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Interactive video lesson plan for: Stellar Graveyard - The Crab Nebula

Activity overview:

Footage from the 2008 documentary, "Journey to the Edge of the Universe".

Stars are born, grow up, and then, then what? Do they die? Do they slip quietly into the night, or go out with a bang? Somewhere between here and the edge of the Universe lies the answer.

Luminous clouds suspended in space, encircling what was once a star, like our own sun. All that's left of it are these brightly coloured gases, elements formed by nuclear fusion deep inside the star, released into space on its death. Green and violet, Hydrogen and Helium, the raw materials of the Universe. Red and blue, Nitrogen and Oxygen, the building blocks of life on Earth. For us to live, stars like this had to die. The Oxygen in our lungs, the Nitrogen in our DNA, it was all produced by nuclear fusion, in stars that died long before the Earth was even born. We are made of stellar nuclear waste. Our family tree begins here.

At its heart the ghost of a star, it's a white dwarf. White, hot, small, but unbelievably dense. In a star's dying moments, its atoms fuse and squeeze together, making it so dense that just a teaspoon of this white dwarf would weigh one tonne. It's a chilling premonition of our sun's fate. Six billion years from now, it will become a white dwarf, its death will herald the end of life on Earth. It makes you wonder how many other worlds have been and gone, stories left untold, celestial books lost forever. But the greatest story of them all is still to be told. We must go back through time to the very first chapter, to tell the story of how the Universe began.

The scattered remains of a dead star. A nebula, the Crab Nebula. We're six thousand light years from home, deep inside a stellar graveyard. We've learned so much, seen things we had never believed possible. Now sights like this, wonders once beyond imagination, we take in our stride. We're ready, ready to face whatever lies ahead. Determined to reach the edge of the Universe. It looks dead, but maybe this is just the calm after the storm, after a massive explosion, powerful enough to turn a huge star into a cloud of dust and gas. A supernova.

The eye of the storm, a spinning pulsating star, a pulsar. Gravity must have squeezed the giant star's core down to this. It's just twenty kilometers across, unimaginably dense. One pinhead of this would weigh hundreds, maybe millions, of tonnes. As it shrank, like a figure skater spinning on the spot, arms outstretched then pulling them in, it began to spin faster. Two beams of light, energy, radiation, spinning thirty times a second, powering the huge cloud of dust and gas. There's so much radiation here, more even than on the sun.

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