T Tauri star Protostar in the late stages of formation, often exhibiting violent surface activity. T Tauri stars have been observed to brighten noticeably in a short period of time, consistent with the idea of rapid evolution during this final phase of stellar formation.
tail Component of a comet that consists of material streaming away from the main body, sometimes spanning hundreds of millions of kilometers. May be composed of dust or ionized gases.
telescope Instrument used to capture as many photons as possible from a given region of the sky and concentrate them into a focused beam for analysis.
temperature A measure of the amount of heat in an object, and an indication of the speed of the particles that comprise it.
terrae See highlands.
terrestrial planet The four innermost planets of the solar system, resembling the Earth in general physical and chemical properties.
theories of relativity Einstein's theories, on which much of modern physics rests. Two essential facts of the theory are that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, and that everything, including light, is affected by gravity.
thick disk Region of a spiral galaxy where an intermediate population of stars resides, younger than the halo stars, but older than stars in the disk.
tidal bulge Elongation of the Earth caused by the difference between the gravitational force on the side nearest the Moon and the force on the side farthest from the Moon. The long axis of the tidal bulge points toward the Moon. More generally, the deformation of any body produced by the tidal effect of a nearby gravitating object.
tidal force The variation in one body's gravitational force from place to place across another bodyfor example, the variation of the Moon's gravity across the Earth.
tides Rising and falling motion that bodies of water follow, exhibiting daily, monthly, and yearly cycles. Ocean tides on Earth are caused by the competing gravitational pull of the Moon and Sun on different regions of the Earth.
time dilation A prediction of the theory of relativity, closely related to the gravitational reshift. To an outside observer, a clock lowered into a strong gravitational field will appear to run slow.
total eclipse Celestial event during which one body is completely blocked from view by another.
total solar eclipse Celestial event during which one body is completely blocked from view by another.
transition zone The region of rapid temperature increase that separates the Sun's chromosphere from the corona.
transverse motion Motion perpendicular to a particular line of sight, which does not result in Doppler shift in radiation received.
triangulation Method of determining distance based on the principles of geometry. A distant object is sighted from two well-separated locations. The distance between the two locations and the angle between the line joining them and the line to the distant object are all that are necessary to ascertain the object's distance.
triple-alpha process The generation of Carbon-12 from the fusion of three helium-4 nuclei (alpha particles). Helium-burning stars occupy a region of the H-R diagram known as the horizontal branch.
Trojan asteroids One of two groups of asteroids which orbit at the same distance from the Sun as Jupiter, 60 degrees ahead and behind the planet.
tropical year The time interval between one vernal equinox and the next.
troposphere The portion of Earth's atmosphere from the surface to about 15 km.
Tully-Fisher relation A relation used to determine the absolute luminosity of a spiral galaxy. The rotational velocity, measured from the broadening of spectral lines, is related to the total mass, and hence the total luminosity.
21-centimeter radiation Radio radiation emitted when an electron in the ground state of a hydrogen atom flips its spin to become parallel to the spin of the proton in the nucleus.
Type I supernova One possible explosive death of a star. A white dwarf in a binary system can accrete enough mass that it cannot support its own weight. The star collapses and temperatures become high enough for carbon fusion to occur. Fusion begins throughout the white dwarf almost simultaneously and an explosion results.
Type II supernova One possible explosive death of a star, in which the highly evolved stellar core rapidly implodes and then explodes, destroying the surrounding star.