The Universe in the Classroom

Why Should We Care About Exploding Stars?

Activity Corner

Astronomy in the Marketplace

by Dennis Schatz, Pacific Science Center

The allure of astronomy is so strong that many companies have named products after astronomical objects. During an astronomy unit, students may enjoy compiling a list of such products and thinking about other astronomical terms that await commercialization. This activity is best done over the period of a week or so, but need not involve substantial amounts of class time.


1. To help students see that astronomy has influence outside the scientific arena; 2. to increase their familiarity with astronomical terms; and 3. to develop the students' creative thinking skills.


1. After some discussion of the fascination of astronomy, ask students to list some common consumer products that have been named after astronomical objects. Here are some examples to get the discussion going:

Automobiles: Ford Taurus, Mercury Comet, Dodge Aries, Ford Galaxie, GM Astrovan, Nissan Pulsar, Toyota Corona, Chevy Nova, and Subaru (which means Pleiades in Japanese; the Subaru logo at the front of each car actually shows a number of the stars in the Pleiades star cluster.)

Other Products: Comet cleanser, Milky Way and Mars candy bars, Pulsar watches, Quasar televisions, and Galaxy carpets (with a spiral galaxy as a logo).

2. After generating a short list in the class, ask the students to spend the next few days looking around their homes, in local stores and advertising, and in magazines and newspapers for as many astronomically inspired product and business names as they can find. You might see which class or group can produce the longest list. If you come up with a particularly impressive list, you might send a copy to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. (We will award an "Astronomy is Looking Up'' bumper sticker to the five longest lists we receive before July 1, 1987.)

3. The class can discuss why astronomical names have such an appeal for businesses and what quality of the product is being emphasized by use of astronomical names or images.

4. You can extend this activity and integrate it with language arts and art projects by having students devise their own astronomically named product. Students can write and illustrate an ad for the new product and the most creative ads can be displayed on the class bulletin board. Or better yet, have the students actually produce a package or sample of the new product using common household materials. Obviously, this will be easier for "Supernova Breakfast Cereal'' than for a new "Miranda Sports Coupe''.) Students can also be asked to write a paragraph extolling the virtues of their product (with emphasis on astronomical terms and images) and to give a brief presentation about the product to the class.

You might note that astronomers themselves have chuckled about these product names over the years. Several years ago, when a small, previously unseen galaxy was discovered relatively near our Milky Way, it was nicknamed "Snickers'' because, compared to our Galaxy, it was just a peanut.

(c) 1987 Dennis Schatz

Dennis Schatz is the Associate Director of the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and is the leader of the A.S.P.'s summer workshops on teaching astronomy.

Resource Corner


The discovery and early work on Supernova 1987A are explained in a very nice cover story in Time magazine, March 23, 1987. Excellent coverage of new developments can be found in Science News and in the news section of Science magazine.

The two main monthly magazines for sky watchers, Sky & Telescope and Astronomy, are both planning extensive coverage of the immediate discoveries and the long-range analysis of data from Supernova 1987A.

For more background information on supernovae, see:

Asimov, I. The Exploding Suns. 1985, Dutton.

Clark, D. Superstars. 1984, McGraw Hill.

Cohen, M. "Do Supernovae Trigger Star Formation?'' in Astronomy, Apr. 1982, p. 16.

Fried, E. "The Ungentle Death of A Giant Star'' in Science '86, Jan./Feb. 1986, p. 60.

Murdin, P. & L. Supernovae. 1985, Cambridge U. Press.

Reddy, F. "Supernovae: Still a Challenge'' in Sky & Telescope, Dec. 1983, p. 485.

Stephenson, F. and Clark, D. "Historical Supernovas'' in Scientific American, Dec. 1974.

Tucker, W. "Exploding Stars, Superbubbles, and the HEAO Observations'' in Mercury, Sep./Oct. 1984, p. 130.

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