Glossary

Glossary items by letter: h — k

HDF-N

Hubble Deep Field North (HDF-N) is a tiny region of the northern sky near the Big Dipper toward which the Hubble Space Telescope was pointed for ten straight days in 1995. Because this observation was designed to detect very faint light from the most distant galaxies Hubble can observe, the field contains few bright celestial objects. Seemingly devoid of light, this small area provided a “keyhole” view of the universe’s past, reaching across space and time to see infant galaxies. By probing these remote regions of space, astronomers are gaining more information on galaxy development.

HDF-S

Hubble Deep Field South (HDF-S) is a tiny region of the southern sky near the Southern Cross toward which the Hubble Space Telescope was pointed for ten straight days in 1998. Because this observation was designed to detect very faint light from the most distant galaxies Hubble can observe, the field contains few bright celestial objects. Seemingly devoid of light, this small area provided a “keyhole” view of the universe’s past, reaching across space and time to see infant galaxies. By probing these remote regions of space, astronomers are gaining more information on galaxy development.

Habitable Zone

A region around a star where planets with liquid water may be present. A planet on the near edge of the habitable zone would have a surface temperature slightly lower than the boiling point of water. A planet on the distant edge of the habitable zone would have a surface temperature slightly higher than the freezing point of water.

Heliocentric

An adjective meaning “centered on the Sun.”

Hemisphere

Half of a spherical or roughly spherical body; for example, the northern and southern halves of the Earth, above and below the equator.

Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram

A plot showing the relationship between the brightness (luminosity) and the surface temperatures of many stars. Often the spectral class, which is based on the temperature of the star, is used as a label.

High Speed Photometer (HSP)

An original science instrument aboard the Hubble Space Telescope that made very rapid photometric observations of celestial objects in near-ultraviolet to visible light. The instrument was removed in December 1993 during the First Servicing Mission.

Host Galaxy

A galaxy in which a cosmic phenomenon, such as a supernova explosion or a gamma-ray burst, has occurred.

Hubble’s Law

Mathematically expresses the idea that the recessional velocities of faraway galaxies are directly proportional to their distance from us. Hubble’s Law describes the relationship of velocity and distance by the equation V=Ho * d, where V is the object’s recessional velocity, d is the distance to the object, and Ho is the Hubble constant. Essentially, the more distant two galaxies are from each other, the faster they are traveling away from each other. American astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered this relationship in 1929 when he observed that galaxies and clusters of galaxies were generally moving away from each other.

Hubble Constant (Ho)

A number that expresses the rate at which the universe expands with time. Ho appears to be between 60 and 75 kilometers per second per megaparsec.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

An orbiting telescope that collects light from celestial objects in visible, near-ultraviolet, and near-infrared wavelengths. The telescope’s primary mirror is 2.4 m (8 ft) wide. It orbits the Earth about every 96 minutes and is powered by sunlight collected with its two solar arrays.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

An orbiting telescope that collects light from celestial objects in visible, near-ultraviolet, and near-infrared wavelengths. The telescope was launched April 24, 1990 aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery. The 12.5-ton (11,110-kg), tube-shaped telescope is 13.1 m (43 ft) long and 4.3 m (14 ft) wide. It orbits the Earth every 96 minutes and is mainly powered by the sunlight collected by its two solar arrays. The telescope’s primary mirror is 2.4 m (8 ft) wide. The telescope is operated jointly by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). HST is one of the many NASA Origins Missions, which include current satellites such as the Far Ultraviolet Space Explorer (FUSE) and future space observatories such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Image Intensifier

A device capable of intensifying light from a faint source so that it may be more easily detected.

Impact

When one body strikes another with great force. Some examples include a meteor colliding with the Moon or a comet, such as Shoemaker-Levy 9, slamming into Jupiter.

Impact Crater

A large depression on a moon or a planet. An impact crater is created when an asteroid, a comet, or a meteorite strikes the moon or the planet with great force.

Impact Event

A collision between two solar system bodies that releases exceptionally large amounts of energy. Some examples are the 1908 Siberian Tunguska impact by a comet or an asteroid and the asteroid that struck Earth 65 million years ago, which may have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and other species of the Cretaceous-Tertiary era.

Impactor

The part of the Deep Impact spacecraft that crashed into comet 9P/Tempel 1. When launched, the impactor and the flyby spacecraft were attached to each other. The spacecraft launched the impactor a day before the crash. As the impactor punched through the cometís crust, the flyby craft recorded the event from a safe distance away.

Inflation

The theory that the universe expanded very rapidly shortly after the Big Bang.

Infrared

Radiation that has longer wavelengths and lower frequencies and energies than visible light.

Infrared (IR) Light

The part of the electromagnetic spectrum that has slightly lower energy than visible light, but is not visible to the human eye. Just as there are low-pitched sounds that cannot be heard, there is low-energy light that cannot be seen. Infrared light can be detected as the heat from warm–blooded animals.

Infrared Telescope

An instrument that collects the infrared radiation emitted by celestial objects. There are several Earth- and space-based infrared observatories. The Infrared Telescope Facility, an Earth-bound infrared telescope, is the U.S. national infrared observing facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. A planned space-based infrared observatory is the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF).

Instrument

Any device that measures and/or records energy from astronomical objects. Some astronomical instruments include spectrometers, photometers, spectroheliographs, and charge-coupled devices.

Intensity

The amount, degree, or quantity of energy passing through a point per unit time. For example, the intensity of light that Earth receives from the Sun is far greater than that from any other star because the Sun is the closest star to us.

