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Lesson Plan: Supernova Chandra


Students will understand the differing uses of radio, optical and x-ray telescopes.
Students will investigate and present information about one stage in the lifecycle of a star.


Benchmarks for Science Literacy

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that:

  • The stars differ from each other in size, temperature, and age, but they appear to be made up of the same elements that are found on the earth and to behave according to the same physical principles. Unlike the sun, most stars are in systems of two or more stars orbiting around one another.
  • Increasingly sophisticated technology is used to learn about the universe. Visual, radio and x-ray telescopes collect information from across the entire spectrum of electromagnetic waves; computers handle an avalanche of data and increasingly complicated computations to interpret them; space probes send back data and materials from the remote parts of the solar system; and accelerators give subatomic particles energies that simulate conditions in the stars and in the early history of the universe before stars formed.

National Science Standards

  • Science often advances with the introduction of new technologies. Solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge. New technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new areas of research.
  • Stars produce energy from nuclear reactions, primarily the fusion of hydrogen to form helium. These and other processes in stars have led to the formation of all the other elements.

Suggested time

Two to three class periods of 45 - 50 mins.


CNNfyi article, Sis, BOOM, star!
Pencil and paper
Posterboard - two sheets for each group of three to five students
Internet access


1. Ask students:

  • What is the meaning of the word "supernova?"
  • When do supernovas occur in a star's lifecycle?
  • What causes them?
  • How close to the supernova stage is our sun?
  • Why is it important that NASA monitor supernovas in space?

2. Have students read the CNNfyi article: "Sis, BOOM, Star!" about a newly found supernova remnant in space. Review the questions above to review how much the students have learned about a supernova based on their reading.

3. Discuss the significance of the new images and what possible impact a far away supernova could have here on earth.

4. Have students explain why they think it was necessary for NASA to have radio, optical and x-ray telescope data to get an accurate picture of the supernova remnant.

5. Explain that stars have several stages within their lifecycle and that the supernova remnant was in the last lifecycle stage. Then challenge your students to further investigate the lifecycle stages of stars.

6. Group students into teams of 3 - 5 students. Have each team investigate one of the following stages in the lifecycle of a star:

  • New star
  • Red giant
  • White dwarf (for stars the size of our sun)
  • Black dwarf (for stars the size of our sun)
  • Supernova (for stars at least five times as big as our sun)
  • Black hole (for stars at least five times as big as our sun)

8. Discuss where the star mentioned in this article would fit into the lifecycle presentations and what might happen next to the matter formerly contained in the star.


Have your student groups present their star lifecycle stages to another class or a group of parents. Prepare a rubric ahead of time and review the criteria for success with the students before the presentation. Score each group and individual based on the rubric. Discuss the performances after the visitors have left, and review scores individually.

Astronomy index
All about stars
Birth of a star
Chandra observatory
Hubble telescope
Australia telescope

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