Star Formation & Life Cycle
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Star Formation & Life Cycle
How do stars form and what happens to them in their lives?
Curated by Scott Jones
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Life Cycle of a Star

Life Cycle of a Star | Star Formation & Life Cycle |
Scott Jones's insight:

How to use: This site could be used in class with provided laptops and the students could initially just experiment with all the different features. The overall goal of a single lesson could be to fill out a worksheet provided by the teacher or to write a short report on the nature of stellar life cycles. This website could be used either to supplement the textbook or used to introduce the topic as the interactive nature of this source might be a good way to get kids excited about stars straight away.

A larger assessment task could be set requiring the students in small groups to explain different aspects of the site, covering each variation of the life cycles of stars and even the formation of heavy elements in nuclear fusion. Students could be divided into groups or individually prepare a speech about a particular mass of star; small, medium or large and present this to the class. Subsequently a class discussion could be run to examine the differences between them and hypothesise what the basic processes that cause these differences might be.

The source supports numeracy and literacy as it requires the comprehension of simple explanations and also the ability to use the numbers in the graphs to compare masses, sizes and luminosities.


Justification: This online resource contains many simple explanations of the different aspects of star formation. It uses a few relatable analogies (such as a comparison to the life cycle of people) to make the vast timescales relatable in a relative sense. This site also includes an interactive component where students are able to input their own parameters into a star and observe the resulting life cycle. Additionally, there are a few animations showing the different components of this process.

This site contains a series of question sections and animations that would be fun for students to play with. The interactive nature of the source is excellent for maintaining student interest. It goes through all the basics of stellar life cycles covering low mass, medium mass and high mass stars and show images of all these stages with information about the luminosity and temperature as well. Students will be challenged to deeply consider the nature of each component of a star’s life and instead of merely memorising the characteristics of each stage they will gain the understanding to predict what these properties should be.

The question sections are excellent for confirming the knowledge that the students have gained and could give them a tangible sense of achievement upon eventually getting all the questions correct. As with any computer resource however it is limited by access to computers and any set-up time this may require. 

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Star eats planet in distant galaxy, astronomers say (VIDEO) - GlobalPost

Star eats planet in distant galaxy, astronomers say (VIDEO)GlobalPostAstronomers say they have witnessed the death of a planet for the first time. The planet was devoured by one of its own stars, an aging red giant named BD+48 740.

Via L_Nibaldi
Scott Jones's insight:

How to use: This video would be a good stimulus for a class discussion. It presents some simple ideas that may have been covered in the unit already and makes them more relevant to the student by pointing out that these objects can be observed every day. It recovers the idea of a star leaving the main sequence and beginning to burn helium instead of hydrogen.

Small discussion groups could consider how likely it is that an astronomer would observe such a thing. How many stars are visible to us? How long does theory suggest such an event would last? Small groups could then undergo research to check how long we have on this planet before the sun eats us. An assessment task might be to research your own interesting factoid concerning stellar life cycles and present a one minute engaging presentation that could be used to inform, entertain and raise awareness of issues in space.

The video source is supported by a written component which will reinforce student’s literacy skills and the mention of ages of stars and the distances causing our observations to be from billions of years ago exercises numeracy skills. One disadvantage is that the article on its own is not particularly scientifically deep and needs to be supported by other more rigorous sources of information.


Justification: This resource is a short video reporting the observation of a red giant having eaten a planet in its system. This is an important aspect of the star formation and stellar life cycle syllabus outcomes. The observation of stars in various stages of their life cycle is one of the key pieces of evidence that support our models of stellar lifecycle.

The video is short, clear, fast paced and engaging with impressive visuals. It highlights the concept that our star is not special compared to the other stars in the universe and reinforces the concept that all science is based on the assumption that the laws that govern it are the same at all points in time and in all places of the universe. The article makes the concept of a red giant more relatable by pointing out that one day our sun with destroy us in exactly the same way.

The language is simple and easily compatible with the content knowledge and conceptual level of a year 9 or year 10 class.

It is also a fun article for the students to cover because they are likely to be intrigued by the idea of a star actually eating a planet. 

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Life Cycles of Stars – Stellar Evolution | Edu-Blog

Life Cycles of Stars – Stellar Evolution | Edu-Blog | Star Formation & Life Cycle |
Stars are a beautiful sight to look at. They may seem permanent but just like humans, they too are born, grow old and eventually die. The difference is that their life cycles are millions of years long!
Scott Jones's insight:

How to use:

This article very simply summarises the various stages of stars’ lives with colourful images to support the understanding of each. Based on this information a class could divide into 3 groups and after a lesson of preparation present to the class the life cycle of a small mass star, while another group presents for a medium mass star and the other for a large mass star. This presentation lesson could be followed by a class discussion concerning the differences between these three. What causes the differences? What are they? A simple assessment task might be to make a flowchart of the stages of the stellar life cycle covering all three of the significant stellar masses.

The site could support teaching in that it supplements the information in the textbook and a particular student may prefer this format to that of their book. It is very detailed and concise and is thus a very stout and reliable source that could be used as a basis to form the student’s understanding.

This article supports literacy in that is in a clear article that requires comprehension especially when paired with a task to present information to the class. It also contains a few numerical quantities that a student would need to interpret to understand the content.



This resource clearly covers the basic concept of each stage in the life cycle of stars for the different masses. The main strength of this article is the depth of knowledge that it offers. Detailed descriptions of the main stages of a star’s life are present with simple supporting data such as temperatures and ages. The images provided are clear and well annotated highlighting the key points of the stellar structure.

The weakness of this text is that it is perhaps a little dry focusing mainly on a detailed explanation of all of the concepts and little has gone into making it engaging for students. This text would have to be supported by other more engaging sources and class activities or it could very easily make space physics seem dull.

A strength and a weakness of this article is that it occasionally goes into more detail than what is required for stage 5 science. This could be a source of interest and encouragement for students that are enjoying the unit. However, difficult looking information and numbers could turn off some students. It does however show a good image of a black hole which could inspire interest for students to further explore the ‘weird’ aspects of space physics. 

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Japan Test-Fires Space Cannon Designed To Shoot Asteroid - Huffington Post UK

Japan Test-Fires Space Cannon Designed To Shoot Asteroid - Huffington Post UK | Star Formation & Life Cycle |
Japan Test-Fires Space Cannon Designed To Shoot Asteroid
Huffington Post UK
Both wavelengths would be blocked by Earth's atmosphere, so are critical to our understanding of the lifecycle of stars . (AFP / Getty Images).
Scott Jones's insight:

How to use: This source could be used to inspire a class discussion about the planetesimal stage of star formation. Amongst the class content supporting this content students could be encouraged to think more deeply about the real planet they live on in the context of this new conceptual information about solar systems.

Students could break into small groups and conduct a series of calculations concerning the momentum of objects in space. This could support their wider physics skills and act as a gentle introduction, and hopefully encouragement, for year 11 physics. A simple class question such as how powerful would a space cannon have to be to stop an asteroid headed for Earth? Using just the mass and velocity they could discover for themselves the such a cannon would have to be staggering in scale.

In a similar vein the article may also inspire the very relatable concept; how likely is the Earth to be hit by a killer meteor? This is an excellent moment to cover the space syllabus concerning the scale of the universe and students can begin to consider that they only reason we are still here after millions of years with all those killer asteroids out there is that space is very, very big.

This article support literacy and numeracy through the requiring reading and the subsequent discussion which will involve understanding the significance of very large numbers.


Justification: This text builds on the simple ideas associated with star formation and more closely analyses a specific part; the formation of the planets and asteroids from the planetary nebula.

It includes both a written and audio-visual component which aids their level of engagement. As a news article on television the source emphasises the significance of the space gun test and reminds them that these experiments really are occurring. One weakness however is that it contains little relevant information and mainly acts as a source of inspiration for the development of student knowledge based on the analysis of other texts that contain the basic ideas about the solar system.

Most importantly however this source acts as stimulus for the exploration of important themes in star formation and the understanding of the solar system. It highlights the existence of the asteroid belt, rouge asteroids and comets that share the solar system with us. With this information student can being to realise that one day humans may have to attempt to alter the course of an asteroid in order to save all life on the planet. They will realise that our understanding of physics is what will enable us to do that. 

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RealClearScience - Big Problem in Star Formation Theory Solved?

RealClearScience - Big Problem in Star Formation Theory Solved? | Star Formation & Life Cycle |
In the standard star-making recipe, stars are formed in the depths of gas clouds made from molecular hydrogen. These clouds form the coldest part of the gas that exists between the stars throughout the Milky Way's galaxy ...
Scott Jones's insight:

How to use: This article could be used as an extension stimulus for a class discussion and a possible way to re-engage gifted and talented students. It covers the basic idea of star formation but takes the concept a little further. The simple notion that there is a large gas cloud which slowly collapses under its mutual gravity is revised. The star becomes hotter and hotter due to the gravitational potential energy which is continually released and eventually becomes hot and dense enough to begin nuclear fusion. 


This article however poses a problem stemming from this simple text book fact. How do you make a really, really big star? Is there a difference? Well, it turns out that once nuclear fusion begins there are a few processes that prevent further mass being integrated into the star. So how do very big stars form? This article proposes that one mechanism for this process would be the collision of 2 star cores.


This idea, covering approximately the first half of the article, is one that is easy to explore and could form the basis of class discussions and activities. Covering the syllabus concerning star formation, the distances in space and certainly that associated with scientific thinking a series of research task could be posed to small groups. How likely is it that star cores collide? What factors govern this? (In other words; how far apart are stars in clusters?) Come up with your own analogy in real life terms; perhaps using grains of sand on a football field.



Justification: The strength of this article is that it not only quickly revises a basic concept that would presumably already be covered in class but also takes this concept and challenges it for a different set of circumstances. This means that students have to attempt to justify their support of the simple star formatting model or begin to accept its weaknesses and propose additional mechanisms or subtleties to better explain the observed phenomena.


Students will have to behave as scientist and critically analyse their knowledge about stars in order to integrate this new information. This challenging process certainly has the potential to develop not only the students’ knowledge of star formation but also their ability to think scientifically.


The paper can be presented to that class as a serious scientific article, not one dumbed down for high school. If handled correctly this can have the duel effect of making real science seem accessible as there are simple concepts underlying their research and also that what they think matters as real scientists are struggling with this concept right now.


The paper does exceed the content knowledge for high school by the end and this could only be suggested as further reading and considered only if the interest of the class is there. 

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