Lunar and Planetary Institute

Activity: Star Spirals


Children create a double spiral mobile showing the stages in the lives of small- and large-mass stars.

The Activity

Before You Start:  Review with the children the stages in the life cycle of a star. Help them to recall what they learned in the story and refer to “About Stars” (Ronna, please link to background section) to fill in the details.

  • Do stars stay the same all the time? (No, they change during their “lifetime.”)
  • Do all stars become red giants? Red supergiants?  (No, different stars have different stages.)
  • What controls whether a star becomes a red giant — like our Sun will become in several billion years — or a red supergiant? (The mass of the starhow much stuff it is made of - controls the stages in the life of a star.  Stars more massive than our Sunsay ten times more massive become red supergiants.)
  • Where are all stars “born?” (In huge clouds of gasses and dust. Stars form in regions of the cloud where the material begins to pull together and collapse.  The more material, the bigger and more massive the future star.)
  • What are the stages that a small-mass star, like our Sun, goes through? (It is born within a huge cloud of gas and dust; the gas and dust in the region of the star-to-be collapses and pulls together, forming a spinning mass of gas, a proto-star; it continues to collapse and heat up until it begins to fuse atoms together, forming other atoms and releasing energy as a yellow star; over billions of years it uses all its fuel and it expands into a red giant; it eventually burns the last of its fuel, leaving behind a hot white star, a white dwarf that cools to a black dwarf.)

Invite the children to make a double spiral mobile to illustrate the different stages in the life of a small-mass star like our Sun, and in the life of a large-mass star.

Provide the materials to the children. Have them decorate their paper plates.  When they have finished, have them cut their plates, beginning on the outer edge, into spirals.

Invite the children to examine the craft materials and select different components that will represent the different stages of the small- and large-mass stars.

Each child should determine which spiral will represent the lifecycle of a small-mass star.  Have them glue their selected craft materials representing the different stages of the small-mass star along the length of the spiral.  Have them begin at the top of their spiral, using cotton fluff for the cloud of gas and dust from which all stars are born.  They should space the stages so that the final stage is attached at the bottom of the spiral.

Have them repeat the process for the large-mass star spiral.

When they have completed both spirals, and the glue has dried, have the children create a small hole in the top of each spiral.  Use a pipe cleaner to join the two spirals together and to make a loop for attaching the spirals to a piece of string that they can use for hanging.

They may want to add more cotton fluff to the top of their mobile, to represent the cloud of gas and dust from which all stars form.

Suggestions for craft materials for the small-mass star stages:

Clouds of gas and dust (cotton fluff), small protostar (small purple or orange pom pom), yellow star (medium yellow pom pom), red giant (large red pom pom), white dwarf (small silver sequin or bead), and black dwarf (small black sequin or bead).

Suggestions for craft materials for the large-mass stars:

Clouds of gas and dust (cotton fluff), big protostar (big purple or orange pom pom), blue star (large blue pom pom), super red giant (large ball of red tissue paper), supernova (multicolor yarn strips tied into a large pom pom), neutron star (clear bead), and black hole (black bead).



Last updated
January 22, 2007


Ages 8 –12

How Long?
45 minutes

What's Needed?

• 2 paper plates
• Crayons
• Glue
• Scissors
• String for hanging mobile
• Pipe cleaner
• Cotton fluff
• Craft "pom-poms" of different colors and sizes
• Small beads or sequins of different colors

Connections to the National Science Standard(s)

Standard D(grades K–4): The sun and stars have properties that can be observed and described.

Standard D(grades 9-12):  Our sun is an average star.

Standard D (grades 9-12):  Stars produce energy from nuclear reactions, primarily the fusion of hydrogen to form helium.