Original je na http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/dictionary.html
Imagine the Universe! Dictionary
Please allow the whole page to load before you start searching for an entry. Otherwise, errors will occur.
A relatively flat sheet of gas and dust surrounding a newborn star, a black hole, or any massive object growing in size by attracting material.
active galactic nuclei (AGN)
A class of galaxies which spew massive amounts of energy from their centers, far more than ordinary galaxies. Many astronomers believe supermassive black holes may lie at the center of these galaxies and power their explosive energy output.
A quantity obtained by multiplying the mass of an orbiting body by its velocity and the radius of its orbit. According to the conservation laws of physics, the angular momentum of any orbiting body must remain constant at all points in the orbit, i.e., it cannot be created or destroyed. If the orbit is elliptical the radius will vary. Since the mass is constant, the velocity changes. Thus planets in elliptical orbits travel faster at periastron and more slowly at apastron. A spinning body also possesses spin angular momentum.
The point of greatest separation between two stars which are in orbit around each other. See binary stars . Opposite of periastron.
The point in its orbit where a planet is farthest from the Sun. Opposite of perihelion.
The point in an orbit when the two objects are farthest apart. Special names are given to this orbital point for commonly used systems: see apastron, aphelion, and apogee.
The point in its orbit where an Earth satellite is farthest from the Earth. Opposite of perigee.
A UK X-ray mission, also known as UK-5
A X-ray/gamma-ray mission built jointly by the United States and Japan. Astro E was destroyed in February 2000, when a Japanese M-5 rocket failed to lift the instrument into orbit.
The scientific study of matter in outer space, especially the positions, dimensions, distribution, motion, composition, energy, and evolution of celestial bodies and phenomena.
The part of astronomy that deals principally with the physics of stars, stellar systems, and interstellar material.
The gas that surrounds a planet or star. The Earth's atmosphere is made up of mostly nitrogen, while the Sun's atmosphere consists of mostly hydrogen.
The Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility. AXAF was renamed Chandra X-ray Observatory, CXO, and launched in July 1999.
BATSE (Burst and Transient Source Experiment) is an instrument aboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory that detects and locates gamma-ray bursts in the sky.
The Broad Band X-Ray Telescope, which was flown on the Astro-1 space shuttle flight (Dec. 1990)
Binary stars are two stars that orbit around a common center of mass. An X-ray binary is a special case where one of the stars is a collapsed object such as a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole, and the separation between the stars is small enough so that matter is transferred from the normal star to the compact star star, producing X-rays in the process.
An object whose gravity is so strong that not even light can escape from it.
Blackbody radiation is produced by an object which is a perfect absorber of heat. Perfect absorbers must also be perfect radiators. For a blackbody at a temperature T, the intensity of radiation emitted I at a particular energy E is given by Plank's law:
The temperature of an object if it is re-radiating all the thermal energy that has been added to it; if an object is not a blackbody radiator, it will not re-radiate all the excess heat and the leftover will go toward increasing its temperature.
An apparent shift toward shorter wavelengths of spectral lines in the radiation emitted by an object caused by motion between the object and the observer which decreases the distance between them. See also Doppler effect.
The total energy radiated by an object at all wavelengths, usually given in joules per second (identical to watts).
Boltzmann constant; k (L. Boltzmann)
A constant which describes the relationship between temperature and kinetic energy for molecules in an ideal gas. It is equal to 1.380622 x 10-23 J/K (see scientific notation).
Brahe, Tycho (1546 - 1601)
(a.k.a Tyge Ottesen) Danish astronomer whose accurate astronomical observations of Mars in the last quarter of the 16th century formed the basis for Johannes Kepler's laws of planetary motion. Brahe lost his nose in a dual in 1566 with Manderup Parsberg (a fellow student and nobleman) at Rostock over who was the better mathematician. He died in 1601 of a burst bladder because court etiquette prohibited him from leaving the table before his host was finished. Show me a picture of Tycho Brahe !
"braking radiation", the main way very fast charged particles lose energy when traveling through matter. Radiation is emitted when charged particles are accelerated. In this case, the acceleration is caused by the electromagnetic fields of the atomic nuclei of the medium.
A type of variable star which exhibits a regular pattern of changing brightness as a function of time. The period of the pulsation pattern is directly related to the star's intrinsic brightness. Thus, Cepheid variables are a powerful tool for determining distances in modern astronomy.
The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
Chandrasekhar, S. (1910 - 1995)
Indian astrophysicist reknowned for creating theoretical models of white dwarf stars, among other achievements. His equations explained the underlying physics behind the creation of white dwarfs, neutron stars and other compact objects.
A limit which mandates that no white dwarf (a collapsed, degenerate star) can be more massive than about 1.4 solar masses. Any degenerate object more massive must inevitably collapse into a neutron star.
cluster of galaxies
A system of galaxies containing from a few to a few thousand member galaxies which are all gravitationally bound to each other.
The amount of area a telescope has that is capable of collecting electromagnetic radiation. Collecting area is important for a telescope's sensitivity: the more radiation it can collect (that is, the larger its collecting area), the more likely it is to detect dim objects.
