is an Essential Reporting position. In the event of an emergency on campus, an employee designated as essential reporting has essential job skills that are needed for response and recovery and is expected to report to Campus as soon as possible.

Essential Job Duties

As Astronomical Data Scientist, you will report to the NSDS Lead Scientist and System Architect. Your duties will include:

  • Working with the NSDS System Architect to continue enhancing and marshalling into operations a framework for the automated classification of sources extracted from NEOS imaging data.
  • Working with the NSDS scientists to validate, optimize, and refine automated classifiers used to discover asteroids and comets amongst the stream of source detections, and to distinguish these from spurious detections associated with instrumental and processing artifacts.
  • Documenting the design and usage of software modules in the automated classification subsystems and their key interfaces with other NSDS subsystems.
  • Documenting methodologies to validate the performance of all automated classifiers and update them according to changes in survey data quality or content as NEOS continues to survey the sky. This is performed prior to NEO Surveyor launch using simulated data and following launch using on-sky data.

The Astronomical Data Scientist will be to be an active participant in the general activities of the IPAC Staff, and particularly the IPAC AI Interest group.

Basic Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in Computer Science, Computer Vision, Data Science, Information Technology, Planetary Science, Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, or a related technical field.
  • At least 3 years of relevant experience in the application of Machine Learning methods to scientific imaging data, either directly or on features extracted therefrom.
  • Knowledge of scientific programming and scripting for analyzing large data sets.
  • Good communication skills, in particular liaising with quality assurance analysts and scientists to collect feedback and improve the performance of automated classifiers.
  • The ability to write and maintain documents that describe software design, usage, and interfaces, including tracking results from testing and validation.

Preferred Qualifications

Besides these basic qualifications, there are a set of skills and experience that will enhance your contributions as the NEO Surveyor Astronomical Data Scientist. The following might give you a head start, but even if these don’t describe you or your experience, we would still like to hear from you.

  • Experience in developing robust software for inclusion in automated pipelines.
  • Experience conducting statistical analyses of large astronomical data sets.
  • Experience in computer vision or image processing methods.
  • Experience with Machine and Deep-Learning frameworks in a Python programming environment, in particular the libraries: PyTorch, TensorFlow, and/or Scikit-learn.
  • Familiarity in adapting U-Net and/or UMAP architectures to classification problems.
  • Familiarity with observational concepts in astronomy or solar system science.

Required Documents

  • Cover Letter
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Names and Contact information of 3 references
  • Applications accepted via the Caltech Site only

IPAC, part of the Physics, Math, and Astronomy Division at Caltech (, partners with NASA, NSF, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, operated for NASA by Caltech), and the world-wide research community to advance exploration of our universe. IPAC provides science operations, user support, data and archive services, and scientific vision to maximize discovery with observatories both in space and on the ground. Scientists at IPAC have access to Palomar Observatory and other research facilities.

Caltech is more than a world-renowned science and engineering research and education institution; it is a community of curious and passionate individuals who collaborate to understand and solve complex scientific and societal challenges. Caltech offers an exciting and dynamic work environment, exceptional career development opportunities, competitive pay programs, great benefits, and the opportunity to participate in many campus programs and activities. Exceptional employees are critical to Caltech’s success. Join us and be part of the diverse Caltech community.

Hiring Range

$40.00 - $44.75 Per Hour

The salary of the finalist(s) selected for this role will be set based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to, internal equity, experience, education, specialty and training.

As one of the largest employers in Pasadena, CA, Caltech is committed to providing comprehensive benefits to eligible employees and their eligible dependents. Our benefits package includes competitive compensation, health, dental, and vision insurance, retirement savings plans, generous paid time off (vacation, holidays, sick time, parental leave, bereavement, etc.), tuition reimbursement, and more. Non-benefit eligible employees will have access to some benefits such as onsite counseling and sick time. Learn more about our benefits and staff perks

EEO Statement

We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Caltech is a VEVRAA Federal Contractor.

To read more Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) go to eeoc_self_print_poster.pdf.

Disability Accommodations

If you would like to request an accommodation in completing this application, interviewing, or otherwise participating in the employee selection process, please direct your inquiries to Caltech Recruiting at [email protected]

Application Details

Publication Start Date
2024 Jan 03
Application Deadline
2024 Mar 02