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Astronomy Dictionary
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Click on an underlined word for more information on that subject.

H


H

H is an asteroid's absolute magnitude, the visual magnitude the asteroid would have if it were located 1 AU from Earth.


HADLEY, JOHN H.

John Hadley (1682-1744) was an English mathematician and inventor who built the first reflecting telescope and invented an improved quadrant (known as Hadley's quadrant).


HADLEY RILLE

Hadley Rille is a long valley on the surface of the moon. This rille is 75 miles (125 km) long, 1300 feet (400 m) deep, and almost 1 mile (1500 m) wide at its widest point. It was formed by molten basaltic lava that carved out a steep channel along the base of the Apennine Front (which was explored by the Apollo 15 astronauts in 1971).
HALE-BOPP COMET
Hale Bopp (designated C/1995 O1) is a periodic comet (made of frozen gas and dust), that orbits around the sun. Its earliest-recorded sighting was on July 23, 1995. It was independently discovered by Alan Hale (of New Mexico) and Thomas Bopp (of Arizona), both amateur astronomers. This comet has a diameter of about 40 km; it's rotation rate is 11.4 hours. It was last seen in 1997 and will be seen next in the year 4377; its period is 2380 years.
HALE, GEORGE E.
George Ellery Hale (June 9, 1868 - February 21, 1938) was an astronomer who founded the Yerkes Observatory (1892), the Mt. Wilson Observatory (in 1904), and the Palomar Observatory. Hale invented the spectroheliograph (a device used to analyse the Sun's spectrum) when he was an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA). Later, Hale discovered that sunspots were low-temperature areas on the sun and that they had high magnetic fields.

HALF-LIFE

The half-life of a radioisotope is the amount of time it takes for half of the radioisotope to decay.

HALF MOON

A half moon looks like half a circle. It is sometimes called a quarter moon (this moon has completed one quarter of an orbit around the Earth from its full or new position, and one quarter of the moon's surface is visible from Earth).

HALL, ASAPH

Asaph Hall (1829-1907) was an American astronomer who discovered Mars' two moons, Phobos and Deimos, on August 12, 1877, at the U. S. Naval Observatory's 26-inch refracting telescope. Angelina Hall (nee Stickney), Hall's former mathematics professor and his wife, helped him in his work.

HALLEY, EDMUND

Edmund Halley (1656-1742) was an English astronomer who predicted the return of a spectacular comet in 1758 (after his death, this was confirmed by Johann G. Palitzsch). This comet had previously been seen in 1531, 1607, and 1682. This comet is now known as Halley's Comet. In 1716, Edmond Halley published a paper describing how a planetary transit (a transit of Venus or Mercury) could be used to measure our distance from the Sun.


HALLEY'S COMET
Halley's comet is a periodic comet (made of frozen gas and dust), that orbits around the sun. Its earliest-recorded sighting was in 240 B.C. in China, but Edmund Halley was the first person to recognize that it was periodic. It was last seen in 1986 and will be seen next in the year 2061; its period is 76 years. When the Earth passes through Halley's comet's orbit (twice each year), its detritus causes the meteor showers the Eta Aquarids and the Orionids.


HALO

A halo is a luminous ring that is sometimes seen surrounding the sun or the moon. Some parts of the halo are very bright, others are not very bright. Sometimes, only a part of the ring is visible. The halo is produced as light is reflected and refracted through tiny, flat ice crystals in the atmosphere. Halos are always an angle of 22° away from the sun or moon, due to the hexagonal structure of the ice crystals. The diameter of the halo is about an eighth of the sky.

HARTMANN, JOHANNES F.

Johannes Franz Hartmann (1865-1936) was a German astrophysicist who, in 1904, discovered clouds of interstellar calcium gas (he detected the absorption lines of ionized calcium atoms using spectrography while studying binary stars). He also developed a theory about novas, studied the asteroid #433 (Eros) and developed a method of testing telescope lenses, which is still named for him.


HARVEST MOON

The Harvest moon is the full moon that appears closest in time to the Autumnal Equinox, occurring in late September or early October.

HAWKING, STEPHEN

Stephen Hawking (1942- ) is a British physicist and cosmologist. His work centers on the physics of black holes and singularities in space-time. Hawking (1971) proposed that early after the Big Bang, mini-black holes existed, obeying quantum-mechanical laws due to their sub-atomic size. Hawking (1974) hypothesized that black holes emit subatomic particles until they explode.

HAYASHI CONTRACTION

Hayashi contraction is a gravitational phemonenon in which a protostar becomes smaller, coalescing into a main sequence star.

HAYASHI TRACK

Hayashi track is a phase in the life cycle of a star in which its luminosity decreases but he surface temperature remains the same and the star enters the main sequence in the H-R diagram.

HD NUMBER

The HD (Henry Draper) number is an identifying number assigned to the strs in the Henry Draper catalog. In this system, every star is classified by its stellar spectrum. This sytem is named for the astronomer Henry Draper, but was cataloged by Annie J. Cannon (225,300 stars), and later extended by Margaret W. Mayall. For example, the star Vega is HD 172167 (the spectral type is not in the HD number).

HEAVENLY WATERS

Heanenly Waters is a family of 9 constellations that includes Delphinus (the Dolphin), Columba (the Dove), Equuleus (the Little Horse), Carina (the Keel), Puppis (the Stern), Eridanus (the river), Pisces Austrinus (the Southern Fish), Vela (the Sails), and Pyxis (the Mariner's Compass).

HEAVY-METAL STAR

A heavy-metal star is an unusual type of giant star. Heavy-metal stars include barium (Ba II) stars (a type of late giant star) and S stars (a type of red giant).

HEKTOR

Hektor (Asteroid 624) is the largest Trojan asteroid; it is about 100 km long (it is elongated). Its rotation period is 6.9225 hours.


HELENE

Helene is one of the smaller of the 18 moons of Saturn. Helene has a radius of about 18x16x15 km and is irregularly shaped. Helene orbits at about 377,400 km from Saturn, leading Dione by 60°. Its orbital period is 2.74 days. Helene was discovered by Discovered: P. Laques & J. Lecacheus in 1980.


HELIOCENTRIC

A Heliocentric system is one in which a sun is at the center.


HELIOCENTRIC SYSTEM

In the heliocentric model of the solar system, all the planets orbit around the Sun.

HELIOPAUSE

The heliopause is the boundary of the heliosphere of the Sun in which the solar wind's density decreases greatly (and its speed also declines). The location of this transition region is unknown, but must be at more than 50 AU from the Sun.

HELIOSPHERE

The heliosphere is an area centered around the Sun over which the effect of the solar wind extends. The heliosphere extends beyond the orbit of Pluto.

HELIOSPHERIC TERMINATION SHOCK

The heliospheric termination shock is the shock that occurs as the solar wind hits the heliopause and its speed slows greatly (down to about 20 km/s).

HELIUM

Helium is an element with the atomic number 2. It has two protons and two neutrons in its nucleus which is orbited by two electrons. It is the second most abundant element in the universe. It is created from hydrogen atoms in the process of nuclear fusion that occurs within stars. The Sun is about 25% Helium. Helium was named after the Sun (called "Helios" in Greek) because it was first discovered on the Sun by Jules Janssen in 1868. Helium is plentiful on the Sun and rare on Earth.

HELIUM BURNING

Helium burning is a stage in a star's life in which the star fuses helium into carbon and oxygen (through nuclear fusion). Every star that began with more than half a Solar mass will eventually burn helium.

HELIX NEBULA

The Helix nebula (NGC 7293) is a planetary nebula that has the largest angular diameter of any known planetary nebula. It is about 140 parsecs away, in Aquarius.

HELMHOLTZ CONTRACTION

The Helmholtz contraction is the gravitational collapse of a protostellar cloud that is slowed by outward gas pressure and the limited rate at which radiation can escape.


HELMHOLTZ, HERMANN VON

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821-1894) was a German astrophysicist who studied solar energy production and star formation. See Helmholtz contraction.


HEMISPHERE

A hemisphere is half of a sphere.

HENRY DRAPER CATALOG

The Henry Draper catalog is a catalog of stars in which every star is classified by its stellar spectrum. This sytem is named for the astronomer Henry Draper, but was cataloged by Annie J. Cannon (225,300 stars), and later extended by Margaret W. Mayall. For example, the star Vega is HD 172167 (the spectral type is not in the HD number).


HERC
ULES

Hercules is a Northern Hemisphere constellation that is the fifth largest in the sky. It is named for Hercules, the legendary hero of Greek mythology. The brightest of its rather dim stars is Ras Algethi (alpha Her), a variable red supergiant. The four stars of the central trapezoid within Hercules, epsilon Her, zeta Her, eta Her, and pi Her, form the asterism called Keystone. The globular star cluster M13 is located on the western part of the Keystone. The Tau Herculid meteor shower seems to radiate from Hercules.


