A Dance of Death Might Prove: E = mc2

“Death Dance” Stars Found—May Help Prove Einstein Right
by Andrew Fazekas, National Geographic News

Lesson Plan for this article With Answer Key.

White Dwarfs-photo National Geographic

This is an interesting article about two stars heading towards a major collision. What’s fascinating is that although they are circling each other every twelve minutes, the actual collision won’t take place for another 900,000 years.

“3,000 light-years away a pair of aging stars is locked in a “dance of death”. According to astronomers, the union will end in a collision and a possible supernova. The binary star system consists of two white dwarfs—the burnt-out cores of sunlike stars. The white dwarfs are gradually spiraling toward each other at breakneck speeds of 370 miles (595 kilometers) a second, and they’re destined to merge in 900,000 years.

But astronomers hope that, before the collision, the spinning stars will help scientists test Einstein’s general theory of relativity and even reveal the origins of an entire class of supernovae. What is so incredible is that this exotic pair of Earth- and Neptune-sized stars are orbiting each other at only a third of our Earth-moon distance, circling each other every 12 minutes, said study leader Warren Brown, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And because there is no interaction—or star matter streaming between them—we may have a unique stellar laboratory here to look for effects of general relativity and probe for extreme gravity.””The most exciting aspect is that the change in the orbital period as it emits gravitational waves can actually be measured,..That means we will not only indirectly test general relativity, but also directly measure the predicted gravitational waves, which has never been done before… Such a mission would truly open a new way to study the universe.” Read the rest of the article.

White Dwarf explodes into supernova-You Tube

Lesson Plan for this article:

Language Skills – reading, speaking, vocabulary, and grammar practice.

Level: Low-intermediate-advanced

Time: approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.

Materials: article excerpt, dictionary.

Goals: Learners will be able to identify adjectives; practice reading and speaking skills, along with vocabulary meanings.


I. Pre-Reading  Tasks

A. Prediction:

Have students  read the titles (of both this post and of the original article) survey the photos, to see if they can predict what the article will be about.

B Stimulate background knowledge:

Have learners brainstorm to build a list of all of the words they can  think of associated with the terms: Astronomy, stars, light-years, and white dwarfs.

II. While Reading Tasks

A. Grammar Focus: Adjectives

Organize students in groups and give each group a paragraph to work with from the article. Have them identify the adjectives in each paragraph. Review adjectives here.

B. Vocabulary Practice: Word Meanings

Have students connect the meanings to the correct adjectives.

1. aging a. reckless or dangerous, especially because of excessive speed.
2. binary b. inoperative as a result of heat or friction.
3. white c. of a kind not used for ordinary purposes or not ordinarily seen.
4. burnt-out d. being or similar to the size of the planets earth and neptune.
5. sunlike e. the force of attraction between any two masses.
6. breakneck f. light or comparatively light in color.
7. incredible g. growing old
8. exotic h. impossible to believe.
9. Earth- and Neptune-sized i. resembling the star around which the planets revolve and from which they receive light and heat.
10. unique j. being the only one of its kind; unlike anything.
11. stellar k. of or pertaining to an orbit.
12. extreme l. reaching a high or the highest degree.
13. exciting m. stirring; thrilling.
14. orbital n. say or estimate (a specified thing) will happen in the future.
15. gravitational o. of or relating to a star or stars.
16. predicted p. consisting of, indicating, or involving two.

C. Questions for Reading Comprehension

1. What is the article about?

2. When will the actual collision occur?

3. How many light-years away are the stars?

4. What is it that scientists hope to test before the stars collide?

5. Who is Warren Brown?

6. Besides testing general relativity, what else might the astronomers be able to measure?

III. Post Reading Tasks

A. WH- and How questions

Have  learners discuss the article using the  Wh-questions. Who or what is the article about?  When did the event occur?  Why or  how did the event occur?

B.  Writing / Speaking Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein- photo: google

“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving…”_ Albert Einstein-Wikiquote

1.  In groups, have students read the quote by Einstein, and answer the following questions:

a. In your own words, explain what Einstein is saying.

b. Make a list of questions you would ask him if you had the opportunity.

2. Have students read about Albert Einstein, and write an essay explaining why he is so important to people all over the world.

Additional Learning Sites

National Geographic Gallery of White Dwarfs– great photos to show students.

NASA Introduction to White Dwarfs-complete and easy to read information about the White Dwarf stars.

University of Texas  Lesson Plans Teachers and students can share in the study of these cosmic time machines through lessons and activities created by Winget and McDonald Observatory education specialists and tested in Texas classrooms. These activities will sharpen students’ understanding of how stars live and die, and how astronomers use white-dwarf stars to probe many of the mysteries of our galaxy.


II. While Reading Tasks

A. Grammar Focus: Adjectives

Paragraph 1
aging, binary, white, burnt-out, sunlike, breakneck,
Paragraph 2
incredible, exotic, “Earth- and Neptune-sized”, unique, stellar, extreme.
Paragraph 3
exciting, orbital, gravitational, predicted.

B. Vocabulary Practice: Word Meanings

  1. aging-g
  2. binary-p
  3. white-f
  4. burnt-out-b
  5. sunlike-i
  6. breakneck-a
  7. incredible-h
  8. exotic-c
  9. Earth- and Neptune-sized-d
  10. unique-j
  11. stellar-o
  12. extreme-l
  13. exciting-m
  14. orbital-k
  15. gravitational-e
  16. predicted-n

C. Questions for Reading Comprehension

1. Two stars heading towards a major collision.
2. the actual collision won’t take place for another 900,000 years.
3. 3,000 light-years away
4. Einstein’s general theory of relativity
5. An astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
6. The predicted gravitational waves, which has never been done before.