Compton effect (A.H. Compton; 1923)
An effect that demonstrates that photons (the quantum of electromagnetic radiation) have momentum. A photon fired at a stationary particle, such as an electron, will impart momentum to the electron and, since its energy has been decreased, will experience a corresponding decrease in frequency.
corona (plural: coronae)
The uppermost level of a star's atmosphere. In the sun, the corona is characterized by low densities and high temperatures (> 1,000,000 degrees K).
Atomic nuclei (mostly protons) and electrons that are observed to strike the Earth's atmosphere with exceedingly high energies.
cosmological constant; Lambda
A constant term (labeled Lambda) which Einstein added to his general theory of relativity in the mistaken belief that the Universe was neither expanding nor contracting. The cosmological constant was found to be unnecessary once observations indicated the Universe was expanding. Had Einstein believed what his equations were telling him, he could have claimed the expansion of the Universe as perhaps the greatest and most convincing prediction of general relativity; he called this the "greatest blunder of my life".
A distance far beyond the boundaries of our Galaxy. When viewing objects at cosmological distances, the curved nature of spacetime could become apparent. Possible cosmological effects include time dilation and redshift.
An effect where light emitted from a distant source appears redshifted because of the expansion of spacetime itself. Compare Doppler effect.
The astrophysical study of the history, structure, and dynamics of the universe.
The Chandra X-ray Observatory. CXO was launched by the Space Shuttle in July 1999, and named for S. Chandrasekhar.
A coordinate which, along with Right Ascension, may be used to locate any position in the sky. Declination is analogous to latitude for locating positions on the Earth, and ranges from +90 degrees to -90 degrees.
An image processing technique that removes features in an image that are caused by the telescope itself rather than from actual light coming from the sky. For example, the optical analog would be to remove the spikes and halos which often appear on images of bright stars because of light scattered by the telescope's internal supports.
The ratio between the mass of an object and its volume. In the metric system, density is measured in grams per cubic centimeter (or kilograms per liter); the density of water is 1.0 gm/cm3; iron is 7.9gm/cm3; lead is 11.3.gm/cm3
disk (of planet or other object)
The apparent circular shape that the Sun, a planet, or a moon displays when seen in the sky or through a telescope.
Doppler effect (C.J. Doppler)
The apparent change in wavelength of sound or light caused by the motion of the source, observer or both. Waves emitted by a moving object as received by an observer will be blueshifted (compressed) if approaching, redshifted (elongated) if receding. It occurs both in sound and light. How much the frequency changes depends on how fast the object is moving toward or away from the receiver. Compare cosmological redshift.
Not the dust one finds around the house (which is typically fine bits of fabric, dirt, and dead skin cells). Rather, irregularly shaped grains of carbon and/or silicates measuring a fraction of a micron across which are found between the stars. Dust is most evident by its absorption, causing large dark patches in regions of our Milky Way Galaxy and dark bands across other galaxies.
A value that defines the shape of an ellipse or planetary orbit. The eccentricity of an ellipse (planetary orbit) is the ratio of the distance between the foci and the major axis. Equivalently the eccentricity is (ra-rp)/(ra+rp) where ra is the apoapsis distance and rp is the periapsis distance.
The passage of one celestial body in front of another, cutting off the light from the second body (e.g. an eclipse of the sun by the moon, or one star in a binary system eclipsing the other). It may also be the passage of all or part of one body through the shadow of another (e.g. a lunar eclipse in which the moon passes through the Earth's shadow).
The plane of Earth's orbit about the Sun.
Eddington limit (Sir A. Eddington)
The theoretical limit at which the photon pressure would exceed the gravitational attraction of a light-emitting body. That is, a body emitting radiation at greater than the Eddington limit would break up from its own photon pressure.
Einstein, Albert (1879 - 1955)
German-American physicist; developed the Special and General Theories of Relativity which along with Quantum Mechanics is the foundation of modern physics. Show me a picture of Albert Einstein !
The first fully imaging x-ray telescope in space, launched by NASA in 1978. Originally named "HEAO-2" (High Energy Astrophysics Observatory 2), it was renamed for Albert Einstein upon launch. Also see HEAO.
The full range of frequencies, from radio waves to gamma-rays, that characterizes light.
A negatively charged particle commonly found in the outer layers of atoms. The electron has only 0.0005 the mass of the proton.
The change of potential energy experienced by an electron moving from a place where the potential has a value of V to a place where it has a value of (V+1 volt). This is a convenient energy unit when dealing with the motions of electrons and ions in electric fields; the unit is also the one used to describe the energy of X-rays and gamma-rays. A keV (or kiloelectron volt) is equal to 1000 electron volts. An MeV is equal to one million electron volts. A GeV is equal to one billion (109) electron volts. A TeV is equal to a million million (1012) electron volts.
The fundamental kinds of atoms that make up the building blocks of matter, which are each shown on the periodic table of the elements. The most abundant elements in the universe are hydrogen and helium. These two elements make up about 80and 20 % of all the matter in the universe respectively. Despite comprising only a very small fraction the universe, the remaining heavy elements can greatly influence astronomical phenomena. About 2 % of the Milky Way's disk is comprised of heavy elements.
Oval. That the orbits of the planets are ellipses, not circles, was first discovered by Johannes Kepler based on the careful observations by Tycho Brahe.
A form of the metric unit for power. It is equal to 10-10 kilowatts (see scientific notation).
The distance from a black hole within which nothing can escape. In addition, nothing can prevent a particle from hitting the singularity in a very short amount of proper time once it has entered the horizon. In this sense, the event horizon is a "point of no return". See Schwarzschild radius.
A star near the end of its lifetime when most of its fuel has been used up. This period of the star's life is characterized by loss of mass from its surface in the form of a stellar wind.
European Space Agency's X-ray Observatory
In order to explain the origins of cosmic rays, Enrico Fermi (1949) introduced a mechanism of particle acceleration, whereby charged particles bounce off moving interstellar magnetic fields and either gain or lose energy, depending on whether the "magnetic mirror" is approaching or receding. In a typical environment, he argued, the probability of a head-on collision is greater than a head-tail collision, so particles would be accelerated on average. This random process is now called 2nd order Fermi acceleration, because the mean energy gain per "bounce" is dependent on the "mirror" velocity squared.
Bell (1978) and Blandford and Ostriker (1978) independently showed that Fermi acceleration by supernova remnant (SNR) shocks is particularly efficient, because the motions are not random. A charged particle ahead of the shock front can pass through the shock and then be scattered by magnetic inhomogeneities behind the shock. The particle gains energy from this "bounce" and flies back across the shock, where it can be scattered by magnetic inhomogeneities ahead of the shock. This enables the particle to bounce back and forth again and again, gaining energy each time. This process is now called 1st order Fermi acceleration, because the mean energy gain is dependent on the shock velocity only to the first power.
A property of a wave that describes how many wave patterns or cycles pass by in a period of time. Frequency is often measured in Hertz (Hz), where a wave with a frequency of 1 Hz will pass by at 1 cycle per second.
A suite of software tools developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for analyzing high-energy astronomy data.
File Transfer Protocol -- A widely available method for transferring files over the Internet.
The process in which atomic nuclei collide so fast that they stick together and emit a large amount of energy. In the center of most stars, hydrogen fuses into helium. The energy emitted by fusion supports the star's enormous mass from collapsing in on itself, and causes the star to glow.
A component of our universe made up of gas and a large number (usually more than a million) of stars held together by gravity. When capitalized, Galaxy refers to our own Milky Way Galaxy.
Galilei, Galileo (1564 - 1642)
An Italian scientist, Galileo was renowned for his epoch making contribution to physics, astronomy, and scientific philosophy. He is regarded as the chief founder of modern science. He developed the telescope, with which he found craters on the Moon and discovered the largest moons of Jupiter. Galileo was condemned by the Catholic Church for his view of the cosmos based on the theory of Copernicus. Show me a picture of Galileo !
The highest energy, shortest wavelength electromagnetic radiations. Usually, they are thought of as any photons having energies greater than about 100 keV.
A spherically symmetric collection of stars which shared a common origin. The cluster may contain up to millions of stars spanning up to 50 parsecs.
When a massive body collapses under its own weight. (For example, interstellar clouds collapse to become stars until the onset of nuclear fusion stops the collapse.)
Objects held in orbit about each other by their gravitational attraction. For example, satellites in orbit around the earth are gravitationally bound to Earth since they can't escape Earth's gravity. By contrast, the Voyager spacecraft, which explored the outer solar system, was launched with enough energy to escape Earth's gravity altogether, and hence it is not gravitationally bound.
Gamma Ray Imaging Platform (GRIP)
A balloon-borne gamma-ray telescope made by a group at the California Institute of Technology. It has had many successful flights.
Gamma-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (GRIS)
A balloon-borne instrument which uses germanium detectors for high resolution gamma-ray spectroscopy.
Giant Molecular Cloud (GMC)
Massive clouds of gas in interstellar space composed primarily of hydrogen molecules (two hydrogen atoms bound together), though also containing other molecules observable by radio telescopes. These clouds can contain enough mass to make several million stars like our Sun and are often the sites of star formation.
The third Japanese X-ray mission, also known as Astro-C.
A mutual physical force attracting two bodies.
Goddard Space Flight Center, one of the centers operated by NASA.
The ancient Chinese term for a star that newly appears in the night sky, and then later disappears. Later, the Europeans called this a nova.
The temperature inferred for a black hole based on the Hawking radiation detected from it.
The High Energy Astrophysical Observatory satellite series
The second lightest and second most abundant element. The typical helium atom consists of a nucleus of two protons and two neutrons surrounded by two electrons. Helium was first discovered in our Sun. Roughly 25 percent of our Sun is helium.
Herschel, Sir William (1738 - 1822)
Sir William Herschel was a renowned astronomer who first detected the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum in 1800.
