Characteristics of the Universe
This page was developed as part of the NASA-funded Sustainable Trainer Engagement Program by LPI
Return to Earth & Space Science Classroom Activities and Resources
Vocabulary/ Preliminary Concepts:
Solar System—held together by our Sun’s gravity
- Has one star, the Sun (the “Solar System” refers to our Sun, Sol)
Milky Way—a group of stars, gas, and dust, held together by gravity
- Also refers to the band of light visible in the sky that is the plane/disk of our Galaxy
- Contains everything we know of
- All existing matter, space, and energy that we know exists
- Sorting Spectra
Working in groups, students compare stellar spectra for patterns and sort them accordingly, then report out their observations to the class. This prepares them to understand stellar classification.
- TERC Astrobiology: What Types of Stars Are in Our Universe?
Students produce an Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of 100 stars to study color, temperature, and age relationships between stars as well as their frequency in stellar populations.
The Ends of Stars
- Let’s Make a Supernova
This demonstration models the rebound inside of a supermassive star as its core collapses, when it explodes in a supernova.
Milky Way Galaxy
- Mapping the Galaxy Activity
Groups of students plot the location of star clusters and nebulae in the sky and compare their positions.
Origin of the Universe
- Doppler Ball
This site provides some background information about the Doppler effect and directions on building a Doppler Buzzer Ball.
- How Fast Do Galaxies Move?
By examining the spectrum of light from a galaxy, students determine whether the galaxy is moving towards or away from Earth, and how fast.
- Where is the center of the Universe?
This online activity models the Universe’s expansion in all directions, and demonstrates that any point can be the “center.” We’ve created a pdf version.
- Stars and Galaxies Misconceptions
- Characteristics of the Universe powerpoint
- Think-Pair-Share Questions
- Stars and Galaxies Resources List
- Where is M13?
This free downloadable application helps you visualize the locations and physical properties of deep sky objects in and around the Galaxy. It works well in conjunction with an activity about our Milky Way.
- Hertsprung-Russell diagram online animations and applications: