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


Classifying Stars
  • 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
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.