HERSCHEL, WILLIAM

Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) was a British astronomer and organist who built an improved reflecting telescope and used it to discover the planet Uranus (March 13, 1781) and moons of Uranus and of Saturn. Herschel cataloged over 2500 discoveries, mostly deepsky objects. Herschel's sister Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848) helped him in his discoveries and discovered many clusters and nebulae (and 8 comets) herself.


HERTZSPRUNG, EJNAR

Ejnar Hertzsprung (1873-1967) was a Danish astronomer who, independently of H. N. Russell, realized the relationship between a star's temperature (color) and its brightness, and designed a diagram illustrating this relationship in 1911, later called the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram.


HERTZSPRUNG-RUSSELL DIAGRAM

The Hertzsprung -Russell (H-R) Diagram is a graph that plots stars color (spectral type or surface temperature) vs. its luminosity (intrinsic brightness or absolute magnitude). On it, astronomers plot stars' color, temperature, luminosity, spectral type, and evolutionary stage. This diagram shows that there are 3 very different types of stars:

HEVELIUS, JOHANNES

Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687) was a Polish astronomer who published the first moon map. He also published a celestial atlas introducing many constellations (including Canes Venatici, Lacerta, Lynx, Sextans, etc.).


HIGH TIDE

High tide is the time of high water. High tides occur when the gravitational attraction of the moon causes the oceans to bulge out in the direction of the moon.

HIMALIA

Himalia is Jupiter's tenth moon. Himalia is 110 miles (170 km) in diameter and orbits 7,000,000 miles (11,480,000 km) from Jupiter. Himalia has a mass of 9.5 x 1018kg. It orbits Jupiter in 250.5662 (Earth) days. Very little is known about Himalia. Himalia was discovered by C. Perrine in 1904.
Hipparchus

HIPPARCHUS

Hipparchus (190-120 B.C.) was an ancient Greek astronomer who compiled first-known catalogue of stars and first map of the skies. He listed 850-1,000 stars, organized by constellation. He noted each star's position and brightness (he rated the brightness on a scale from 1 to 6, the brightest being 1). Hipparchus also devised the system of epicycles, an Earth-centered system in all celestial objects moved in perfect circles around the Earth. He also founded trigonometry.
horizon

HORIZON

The horizon is an imaginary circle that delimits the sky and the Earth, or an extension of the plane of the observer (at an altitude of 0 degrees).


HORIZONTAL BRANCH

The horizontal branch is a part of the Hertzsprung -Russell (H-R) diagram that represents stars that burn helium in thier cores. These mostly large stars lie along the top of the H-R diagram.


HORSEHEAD NEBULA

The Horsehead Nebula is a huge cloud of dust in space that is shaped like a horse's head. It is luminous at its edges because it is in front of a bright emission nebula. It is located in the constellation called Orion.


H-R DIAGRAM

The Hertzsprung -Russell (H-R) Diagram is a graph that plots stars color (spectral type or surface temperature) vs. its luminosity (intrinsic brightness or absolute magnitude). On it, astronomers plot stars' color, temperature, luminosity, spectral type, and evolutionary stage. This diagram shows that there are 3 very different types of stars:


HST

HST is an abbreviation for the Hubble Space Telescope, a powerful telescope in orbit around the Earth. HST takes pictures and spectra of objects in space without the interference of the atmosphere (which makes telescopic images from the ground have less detail); it transmits the pictures and spectra back to scientists on Earth. The telescope was launched into space in April, 1990, and was repaired in December, 1993. It was named for the American astronomer Edwin Hubble.

HUBBLE CONSTANT

The Hubble Constant, H0 is the number (not actually a constant) which shows the rate at which the universe is expanding. It determines the relationship between how far a galaxy is from us and how fast it is receding from us (because of the expansion of the Universe). H0 is between 50 and 100 km/s/mparsec. Hubble's constant can be used to estimate the size and age of the Universe (Hubble Time). It was formulated by E. P. Hubble in 1925.

HUBBLE, EDWIN P.

Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953) was an American astronomer who was very influential in modern cosmology. He showed that other galaxies (besides the Milky Way) existed and observed that the universe is expanding (since the light from almost all other galaxies is red-shifted).

HUBBLE'S LAW

Hubble's Law is a linear relationship between the distance to a galaxy (R) and the velocity at which that galaxy is moving from us (v) because to the expansion of the universe. Hubble's Law is is v = H0 R, where H0 is Hubble's constant. It assumes that the universe is expanding at a constant rate that has reemained constant for all time.


HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

The Hubble Space Telescope (or HST) is a powerful telescope in orbit around the Earth. HST transmits pictures and spectra of objects in space without the interference of the atmosphere (which makes telescopic images from the ground have less detail). It was launched into space in April 1990 and was repaired in December, 1993. It was named for the American astronomer Edwin Hubble.

HUBBLE TIME

Hubble Time is an estimate of the age of the universe; it is the inverse of the Hubble constant.

HUGGINS, WILLIAM and MARGARET

Sir William Huggins (February 7, 1824-May 12, 1910) was an amateur English astronomer who was the first person to use spectroscopy to determine the compositions of astronomical objects (in 1861). He determined that the Sun and the stars are composed mostly of the element hydrogen. He also examined the spectra of nebulae and comets. Huggins' wife (they were married in 1875), Margaret Lindsay Murray Huggins (1848-1915), was a self-taught astronomer who did extensive work in spectroscopy and photography. Margaret studied the Orion Nebula extensively. William and Margaret were the first people to realize that some nebulae, like the Orion Nebula, consisted of amorphous gases (and were not a congregation of stars, like the nebula Andromeda). A lunar crater, a Martian crater, and an asteroid (#2635 Huggins) have been named for William Huggins.


HUYGENS, CHRISTIAN

Christian Huygens (1629-1695) was a Dutch physicist and astronomer who developed new methods for grinding and polishing glass telescope lenses (about 1654). With his new, powerful telescopes, he identified Saturn's rings and discovered Titan, the largest moon of Saturn in 1655. Huygens also invented the pendulum clock in 1656 (eliminating springs), wrote the first work on the calculus of probability (De Ratiociniis in Ludo Aleae, 1655), and proposed the wave theory of light (Traité de la lumiere, 1678).


HYBRID ECLIPSE

A hybrid eclipse is an annular solar eclipse in which a brief total eclipse occurs in a small region along the eclipse's central path.

HYDROGEN

Hydrogen is the element with the atomic number 1. It is the lightest element and the most abundant in the universe. Its nucleus is a single proton which is orbited by one electron. It fuels nuclear fusion that occurs within stars, converting hydrogen into helium. The sun is 75% hydrogen.
Watercycle

HYDROLOGIC CYCLE

The Hydrologic Cycle (also known as the water cycle) is the journey water takes as it circulates from the Earth to the sky and back again.

HYDROPONICS

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water that contains dissolved nutrients (instead of in soi).

HYDROSTATIC EQUILIBRIUM

Hydrostatic equilibrium is a stable condition in a star in which the fluid matter within the star is at an equilibrium with respect to all forces, including the inward-pulling force of gravity, the out-ward pulling buoyancy due to pressure differentials, and the out-ward pulling forces of radiative pressure.
HYPATIA
Hypatia of Alexandria (AD 370(?)-415) was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, teacher, and head of the Platonist school at Alexandria about AD 400. Hypatia wrote commentaries on the astronomical canon of Ptolemy and did work on conic sections . Her works are lost, but are referred to in the Suda lexicon. She was the daughter of the mathematician and philosopher Theon of Alexandria (he was also the last head of the Museum at Alexandria). A pagan, she was murdered in 415 by Christian monks in a religious/political struggle. The lunar Crater Hypatia and Rimae Hypatia were named for her.

HYPERBOLA

A hyperbola is a conic section (the intersection of a cone with a plane) that has two mirror-image branches. Hyperbolas have an eccentricity greater than 1.

HYPERBOLIC ORBIT

A hyperbolic orbit is an orbit in which the eccentricity is greater than 1.


HYPERION

Hyperion is one of the 18 moons of Saturn. Hyperion is the largest-known irregular-shaped body in our Solar System. It has a variable rotational period. Craters mark the surface. Iapetus has a radius of about 180x140x112.5 km and is irregularly shaped. Hyperion orbits at about 1,481,100 km from Saturn. Its orbital period is 21.27 days. It was discovered by W. & G. Bond/W. Lassell in 1848.

HYPERNOVA

A hypernova is an enormous collapse and subsequent explosion of a supergiant star that eventually forms a black hole. This explosion is bigger than a supernova and is accompanied by a gamma-ray burst. The plural of hypernova is Hypernovae.
Astronomy Dictionary
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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If the astronomy term you are looking for is not in the dictionary, please e-mail us.

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