Hertz, Heinrich (1857 - 1894)
A German physics professor who did the first experiments with generating and receiving electromagnetic waves, in particular radio waves. In his honor, the units associated with measuring the cycles per second of the waves (or the number of times the tip-tops of the waves pass a fixed point in space in 1 second of time) is called the hertz.
hertz; Hz (after H. Hertz, 1857 - 1894)
The derived SI unit of frequency, defined as a frequency of 1 cycle per second.
Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble, Edwin P. (1889 - 1953)
American astronomer whose observations proved that galaxies are "island universes", not nebulae inside our own galaxy. His greatest discovery, called "Hubble's Law", was the linear relationship between a galaxy's distance and the speed with which it is moving. The Hubble Space Telescope is named in his honor. Show me a picture of Edwin Hubble !
Hubble constant; Ho (E.P. Hubble; 1925)
The constant which determines the relationship between the distance to a galaxy and its velocity of recession due to the expansion of the Universe. After many years in which the Hubble constant was only known to be somewhere between 50 and 100 km/s/Mpc, it has been determined to be 70 km/s/Mpc ± 7 km/s/Mpc by the Hubble Space Telescope's Key Project team. (Advances in cosmology have shown that since the Universe is self gravitating, Ho is not truly constant. Astronomers thus seek its present value.)
Hubble's law (E.P. Hubble; 1925)
A relationship between a galaxy's distance from us and its velocity through space. The farther away a galaxy is from us, the faster it is receding from us. The constant of proportionality is the Hubble constant, Ho, named after Edwin P. Hubble who discovered the relationship. Hubble's Law is interpreted as evidence that the Universe is expanding.
Huygens, Christiaan (1629 - 1695)
A Dutch physicist who was the leading proponent of the wave theory of light. He also made important contributions to mechanics, stating that in a collision between bodies, neither loses nor gains ``motion'' (his term for momentum). In astronomy, he discovered Titan (Saturn's largest moon) and was the first to correctly identify the observed elongation of Saturn as the presence of Saturn's rings. Show me a picture of Christian Huygens !
The lightest and most abundant element. A hydrogen atom consists of one proton and one electron. Hydrogen composes about 75 percent of the Sun, but only a tiny fraction of the Earth.
A violent inward collapse. An inward explosion.
Electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths longer than the red end of visible light and shorter than microwaves (roughly between 1 and 100 microns). Almost none of the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum can reach the surface of the Earth, although some portions can be observed by high-altitude aircraft (such as the Kuiper Observatory) or telescopes on high mountaintops (such as the peak of Mauna Loa in Hawaii).
The inclination of a planet's orbit is the angle between the plane of its orbit and the ecliptic; the inclination of a moon's orbit is the angle between the plane of its orbit and the plane of its primary's equator.
In astronomy, a picture of the sky.
An atom with one or more electrons stripped off, giving it a net positive charge.
ionic (or ionized) gas
Gas whose atoms have lost or gained electrons, causing them to be electrically charged. In astronomy, this term is most often used to describe the gas around hot stars where the high temperature causes atoms to lose electrons.
International Ultraviolet Explorer, an ultraviolet space observatory launch in 1978. Originally designed for a 3 year mission, IUE exceeded all expectations and functioned for over 18 years, finally ceasing operation in September 1996.
Kepler, Johannes (1571 - 1630)
German astronomer and mathematician. Considered a founder of modern astronomy, he formulated the famous three laws of planetary motion. They comprise a quantitative formulation of Copernicus's theory that the planets revolve around the Sun. Show me a picture of Johannes Kepler !
Kepler's laws (J. Kepler)
Kepler's first law
A planet orbits the Sun in an ellipse with the Sun at one focus.
Kepler's second law
A line directed from the Sun to a planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times as the planet orbits the Sun.
Kepler's third law
The square of the period of a planet's orbit is proportional to the cube of that planet's semimajor axis; the constant of proportionality is the same for all planets.
The fundamental SI unit of mass. The kilogram is the only SI unit still maintained by a physical artifact (a platinum-iridium bar) kept in the International Bureau of Weights and Measures at Sevres, France. One kilogram is equivalent to 1,000 grams or about 2.2 pounds; the mass of a liter of water.
Refers to the calculation or description of the underlying mechanics of motion of an astronomical object. For example, in radioastronomy, spectral line graphs are used to determine the kinematics or relative motions of material at the center of a galaxy or surrounding a star as it is born.
Kirchhoff's law of radiation (G.R. Kirchhoff)
The emissivity of a body is equal to its absorbance at the same temperature.
Kirchhoff's laws (G.R. Kirchhoff)
Kirchhoff's first law
An incandescent solid or gas under high pressure will produce a continuous spectrum.
Kirchhoff's second law
A low-density gas will radiate an emission-line spectrum with an underlying emission continuum.
Kirchhoff's third law
Continuous radiation viewed through a low-density gas will produce an absorption-line spectrum.
