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Why do Stars shine?

Each activity or resource is labeled by access mode:

Requires computer access
Requires downloading from the Web
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Main Topics & Concepts
  • Stars "ignite" as a collapsing nebula and "shine" because of fusion of hydrogen or other elements at the core.
  • Fusion continues as the star burns hydrogen, into heavier elements.
  • The Sun is a good example of a ordinary star.
  • How bright? The light observed from distant stars is attenuated, so we cannot know absolute magnitude (a measure of brightness) without measuring the distance to the star.
This topic applies to California state standards 2c and 2f in 9th grade Earth Science. 

Science Probe Text
Science Probe I §14.5 The Brightness of Stars

Activity Access Description
S P I: Activity 14G The Magnitudes of Stars book  Students use naked-eye observations of stars and observations of a light source as varying distances to explore how the light sensed decreases with distance from the source.

Activities & Lessons
Activity Access Description
Parts 1&2


web Study the Sun as an example of a star we know a lot about.  Students do on-line research at linked science Web sites to answer questions about temperature and the power source of the Sun.
Desktop Stars, Part 2 Light and Spectroscopy

Center for Particle Astrophysics

web Students use gas discharge tubes and a simple spectrometer to observe and record the spectra of various elements and a themal source..  

Also under spectroscopy

Xray Spectroscopy and the Chemistry of Supernova Remnants

Part I: How and Where are Elements Created?

NASA/Imagine the Universe!

  paper Part I of this teaching guide is an introduction to stellar fusion and element production (also some on Stellar life cycles). Access the 3 sections of Part I from the Unit Outline page using the link at left.

The first two sections are background with some assigned questions. The activity (third sectiont) is probably too advanced to cover in its entirety, but constructing a model of a high mass star with its elemental layers is instructive. Students will need some basic knowledge of chemistry and scientific notation.

*Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Ordering info $$

**Science Education Gateway at UC Berkeley

Resources Access Description

Imagine the Universe

web Basics on star formation, composition, and processes. Has glossary and links to quiz page, FAQ and "fun facts" pages.
The BIrth of Stars


web Illustrated narrative on the process of star birth, how and where, with examples from the local neighborhood. The font size is a bit small, so some may want to increase the default size on their browsers.
Introduction to Neutron Stars

Prof. C. Miller/U. of MD

web Background reading on the formation and characteristics of neutron stars and their behavior in common binary systems. By an astronomer with a sense of humor.
Mt Wilson H-K Project

Mt. Wilson Observatory

web Site devoted to long-term study of chromosperic activity in stars comparable to the Sun. See pages on Cyclic and Extr-Cyclic Activity for examples of how other stars have storms and spots like the Sun's
 Periodic Table of the Elements

Los Alamos National Laboratory

web Great interactive chemistry tool; each element has its own page of information, and the tale itself has links to pages on chemistry basics, the CRC Handbook of Chemisty and Physcis.