Teaching sequence

Lesson objective

In this lesson students develop an understanding of the relationship between the life cycle of a star and its size. They recognise that there is a continuous cycle of stellar birth, life and death and that the formation of planets and other celestial objects are a consequence of that cycle.


View the video Space with Sam Neill: star stuff, part 1 of 3.

Impress on students that while the Big Bang theory describes the beginning of the universe, the continuous cycle of stellar birth in nebulae, life and finally the death of a star are what leads to the formation of new elements and other celestial objects.


  1. View video Stars: the life and death of stellar fusion engines
  2. Discuss how the mass of a star is related to its temperature, length of life and process of death.
  3. Explain that the more massive a star the more violent will be its death.
  4. Have students link to the learning object activity Stellar evolution: a journey with Chandra and use the information to create a flow chart showing the different stages in the life cycle of a medium-size star and a blue supergiant.
  5. Display the poster Imagine the universe: the life cycles of stars and ask the students to compare their flowchart with the life cycles represented on the poster. Can they identify any similarities or differences?
  6. Discuss the definition and characteristics of a ‘white dwarf’ and a ‘neutron star’.
  7. View the video Black holes: warping time and space
  8. Discuss black holes and the effect they have on matter close to them.


Ask students to nominate what they think is the most astounding fact about the universe.

View the video The most astounding fact

Discuss with students whether or not they agree with the presenter’s choice.

Lesson Resources


Student activities

Digital resources

Space with Sam Neill: star stuff, part 1 of 3, YouTube (10:00 min) 

Stars: the life and death of stellar fusion engines, Live Science (5:38 min) 

Stellar evolution: a journey with Chandra, Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA 

Imagine the universe: the life cycles of stars, Goddard Space Flight Centre, NASA’s Imagine the universe (PDF, Note - 25.9 MB) 

Black holes: warping time and space,
Live Science (3:12 min) 

The most astounding fact,
Vimeo (3:35 min) 

Extension activities

What if ...? (Word, 320 KB)

Useful links

Black holes,
Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA. Information 

Life cycle of a star,
NASA. Video (4:15 min) 

Our cosmic connection activity,
Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA, Student activity and webquest 

R9626 Accretion disc pulling matter from a companion star,
NDLRN. Video (0:18 min) 

NASA Science: Astrophysics. Information on star formation and life cycles 

Stellar evolution: cycles of formation and destruction,
Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA. Information on star life cycles 

The elements: forged in stars,
Teachers’ Domain, Video (3:43 min) 

The life and death of stars,
WMAP, NASA. Information