The Astrophysicist's Alphabet

"When I was having that alphabet soup, I never thought that it would pay off." -Vanna White

Ever want an A-to-Z illustrated alphabet of astrophysics? Turns out that -- other than writing your own via Galaxy Zoo -- it doesn't yet exist. So I thought it would be delightful to make one for you... right now!

Image credit: Flickr user Image Editor / 11304375@N07.

A is for Aurora, polar lights fast and slow,
the Sun's hot electrons make the atmosphere glow.

Image credit: Andrew Hamilton of JILA / Colorado,

B is for Black hole, a star's collapsed heart,
once matter falls in, it will never depart.

Image credit: Comet West, retrieved from Cathy at

C is for Comet, with tails, dust, and ice,
a trip near the Sun makes them look very nice!

Image credit: STScI / NASA, ESA, R. Bouwens and G. Illingworth (UCSC).

D is for Doppler, turning galaxies red,
if you're far, you'll move fast, faster, fastest; you sped!

Image credit: Miloslav Druckmuller (Brno U. of Tech.), Peter Aniol, and Vojtech Rusin.

E is for Eclipse, where the Moon, Earth and Sun
cast light-blocking shadows, and cause tons of fun.

Image credit: Flickr user Image Editor / 11304375@N07.

F is for Fusion, that powers the stars,
nuclei join together, and the light is all ours!

Image credit: Dean Rowe of

G is for Galaxies, in clusters and groups,
with billions to find, no wonder we're snoops!

Image credit: NASA / Space Shuttle, from 1997.

H is for Hubble, the telescope from space,
the sights it has seen help the whole human race.

Image credit: Robert Gendler of

I is for Ions, who make gas glow so bright,
when they find electrons, we see colorful light.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al.; Submillimeter: MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al.; Optical: ESO/WFI.

J is for Jets, from a galaxy's core,
when it eats and spits matter, they're active once more!

Image credit: © 2007 Dorling Kindersley.

K is for Kelvin, with Helmholtz, stars will cool,
so white dwarfs fade to black, it's a great cosmic rule.

Image credit: Cleon Teunissen of

L is for Libration, which makes our Moon rock,
it's a trick of the orbit; it's tidally locked!

Image credit: Fred Bruenjes of Moonglow Observatory; 253 meteors from the 2007 Perseids.

M is for Meteors, which come in a shower,
at the right time of year, you'll see hundreds an hour!

Image credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

N is for Nebula, planetary, in this case,
when the Sun's out of fuel, this is our fate in space.

Image credit: Axel Mellinger.

O is for Opaque, why the Milky Way's dark,
without dust to block it, starlight would be stark!

Image credit: Optical: NASA/HST/ASU/J. Hester et al. X-Ray: NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al..

P is for Pulsar, a spinning neutron star,
as the orbits tick by, we know just when we are.

Image credit: K. Sharon (Tel Aviv U.) and E. Ofek (Caltech), ESA, NASA.

Q is for Quasars, great radio sources,
distant, active galaxies eating like horses!

Image credit: NASA / Cassini / the CICLOPS team.

R is for Rings, all gas giants possess them,
even one found in another sun's system!

Image credit: ESA / Hubble & NASA.

S is for Spacetime, which curves due to matter,
this Universe-fabric, it bends but won't shatter!

Image credit: High-Z Supernova Search Team, HST, NASA, of SN 1994D.

T is Type Ia, the best known supernova,
when White Dwarfs collapse, your distance? We'll know 'ya!

Image credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team; stitching of the HUDF and the XDF fields by me.

U is the Universe, which we're still understanding,
with billions of galaxies, our spacetime's expanding!

Image credit: Antoine Vergara Astrophotography.

V is for Virgo, our nearest great cluster,
with 1000+ galaxies, it's a massive gut-buster!

Image credit: Nigel Sharp, Kitts Peak National Observatory/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

W is for wavelength, the energies of light,
it's how we know what atoms are in stars just from sight!

Image credit: ESO, APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO), A. Weiss et al., NASA Spitzer Science Center.

X is for X-rays, which find starbursts (in red),
where the most massive galaxies form stars dead ahead.

Image credit: Larry McNish from RASC Calgary Centre.

Y is the Year, where we orbit our Sun,
each planet is different; the Earth is just one.

Image credit: The Milky Way through a Fisheye Lens, from Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Z is for Zenith, so gaze up towards the sky!
The Universe is here; let's learn what, how and why.

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G- How come it is not for Gravity?
What is the meaning of this insanity?

Ethan you are not far from reality ,keep up the good job and if you need more inspiration you may wish to visit me in a month time @ my website, just search for!!
We will get there!!!
We shall wash our eyes!!


I love that this starts off with a quote from Vanna White. Brilliant : )

By Alexander Wolfe (not verified) on 08 Oct 2012 #permalink

So I just printed it out and will make it into a astronomy alphabet book for my 5 year old son.

I'm serious. Have you ever watched the kids show Dinosaur Train? Well it's great and my son knows a lot of the names of the dinosaurs from Archaeopteryx to Zigongosaurus.

Yes I looked up those names here
Seriously, I like dinosaurs but because of Dinosaur Train my son knows more correct scientific dinosaur names than I do.

So maybe, he'll know more about astronomy than me too. Which brings me to Ethan your new kid show Astronomy Travels that teaches kids all the correct astronomy names and theories at a kids level.

Seriously Ethan here watch an episode of Dinosaur Train
Oh well hopefully someone will put astronomy for kids in a cartoon

*claps hands*

Really, really great! :-)

I do believe that's Earth I see within Saturn's rings (10:00 just inside the second outer ring).

...So where does one order this in book form? Seriously.

By nkthrasher (not verified) on 09 Oct 2012 #permalink


Put me in touch with a publisher, and I'll try to get them to make it happen!

Love it. Is there a poster?

Of all the web sites in the world, I'd expect at least yours would know that "B" stands for "Bang" or "Big Bang" :-))
Nice poetry - especially the rhyme with "D" ;-)
Great blog as allways!
Wish you all the best - Tihomir

I hope this goes viral! Enjoyable, entrancing, inventive, and informative.

Very nice. Of course, I can't resist but nitpick. My cosmology bias, like yours, makes me like spacetime... but surely S should be for star?