Astronomy, Astronaut & Alien Humor 

Billions of  Smiles

A Short Dictionary of Astronomical Daffy-nitions

Article by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College & Astronomical Society of the Pacific)

© copyright 2005 by Andrew Fraknoi (used with permission)

He is on Facebook: Andrew Fraknoi (The AstroProf)

Originally published in Mercury Magazine (Astronomical Society of the Pacific).

Many good books and texts on astronomy provide a helpful glossary of technical terms for the beginning reader. Useful as such lists are, they usually list only the standard definition of each term. Here are some decidedly non-standard alternatives for some important astronomical jargon.

  • Antiproton: Whom Uncle Proton is married to.
  • Apex: What the naturalist trained the apes to make
  • Baryon: I am sorry, sir, you can?t go in there; the sign says Mr. Manilow is performing.
  • Charge-coupled device: The electric chair
  • Contact binary: Tango partners
  • Continuous creation: Yet another non-technical physics book from Paul Davies or John Gribbin
  • Convection Current: The electric chair
  • Curve of Growth: What happens to the midriff bulge of an astronomy department administrator
  • Declination: Thanks, Norbert, but I really don?t want to go out with you.
  • Decoupling Era: What happened to marriage in the 1980?s and 1990?s
  • Deferent: Oh, no, Dr. Sandage, I am sure your value for the Hubble constant is the right one.
  • Degenerate Stars: A Hollywood orgy.
  • Early-type star: Oh, I?m sorry Mr. Spielberg, I thought the cast party started at 8
  • Einstein Ring: What Albert bought Mileva.
  • Exit pupil: Another non-science major who didn?t finish Astronomy 101
  • Fission: What some astronomers like to go do to relax during the summer
  • Forbidden Line Transition: ?Nice weather we?re having?say, would you like to come up to my place and see my etchings??
  • Great Red Spot: A popular nightclub in Beijing
  • Green Flash: The brief period when were all the rage.
  • G Star: Actor who appears mainly on the Disney Channel
  • Hour Circle: What you do when your flight arrival is delayed over San Francisco
  • Hubble?s Constant: What his wife Grace hoped he would always be
  • Image Tube: Television set with the sound broken.
  • Initial Mass Function: Celebration after a child?s first Communion
  • International Date Line: Where lonely astronomers can call 24 hours a day
  • Interstellar Medium: Fortune teller in Hollywood between jobs
  • Inverse Square Law: Making a poem out of the Pythagorean theorem
  • Jansky: What Jan uses to open his door
  • Late-type Star: See early-type star and make your own joke. (Do we have to spell everything out for you?)
  • Leap second: You have to; I leaped first.
  • Lepton Era: When the big cats roamed the jungle.
  • Light Year: When your classes were easy and you didn't have to take too many in your major.
  • Line Broadening: What happens to an astronomer?s profile after age 50
  • Local Group: The rock band that plays down the street
  • Local Standard of Rest: Sorry, senor, we always close in the afternoon for a siesta.
  • Main Sequence Turn-off Point: The moment in a long lecture on stellar evolution where students stop paying attention
  • Messier Catalog: The one that got dropped in the mud
  • Near Earth Object: Your astronomy textbook, just after you threw it out the window
  • Olbers? Paradox: Before she had that operation, Mrs. Olbers wanted an opinion from another doctor
  • Peculiar Motion: Astronomers trying to do the hula during a conference in Hawaii
  • Photomultiplier: E-mail
  • Prominence: Being invited to write a review paper for Annual Reviews
  • Proper Motion: Bill to increase funding for astronomical research
  • Recombination Line: Darling, I've never loved anyone but you; please take me back.
  • Roche Limit: Enjoy it, Bill, but if you want to be president someday, perhaps you shouldn't inhale.
  • Quantum Efficiency: Apartment unit in Tokyo
  • Quasar Red Shift: Broken color control on famous brand TV
  • Radio Burst: Time to get another set
  • Red Giant: The basketball player who spent too much of the weekend on the beach.
  • Sirius B: What Yoda was always trying to teach his apprentices
  • Spectral Line: Beware, this house is haunted
  • T Association: The Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse
  • Tektite: Maybe piping some music into the dome will loosen him up
  • Van Allen Belt: What Dr. Van Allen wears to hold up his pants
  • Variable Star: The artist formerly known as Prince


My Delightful Definitions

Red Shift - what will happen if Obama is re-elected President in 2012 (according to some Republicans)

Wormholes - used by staff of the Space Station to go home for the weekend.

LCROSS - this is NOT a new sport. Real definition: The Launch Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

NASA - No Aliens Seen Anywhere

Multiverse - when a group of poets speak at the same time (see two pictures below)

Contact me if you have more to share and I'll add them.

Fantastic Universe
© Olgapshenichnaya |

Multiple Earths Speeding in Space
© Victor Habbick |

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