Lagrange, Joseph (1736 - 1813)
A French mathematician of the eighteenth century. His work Mecanique Analytique (Analytical Mechanics; 1788) was a mathematical masterpiece. It contained clear, symmetrical notation and covered almost every area of pure mathematics. Lagrange developed the calculus of variations, established the theory of differential equations, and provided many new solutions and theorems in number theory. His classic Theorie des fonctions analytiques laid some of the foundations of group theory. Lagrange also invented the method of solving differential equations known as variation of parameters. Show me a picture of Joseph Lagrange !
Points in the vicinity of two massive bodies (such as the Earth and the Moon) where each others' respective gravities balance. There are five, labeled L1 through L5. L1, L2, and L3 lie along the centerline between the centers of mass between the two masses; L1 is on the inward side of the secondary, L2 is on the outward side of the secondary; and L3 is on the outward side of the primary. L4 and L5, the so-called Trojan points, lie along the orbit of the secondary around the primary, sixty degrees ahead and behind of the secondary.
L1 through L3 are points of unstable equilibrium; any disturbance will move a test particle there out of the Lagrange point. L4 and L5 are points of stable equilibrium, provided that the mass of the secondary is less than about 1/25.96 the mass of the primary. These points are stable because centrifugal pseudo-forces work against gravity to cancel it out.
Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It's a device that produces a coherent beam of optical radiation by stimulating electronic, ionic, or molecular transitions to higher levels so that when they return to lower energy levels they emit energy.
Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics, located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The scientists, programmers and technicians working here study the astrophysics of objects which emit cosmic ray, x-ray and gamma-ray radiation.
Electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye.
A graph showing how the radiation from an object varies over time.
The outer edge of the apparent disk of a celestial body.
The rate at which a star or other object emits energy, usually in the form of electromagnetic radiation.
A description of the strength of the magnetic force exerted by an object. Bar magnets have "di-polar" fields, as the force is exerted from the two ends of the bar. In simple terms, the earth, the sun, stars, pulsars all have dipolar magnetic fields.
Either of two limited regions in a magnet at which the magnet's field is most intense. The two regions have opposing polarities, which we label "north" and "south", after the two poles on the Earth.
The region of space in which the magnetic field of an object (e.g., a star or planet) dominates the radiation pressure of the stellar wind to which it is exposed.
The portion of a planetary magnetosphere which is pushed in the direction of the solar wind.
The degree of brightness of a celestial body designated on a numerical scale, on which the brightest star has magnitude -1.4 and the faintest visible star has magnitude 6, with the scale rule such that a decrease of one unit represents an increase in apparent brightness by a factor of 2.512; also called apparent magnitude.
A measure of the total amount of material in a body, defined either by the inertial properties of the body or by its gravitational influence on other bodies.
A word used for any kind of stuff which contains mass.
A unit of energy used to describe nuclear warheads. The same amount energy as 1 million tons of TNT.
1 mega-ton = 4 x 1022 ergs = 4 x 1015 joules.
Messier, Charles (1730 - 1817)
The 18th century French astronomer who compiled a list of approximately 100 fuzzy, diffuse looking objects which appeared at fixed positions in the sky. Being a comet-hunter, Messier compiled this list of objects which he knew were not comets. His list is now well known to professional and amateur astronomers as containing the brightest and most striking nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies in the sky.
The fundamental SI unit of length, defined as the length of the path traveled by light in vacuum during a period of 1/299 792 458 s. A unit of length equal to about 39 inches. A kilometer is equal to 1000 meters.
Microquasars are stellar mass black holes, that display characteristics of the supermassive black holes found at the centers of some galaxies. For instance, they have radio jets - something not every black hole has.
Electromagnetic radiation which has a longer wavelength (between 1 mm and 30 cm) than visible light. Microwaves can be used to study the Universe, communicate with satellites in Earth orbit, and cook popcorn.
nebula (pl. nebulae)
A diffuse mass of interstellar dust and gas. A reflection nebula shines by light reflected from nearby stars. An emission nebula shines by emitting light as electrons recombine with protons to form hydrogen. The electrons were made free by the ultraviolet light of a nearby star shining on a cloud of hydrogen gas. A planetary nebula results from the explosion of a solar-like type star.
A fundamental particle produced in massive numbers by the nuclear reactions in stars; they are very hard to detect because the vast majority of them pass completely through the Earth without interacting.
A particle with approximately the mass of a proton, but zero charge, commonly found in the nucleus of atoms .
The imploded core of a massive star produced by a supernova explosion. (typical mass of 1.4 times the mass of the Sun, radius of about 5 miles, density of a neutron.) According to astronomer and author Frank Shu, "A sugar cube of neutron-star stuff on Earth would weigh as much as all of humanity!" Neutron stars can be observed as pulsars.
Newton's law of universal gravitation (Sir I. Newton)
Two bodies attract each other with equal and opposite forces; the magnitude of this force is proportional to the product of the two masses and is also proportional to the inverse square of the distance between the centers of mass of the two bodies.
Newton's laws of motion (Sir I. Newton)
Newton's first law of motion
A body continues in its state of constant velocity (which may be zero) unless it is acted upon by an external force.
Newton's second law of motion
For an unbalanced force acting on a body, the acceleration produced is proportional to the force impressed; the constant of proportionality is the inertial mass of the body.
Newton's third law of motion
In a system where no external forces are present, every action force is always opposed by an equal and opposite reaction
The random fluctuations that are always associated with a measurement that is repeated many times over. Noise appears in astronomical images as fluctuations in the image background. These fluctuations do not represent any real sources of light in the sky, but rather are caused by the imperfections of the telescope. If the noise is too high, it may obscure the dimmest objects within the field of view.
nova (plural: novae)
A star that experiences a sudden outburst of radiant energy, temporarily increasing its luminosity by hundreds to thousands of times before fading back to its original luminosity.
A nuclear process whereby several small nuclei are combined to make a larger one whose mass is slightly smaller than the sum of the small ones. The difference in mass is converted to energy by Einstein's famous equivalence "Energy = Mass times the Speed of Light squared". This is the source of the Sun's energy.
A property of matter that prevents light from passing through it. The opacity or opaqueness of something depends on the frequency of the light. For instance, the atmosphere of Venus is transparent to ultraviolet light, but is opaque to visible light.
The path of an object that is moving around a second object or point.
Orbiting Solar Observatory 3
The distance to an object which has a parallax of one arc second. It is equal to 3.26 light years, or 3.1 x 1018 cm (see scientific notation). A kiloparsec (kpc) is equal to 1000 parsecs. A megaparsec (Mpc) is equal to a million (106) parsecs.
The point in an orbit when two objects are closest together. Special names are given to this point for commonly used systems: see periastron, perihelion, and perigee. The opposite of apoapsis.
The point of closest approach of two stars, as in a binary star orbit. Opposite of apastron.
The point in its orbit where an Earth satellite is closest to the Earth. Opposite of apogee.
The point in its orbit where a planet is closest to the Sun. Opposite of aphelion.
The smallest (quantum) unit of light/electromagnetic energy. Photons are generally regarded as particles with zero mass and no electric charge.
An effect explained by A. Einstein which demonstrates that light seems to be made up of particles, or photons. Light can excite electrons (called photoelectrons in this context) to be ejected from a metal. Light with a frequency below a certain threshold, at any intensity, will not cause any photoelectrons to be emitted from the metal. Above that frequency, photoelectrons are emitted in proportion to the intensity of incident light.
The reason is that a photon has energy in proportion to its wavelength, and the constant of proportionality is the Planck constant. Below a certain frequency -- and thus below a certain energy -- the incident photons do not have enough energy to knock the photoelectrons out of the metal. Above that threshold energy, called the work function, photons will knock the photoelectrons out of the metal, in proportion to the number of photons (the intensity of the light). At higher frequencies and energies, the photoelectrons ejected obtain a kinetic energy corresponding to the difference between the photon's energy and the work function.
The constant equal to the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.141593.
Planck constant; h
The fundamental constant equal to the ratio of the energy of a quantum of energy to its frequency. It is the quantum of action. It has the value 6.626196 x 10-34 J s (see scientific notation).
The quantum mechanical equation relating the energy of a photon E to its frequency nu:
A shell of gas ejected from, and expanding about, a certain kind of extremely hot star.
A low-density gas in which the individual atoms are ionized (and therefore charged), even though the total number of positive and negative charges is equal, maintaining an overall electrical neutrality.
The direction in the sky to which the telescope is pointed. Pointing also describes how accurately a telescope can be pointed toward a particular direction in the sky.
A special property of light; light has three properties, brightness, color and polarization. Polarization is a condition in which the planes of vibration of the various rays in a light beam are at least partially aligned.
The antiparticle to the electron. The positron has most of the same characteristics as an electron except it is positively charged.
A particle with a positive charge commonly found in the nucleus of atoms.
Very dense regions (or cores) of molecular clouds where stars are in the process of forming.
Ptolemy (ca. 100-ca. 170)
A.k.a. Claudius Ptolemaeus. Ptolemy believed the planets and Sun to orbit the Earth in the order Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. This system became known as the Ptolemaic system and predicted the positions of the planets accurately enough for naked-eye observations (although it made some ridiculous predictions, such as that the distance to the moon should vary by a factor of two over its orbit). He authored a book called Mathematical Syntaxis (widely known as the Almagest). The Almagest included a star catalog containing 48 constellations, using the names we still use today. Show me a picture of Ptolemy !
A rotating neutron star which generates regular pulses of radiation. Pulsars were discovered by observations at radio wavelengths but have since been observed at optical, X-ray, and gamma-ray energies.
quasi-stellar source (QSS)
Sometimes also called quasi-stellar object (QSO); A stellar-appearing object of very large redshift that is a strong source of radio waves; presumed to be extragalactic and highly luminous.
The supplementary SI unit of angular measure, defined as the central angle of a circle whose subtended arc is equal to the radius of the circle. One radian is approximately 57o.
Energy radiated in the form of waves (light)or particles (photons).
Regions of charged particles in a magnetosphere.
Electromagnetic radiation which has the lowest frequency, the longest wavelength, and is produced by charged particles moving back and forth; the atmosphere of the Earth is transparent to radio waves with wavelengths from a few millimeters to about twenty meters.
