Group Size: Up to 32 Students

45-60 minutes


A nebula is vast cloud of interstellar hydrogen, dust, and plasma. Periodically magnetic waves and other waves ripple through the universe sometimes disturbing a nebula. The nebula may begin to rotate as a result of the passing energies. As this interstellar cloud collapses under its own gravitational pull a star is formed through nuclear fusion. It is accepted that this is how our star, Sol, had formed. According to theory the material left over from the formation of the star remains around as a dusty disk forms. This material revolves around the newborn star chaotically, pieces of dust often colliding and concreting, forming larger and larger “balls” of material in the orbital plane of the star.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Stars form from magnetic waves and other shock waves that disturb interstellar clouds, dust and other cosmic materials and initiate a gravitational collapse inciting nuclear fusion. Materials left over from the formation of the star help form the solar system’s planets.
  2. Heavier material remains closest to the star forming rocky planets, lighter and more volatile material tends to make up the outer, gaseous planets.
  3. Planetary Accretion (homogeneous or heterogeneous) is when materials left over from the formation of the star begin to clump together and grow larger with each addition of smaller materials eventually forming a planet.

Guiding Question:

How did our star and the rest of the solar system form?

Large Post-Its

Large Marker per group of up to 8 students

Laptops or Smart Board or other video playing devise

Internet connection or Download of Video mentioned in Activity 4

1 Tsp Cream Cheese per group of 2-4

Saw dust or pencil shavings

Sand or dry dirt

One 2 Qrt Drink Container or tall mixing bowl per group

Activity 1: L.I.N.K. on the Stars (Assessment opportunity for an introductory activity to a new unit)

Have each group of students write down ideas about stars and planets for approximately 3 minutes. Topics can either be posted together or separately.

“What do you know or think you know about stars? How do they form? What are the names of some stars? How do planets form?”

Following the 3-minute activity ask students to look around at other group’s concept maps and inquire about vocabulary or concepts they may be unfamiliar. Maps may either be taken down and students prompted to write down what they may have just learned about the topic discussed or maps may be left up for duration of unit to be built upon at a later time in substitution for a word wall.
Activity 2: Formation of the Solar System- Güne? Sistemi olu?umu

Depending on your technology resources this 2-minute video can be viewed on a computer, Smart Board or downloaded for viewing. There are numerous animations on the Internet about the formation of stars and planetary accretion the following is highly recommended because it covers both with a simple and easy to follow narration.

Activity 3: Think, Pair, Share (Assessment opportunity for new topics being explored)

Have student pair up or work in small groups of no more than four students and discuss the video for no more than 10 minutes. Students should be given focus questions such as:

What did our solar system start with? Why did the material get bigger and bigger, hotter and hotter? When the star ignited what happened to the extra materials? Describe the way the material is moving and how the planets formed?

Reconvene the class into discussion of the questions they were asked to discuss. Each group should share a minimum of one insight. Direct the student to take notes on each group’s comments; clarify any misconceptions or misunderstandings. Add new terminology to the L.I.N.K. concept maps.
Activity 4: Cream Cheese Planets

Accretion is when things grow in size steadily by addition of smaller parts. At this point each group of 2-4 students will now have a chance to make little planets through the concepts of accretion. Students should place a small handful of sand/dirt and saw dust/pencil shavings into the bottom of a tall circular container such as the fore mentioned drink container or mixing bowl. A top these materials drop in a blob or two of cream cheese. Have the students hold the bowl with two hands, at the 9 and 3 spots like a clock, and move in a tight circular motion; the materials on the bottom of the container should start to accrete and become a larger ball simulating the formation of a planet.

Conclusion and Wrap Up:

Have the students write down a reflection of the topics covered in class either at the end of activity 4 or for homework. Questions that should be answered: How did the solar system form? How did the planets form?

Have students add new concepts to their LINK.

Vocabulary to note:

Solar System



Interstellar Cloud
New York State Scope and Sequence:

Intermediate and High School Science Standards

Physical Setting:

Key Idea 1.1a - 1.1c, 1.1e, 1.2 a - 1.2d

Non-profit Tax ID # 203478467