Common Space Acronyms

Understanding the Lingo of Astronomy and Aeronautics

NASA, itself an acronym, is famous for using many acronyms to describe its programs and missions. Here is a quick overview of some of the most popular acronyms.

Acronyms are words that are made from taking the first letter or letters of other words in a phrase or name. Sometimes they are pronounced as whole words, such as NASA, while other times they are pronounced with the individual letters, such as HST. The source of the acronyms is below with some definitions provided.

Most Often Used Space Acronyms

  • AAS – American Astronomical Society – This major organization is the largest group of professional astronomers in North America.
  • AGN – Active Galactic Nucleus
  • APOD – Astronomy Picture of the Day – A popular website featuring stunning space photos with descriptions and explanations written by astronomers.
  • CMBR – Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation – Also sometimes known as cosmic background radiation, it is the radiation that is leftover from the Big Bang that can be detected in all directions and has a temperature of about 2.7 kelvins.
  • CCD – Charge Coupled Device – A CCD is an instrument that some astronomers use to capture images of objects in the night sky.
  • CV – Cataclysmic Variable – A variable star system with a white dwarf and another star that is shedding its mass onto the white dwarf. Eventually, a supernova may occur.
  • ESA – European Space Agency
  • ESO – European Southern Observatory – Telescope installations in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
  • FOV – Field of View, in reference to telescopes or binoculars.
  • GRB – Gamma-Ray Burst is an extremely energetic phenomenon seen at great distances in the universe.
  • GRS – Great Red Spot – The giant storm seen on Jupiter.
  • HR – Hertzsprung-Russell diagram charts stars and their colors and luminosities.
  • HST – Hubble Space Telescope – An instrument orbiting Earth that has taken some of the best images yet seen of the universe.
  • IAU – International Astronomical Union – A worldwide group of professional astronomers that is in charge of naming celestial bodies and features.
  • IC – Index Catalogue – A catalog listing dim deep-space objects that supplements the NGC.
  • IDA – International Dark-Sky Association, a group that tries to limit light pollution.
  • ISM – InterStellar Medium – the gas and dust between stars.
  • JPL – Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • LMC – Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way.
  • MACHO – Massive Compact Halo Object – a possible component of dark matter.
  • NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • NEO – Near Earth Object, such as asteroids (NEAs)
  • NGC – New General Catalog is used to classify deep-sky objects such as galaxies, nebulae, and clusters.
  • PHA – Potentially Hazardous Asteroid
  • Quasar – QUASi-stellAR radio source
  • SDSS – Sloan Digital Sky Survey is a mapping program of the sky in a search for redshifts.
  • SETI – Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
  • SMC – Small Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way.
  • SN – Supernova – a supernova remnant is an SNR
  • SOHO – Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a space telescope that observes the sun
  • STScI – Space Telescope Science Institute
  • UT – Universal Time
  • WFPC2 – Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, a camera onboard the HST
  • WIMP – Weakly Interacting Massive Particle – a candidate for dark matter
  • ZHR – Zenith Hourly Rate – The number of meteors seen during a meteor shower’s peak.
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The above acronyms appear frequently in articles about space. There are many more acronyms used in astronomy, but these 35 are some of the most common and easiest to memorize.

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