Rayleigh criterion; resolving power
A criterion for how finely a set of optics may be able to distinguish the location of objects which are near each other. It begins with the assumption that the central ring of one image should fall on the first dark ring of another image; for an objective lens with diameter d and employing light with a wavelength lambda (usually taken to be 560 nm), the resolving power is approximately given by
Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities occur when a heavy (more dense) fluid is pushed against a light fluid -- like trying to balance water on top of air by filling a glass 1/2 full and carefully turning it over. Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities are important in many astronomical objects, because the two fluids trade places by sticking "fingers" into each other. These "fingers" can drag the magnetic field lines along with them, thus both enhancing and aligning the magnetic field. This result is evident in the example of a supernova remnant in the diagram below, from Chevalier (1977):
A star that has low surface temperature and a diameter that is large relative to the Sun.
An apparent shift toward longer wavelengths of spectral lines in the radiation emitted by an object caused by the emitting object moving away from the observer. See also Doppler effect.
For a wavefront intersecting a reflecting surface, the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection, in the same plane defined by the ray of incidence and the normal.
The principle, employed by Einstein's relativity theories, that the laws of physics are the same, at least locally, in all coordinate frames. This principle, along with the principle of the constancy of the speed of light, constitutes the founding principles of special relativity.
relativity, theory of
Theories of motion developed by Albert Einstein, for which he is justifiably famous. Relativity More accurately describes the motions of bodies in strong gravitational fields or at near the speed of light than Newtonian mechanics. All experiments done to date agree with relativity's predictions to a high degree of accuracy. (Curiously, Einstein received the Nobel prize in 1921 not for Relativity but rather for his 1905 work on the photoelectric effect.)
In astronomy, the ability of a telescope to differentiate between two objects in the sky which are separated by a small angular distance. The closer two objects can be while still allowing the telescope to see them as two distinct objects, the higher the resolution of the telescope.
resolution (spectral or frequency)
Similar to spatial resolution except that it applies to frequency, spectral resolution is the ability of the telescope to differentiate two light signals which differ in frequency by a small amount. The closer the two signals are in frequency while still allowing the telescope to separate them as two distinct components, the higher the spectral resolution of the telescope.
A relationship in which the orbital period of one body is related to that of another by a simple integer fraction, such as 1/2, 2/3, 3/5.
The rotation or orbital motion of an object in a clockwise direction when viewed from the north pole of the ecliptic; moving in the opposite sense from the great majority of solar system bodies.
A coordinate which, along with declination, may be used to locate any position in the sky. Right ascension is analogous to longitude for locating positions on the Earth.
Ritter, Johann Wilhelm (1776 - 1810)
Ritter is credited with discovering and investigating the ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The smallest distance from a planet or other body at which purely gravitational forces can hold together a satellite or secondary body of the same mean density as the primary. At less than this distance the tidal forces of the larger object would break up the smaller object.
The volume around a star in a binary system in which, if you were to release a particle, it would fall back onto the surface of that star. A particle released above the Roche lobe of either star will, in general, occupy the `circumbinary' region that surrounds both stars. The point at which the Roche lobes of the two stars touch is called the inner Lagrangian or L1 point. If a star in a close binary system evolves to the point at which it `fills' its Roche lobe, theoretical calculations predict that material from this star will overflow both onto the companion star (via the L1 point) and into the environment around the binary system.
Röntgen, Wilhelm Conrad (1845 - 1923)
A German scientist who fortuitously discovered X-rays in 1895.
A black hole described by solutions to Einstein's equations of general relativity worked out by Karl Schwarzschild in 1916. The solutions assume the black hole is not rotating, and that the size of its event horizon is determined solely by its mass.
The radius r of the event horizon for a Schwarzschild black hole.
A compact format for writing very large or very small numbers, most often used in scientific fields. The notation separates a number into two parts: a decimal fraction, usually between 1 and 10, and a power of ten. Thus 1.23 x 104 means 1.23 times 10 to the fourth power or 12,300; 5.67 x 10-8 means 5.67 divided by 10 to the eighth power or 0.0000000567.
The fundamental SI unit of time, defined as the period of time equal to the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium-133 atom. A nanosecond is equal to one-billionth (10-9) of a second.
The semimajor axis of an ellipse (e.g. a planetary orbit) is half the length of the major axis, which is the line segment passing through the foci of the ellipse with endpoints on the ellipse itself. The semimajor axis of a planetary orbit is also the average distance from the planet to its primary. The periapsis and apoapsis distances can be calculated from the semimajor axis and the eccentricity by
A measure of how bright objects need to be in order for that telescope to detect these objects. A highly sensitive telescope can detect dim objects, while a telescope with low sensitivity can detect only bright ones.
A spiral galaxy whose nucleus shows bright emission lines; one of a class of galaxies first described by C. Seyfert.
A strong compression wave where there is a sudden change in gas velocity, density, pressure and temperature.
The center of a black hole, where the curvature of spacetime is maximal. At the singularity, the gravitational tides diverge; no solid object can even theoretically survive hitting the singularity. Although singularities generally predict inconsistencies in theory, singularities within black holes do not necessarily imply that general relativity is incomplete so long as singularities are always surrounded by event horizons.
A proper formulation of quantum gravity may well avoid the classical singularity at the centers of black holes.
Violent eruptions of gas on the Sun's surface.
A unit of mass equivalent to the mass of the Sun. 1 solar mass = 1 Msun = 2 x 1033 grams.
The physical theory of space and time developed by Albert Einstein, based on the postulates that all the laws of physics are equally valid in all frames of reference moving at a uniform velocity and that the speed of light from a uniformly moving source is always the same, regardless of how fast or slow the source or its observer is moving. The theory has as consequences the relativistic mass increase of rapidly moving objects, time dilatation, and the principle of mass-energy equivalence. See also general relativity.
Light given off at a specific frequency by an atom or molecule. Every different type of atom or molecule gives off light at its own unique set of frequencies; thus, astronomers can look for gas containing a particular atom or molecule by tuning the telescope to one of the gas's characteristic frequencies. For example, carbon monoxide (CO) has a spectral line at 115 Gigahertz (or a wavelength of 2.7 mm).
The instrument connected to a telescope that separates the light signals into different frequencies, producing a spectrum.
A Dispersive Spectrometer is like a prism. It scatters light of different energies to different places. We measure the energy by noting where the X-rays go. A Non-Dispersive Spectrometer measures the energy directly.
The study of spectral lines from different atoms and molecules. Spectroscopy is an important part of studying the chemistry that goes on in stars and in interstellar clouds.
spectrum (plural: spectra)
A plot of the intensity of light at different frequencies. Or the distribution of wavelengths and frequencies.
A large ball of gas that creates and emits its own radiation.
A bunch of stars (ranging in number from a few to hundreds of thousands) which are bound to each other by their mutual gravitational attraction.
Stefan-Boltzmann constant; sigma (Stefan, L. Boltzmann)
The constant of proportionality present in the Stefan-Boltzmann law. It is equal to 5.6697 x 10-8 Watts per square meter per degree Kelvin to the fourth power (see scientific notation).
Stefan-Boltzmann law (Stefan, L. Boltzmann)
The radiated power P (rate of emission of electromagnetic energy) of a hot body is proportional to the radiating surface area, A, and the fourth power of the thermodynamic temperature, T. The constant of proportionality is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant.
Stars are given a designation consisting of a letter and a number according to the nature of their spectral lines which corresponds roughly to surface temperature. The classes are: O, B, A, F, G, K, and M; O stars are the hottest; M the coolest. The numbers are simply subdivisions of the major classes. The classes are oddly sequenced because they were assigned long ago before we understood their relationship to temperature. O and B stars are rare but very bright; M stars are numerous but dim. The Sun is designated G2.
The ejection of gas off the surface of a star. Many different types of stars, including our Sun, have stellar winds; however, a star's wind is strongest near the end of its life when it has consumed most of its fuel.
The supplementary SI unit of solid angle defined as the solid central angle of a sphere that encloses a surface on the sphere equal to the square of the sphere's radius.
supernova (plural: supernovae)
The death explosion of a massive star, resulting in a sharp increase in brightness followed by a gradual fading. At peak light output, supernova explosions can outshine a galaxy. The outer layers of the exploding star are blasted out in a radioactive cloud. This expanding cloud, visible long after the initial explosion fades from view, forms a supernova remnant (SNR).
The Spectrum X-Gamma mission
Electromagnetic radiation given off when very high energy electrons encounter magnetic fields.
Systéme Internationale d'Unités (SI)
The coherent and rationalized system of units, derived from the MKS system (which itself is derived from the metric system), in common use in physics today. The fundamental SI unit of length is the meter, of time is the second, and of mass is the kilogram.
The increase in the time between two events as measured by an observer who is outside of the reference frame in which the events take place. The effect occurs in both special and general relativity, and is quite pronounced for speeds approaching the speed of light, and in regions of high gravity.
universal constant of gravitation; G
The constant of proportionality in Newton's law of universal gravitation and which plays an analogous role in A. Einstein's general relativity. It is equal to 6.664 x 10-11 newtons per square meter per kilogram squared (see scientific notation).
The distance between adjacent peaks in a series of periodic waves. Also see electromagnetic spectrum.
A star that has exhausted most or all of its nuclear fuel and has collapsed to a very small size. Typically, a white dwarf has a radius equal to about 0.01 times that of the Sun, but it has a mass roughly equal to the Sun's. This gives a white dwarf a density about 1 million times that of water!
The World Wide Web -- a loose linkage of Internet sites which provide data and other services from around the world.
A software tools used by astrophysicists in conjunction with the FTOOLS software to analyze certain types of astronomical data.
X-ray Timing Explorer, also known as the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE)
|Home||Imagine Science||Exhibit Central||Satellites and Data|
|Ask a High Energy Astronomer|
Imagine the Universe is a service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Nicholas White (Director), within the Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Do you have a question, problem or comment about this web site? Please let us know.