Interferometer

An instrument that combines the signal from two or more telescopes to produce a sharper image than the telescopes could achieve separately.

Interferometry

The process used to combine the signal from two or more telescopes to produce a sharper image than each telescope could achieve separately.

International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE)

The longest operating (1978—1996) and most productive ultraviolet space observatory launched into a high geosynchronous orbit.

Interplanetary Matter

Dust, gas, and other debris found within the solar system.

Interplanetary Space

The region of space surrounding our Sun. Asteroids, comets, Earth, and the solar wind are examples of things occupying interplanetary space.

Interstellar Dust

Small particles of solid matter, similar to smoke, in the space between stars.

Interstellar Medium (ISM)

The sparse gas and dust located between the stars of a galaxy.

Interstellar Space

The dark regions of space located between the stars.

Inverse Square Law

A law that describes any quantity, such as gravitational force, that decreases with the square of the distance between two objects. For example, if the distance between two objects is doubled, then the gravitational force exerted between them is one-fourth as strong. Likewise, if the distance to a star is doubled, then its apparent brightness is only one-fourth as great.

Invisible Radiation

Radiation that the eye cannot detect, such as gamma rays, radio waves, ultraviolet light, and X-rays.

Io

The innermost of Jupiter’s four large moons. Due to Jupiter's gravitational might, Io is geologically active; its surface is peppered with volcanoes that send sulfurous eruptions into its thin atmosphere. Io appears to have the most active volcanoes in the solar system.

Io Plasma Torus

A bagel-shaped region of trapped sulfur ions around Jupiter that originates from the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. Gravitational tidal forces between Jupiter, other Galilean moons, and Io cause tidal friction in Io’s interior, producing geysers that spew sulfur at tremendous speeds. Some of the sulfur ions leave Io’s surface and become trapped around Jupiter.

Ion

An atom with one or more electrons removed (or added), giving the atom a positive (or negative) charge.

Ionization

The process by which ions are produced, typically by collisions with other atoms or electrons, or by absorption of electromagnetic radiation.

Ionosphere

A region of the Earth’s upper atmosphere where solar radiation ionizes the air molecules. This region affects the transmission of radio waves and extends from 50 to 400 kilometers (30 to 250 miles) above the Earth's surface.

Irregular Galaxy

A galaxy that appears disorganized and disordered, without a distinct spiral or elliptical shape. Irregular galaxies are usually rich in interstellar matter, such as dust and gas. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are examples of nearby irregular galaxies.

Isotope

An atom of a given element having a particular number of neutrons in the nucleus. Isotopes of a given element differ in the numbers of neutrons within the nucleus. Adding or subtracting a neutron from the nucleus changes an atom’s mass but does not affect its basic chemical properties.

Jets

Narrow, high-energy streams of gas and other particles generally ejected in two opposite directions from some central source. Jets appear to originate in the vicinity of an extremely dense object, such as a black hole, pulsar, or protostar, with a surrounding accretion disk. These jets are thought to be perpendicular to the plane of the accretion disk.

Jovian Atmosphere

The atmosphere surrounding the giant, massive planet Jupiter. The Jovian atmosphere is composed primarily of hydrogen (90 percent) and helium (10 percent). Other minor ingredients include water, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and ammonia.

Jovian Planets

The planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. They are called Jovian planets because of similarities in their composition and location. This group is also known as the “giant planets,” the “gas planets” and, when grouped with the planet Pluto, the “outer planets.”

Jovian Winds

The hurricane-force, high-velocity motion of gas molecules in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The wind speed increases as one travels deeper into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The various patterns of atmospheric winds are easily identified in Jupiter’s upper cloud layer.

Jupiter

The fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet in our solar system, twice as massive as all the other planets combined. Jupiter is a gaseous planet with a very faint ring system. Four large moons and numerous smaller moons orbit the planet. Jupiter is more than five times the Earth’s distance from the Sun. It completes an orbit around the Sun in about 12 Earth years.

Keck Observatory

Two telescopes known as the world's largest optical and infrared telescopes, jointly operated by the California Institute of Technology and the University of California. The telescopes comprise the W.M. Keck Observatory and are located on the summit of Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano.

Kelvin Scale

The temperature scale most commonly used in science, on which absolute zero is the lowest possible value. On this scale, water freezes at 273 K and boils at 373 K.

Kepler’s Laws

Three laws, derived by 17th century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, that describe planetary motion.

Kepler’s first law: The orbits of planets are ellipses, with the Sun at one focus. Therefore, each planet moves in an elliptical orbit around the Sun.

Kepler’s second law: An imaginary line connecting any planet to the Sun sweeps over equal areas in equal intervals of time.

Kepler’s third law: The square of any planet’s orbital period is proportional to the cube of its mean distance from the Sun.

Kilometer (km)

A measure of distance in the metric system equal to 1000 meters or about 0.6 of a mile.

Kinetic Energy

The energy that an object has by virtue of its motion.

Kitt Peak Observatory

The world’s largest collection of telescopes, located high above the Sonora Desert in Arizona. Eight astronomical research institutions share the 22 optical and two radio telescopes at Kitt Peak. The National Optical Astronomy Observatories oversee site operations at the observatory.

Kuiper Belt

A region in our outer solar system where many "short-period" comets originate. The orbits of short-period comets are less than 200 years. This region begins near Neptune’s orbit at 30 astronomical units (AU) and extends to about 50 AU away from the Sun. An astronomical unit is the average distance between Earth and the Sun. The Kuiper Belt may have as many as 100 million comets.

 
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