Exhibition Guide

This exhibit is organized into three separate areas: Planetary, Stellar, and Galactic.
Use this Guide to better understand Unfolding the Universe.


Planet: A round celestial body that orbits its star. The Earth is our planet.

Moon: A natural satellite that orbits a planet. We call our moon the Moon.

Aurora: A natural light display in the upper atmosphere of a planet, caused by solar radiation interacting with the planet’s magnetic field.

Infrared: A type of electromagnetic radiation most closely associated with heat energy. Infrared is one part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. All are different forms of light.

Gravity: One of the four fundamental forces of the Universe. It causes the mutual attraction between all objects that contain mass or energy.

Telescope: A device used to observe distant objects through the collection of their electromagnetic
radiation. The JWST is an infrared telescope.


Star: A large sphere of plasma that is fusing lighter elements into heavier elements. The Sun is our home star.

Solar System: A star and its associated planets, moons, asteroids, etc., may be known as a solar
system. We call our solar system the Solar System.

Nebula: A large cloud of gas and dust in space.

Protostar: A star in the earliest phase of its life. It is still gathering gas and dust for fuel.

Planetary Nebula: A misnomer, due to early observations that gave the appearance of a planet. The relatively gentle detachment of the outer layers of a small star as it dies.

Light Year: The distance light can travel in one Earth year, or roughly 6 trillion miles.

Constellation: A pattern or shape that can be made from stars in the night sky. The stars may not be near each other in space.

Hydrogen: The lightest, simplest and most abundant element in the Universe. Accounts for about 75% of all normal matter.

Supernova: A powerful and bright explosion of a very massive star.

Diffraction spikes: Lines that appear only in pictures of very bright objects, but are not present in reality. The shape reflects the design of the support structure of the telescope that viewed the object.


Galaxy: A large system of millions, billions, or trillions of stars, plus gas and dust. The Milky Way is our home galaxy.

Gravitational Lensing: When a gravity source like a large, heavy galaxy bends and distorts light from other galaxies.

Supermassive black hole: The largest type of black hole that can contain the mass of billions of stars. Most large galaxies probably have supermassive black holes at their centers.

Universe: All of space and time, including all planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy.