An H I region is a cloud in the interstellar medium composed of neutral atomic hydrogen (H I), in addition to the local abundance of helium and other elements. These regions do not emit detectable visible light (except in spectral lines from elements other than hydrogen) but are observed by the 21-cm (1,420 MHz) region spectral line. This line has a very low transition probability, so requires large amounts of hydrogen gas for it to be seen. At ionization fronts, where H I regions collide with expanding ionized gas (such as an H II region), the latter glows brighter than it otherwise would. The degree of ionization in an H I region is very small at around 10−4 (i.e. one particle in 10,000). At typical interstellar pressures in galaxies like the Milky Way, H I regions are most stable at temperatures of either below 100 K or several thousand K; gas between these temperatures heats or cools very quickly to reach one of the stable temperature regimes. Within one of these phases, the gas is usually considered isothermal, except near an expanding H II region. Near an expanding H II region is a dense H I region, separated from the undisturbed H I region by a shock front and from the H II region by an ionization front.
Mapping H I emissions with a radio telescope is a technique used for determining the structure of spiral galaxies. It is also used to map gravitational disruptions between galaxies. When two galaxies collide, the material is pulled out in strands, allowing astronomers to determine which way the galaxies are moving.