Explore the Stars with Worldwide Telescope

Explore the Stars with Worldwide Telescope

In this lesson, students learn about the systems, life cycle, and characteristics of stars by experiencing an in-depth, interactive view of stars using Microsoft WorldWide Telescope (WWT).


  • Students will be introduced to the essential characteristics of stars.
  • Students will gain a broad understanding of the history of astronomy from ancient times to the present. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will take several in-depth, interactive tours of star systems, star formation, and star types and characteristics.
  • Students will use WWT and the Internet to explore and research one aspect of stars on their own.
  • Students will create a WWT tour based on their research and present their tour to the class.

Lesson procedure 


The year 2009 was the International Year of Astronomy, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the following two important moments in the history of astronomy:

  • Galileo Galilei’s use of a telescope to study the skies, which led some astronomers to shift their thinking from a geocentric view of our world to a solar centric view.
  • The publication of Johannes Kepler’s groundbreaking work “Astronomia Nova,” which proved by scientific observation, what other astronomers had only conjectured, that the Earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.

We are going to use the latest form of a telescope, the WorldWide Telescope, to help us conduct our own astronomical research. WorldWide Telescope is visualization software that enables a computer to function as a virtual telescope. As you’ll discover, it brings together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for an exciting and interactive exploration of the universe. We are going to use it to explore the systems, lifecycle, and characteristics of stars.

Can anyone define a star?

A star is a massive sphere of hot glowing gas or plasma that is held together by its own gravity. Stars are made chiefly of hydrogen and a smaller amount of helium. Even the most abundant of the other elements present in stars—oxygen, carbon, neon, and nitrogen—exist in very small quantities.

A star has five main characteristics:

  1. Brightness (magnitude and luminosity)
  2. Color
  3. Surface temperature
  4. Size
  5. Mass (amount of matter)

In our tour we are going to cover all five of these characteristics and some of the complex ways they relate to one another. As we take Step 2 of the tour, list all five of these on the Student Handout and take notes on them. You will need to include references to at least three of these five characteristics of stars in your final presentation. Later, you will research one aspect of the stars that interests you and use WWT to create a guided tour to teach the rest of the class what you have learned.

Note: information and references taken from Microsoft Encarta Reference 2009 and Worldbook@NASA.

Teacher Tips

  • Ground your students

    Before you launch your students into space and the study of distant stars, get them grounded. Have them share a memory of stargazing, spotting the North Star or watching a meteor shower.

  • How far a star

    Before letting your students fly off to distant galaxies, create a sense of magnitude for the distance they will travel. Ask them how long they think it takes light to reach the Earth from the Sun. (The answer is eight minutes.)

Student activity

Follow the steps below to guide your students through this lesson plan. 

Note teachers: Please download the student activity handouts located in the sidebar under Software and Materials Needed, for additional details about the main activities for this lesson plan.
  • Step 1: Explore star systems from ancient times to the present
  • Step 2: Explore the characteristics of stars and their life cycle with WWT
  • Step 3: Research the stars on your own
  • Step 4: Create your own WWT astronomy tour​

Lesson extension activities

Ask students to research the history of constellations in depth and select one ancient myth (for example, Pegasus or Orion) to research and read.

Ask students to research the life and work of modern astronomer Charles Messier for a deeper understanding of the history of astronomy.

Ask students to research Galileo, Kepler, or other famous astronomers from the past and present their findings in a Microsoft Office PowerPoint® presentation.


Evaluate each student’s WWT tour on the following:

  • The thoroughness and accuracy of their research. For example, do they present at least three of the five characteristics of stars?
  • The organization of their findings.
  • The design of the images and the legibility of the text.
  • The effectiveness of the tour in teaching other class members about the topic.