High-charge and energy (HZE) nuclei represent one of the main health risks for human space exploration, yet little is known about the mechanisms responsible for the high biological effectiveness of these particles. We have used in situ hybridization probes for cross-species multicolor banding (RxFISH) in combination with telomere detection to compare yields of different types of chromosomal aberrations in the progeny of human peripheral blood lymphocytes exposed to either high-energy iron ions or gamma rays. Terminal deletions showed the greatest relative variation, with many more of these types of aberrations induced after exposure to accelerated iron ions (energy 1 GeV/nucleon) compared with the same dose of gamma rays. We found that truncated chromosomes without telomeres could be transmitted for at least three cell cycles after exposure and represented about 10% of all aberrations observed in the progeny of cells exposed to iron ions. On the other hand, the fraction of cells carrying stable, transmissible chromosomal aberrations was similar in the progeny of cells exposed to the same dose of densely or sparsely ionizing radiation. The results demonstrate that unrejoined chromosome breaks are an important component of aberration spectra produced by the exposure to HZE nuclei. This finding may well be related to the ability of such energetic particles to produce untoward late effects in irradiated organisms.