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        NOVA Black Holes App Educator Guide

        Learn about black holes in this iPad app from NOVA. Hurl your star across spacetime, hitting targets and avoiding celestial hazards in your quest to earn a star that's big and bright enough to go supernova. As you play through the game’s 50-plus levels, you’ll meet new cosmic objects like small but dense neutron stars and massive blue supergiant stars. Get gravitational assists from these and other objects to slingshot around the galaxy and hit your targets. Detect and avoid invisible black holes that will shred your star if it gets too close. Beat all the levels and watch your star become a supernova and collapse into a black hole. This resource is part of the NOVA: Black Hole Apocalypse Collection.


        This educator guide includes two supporting materials. The Level Guide features tips for beating each level and the Celestial Objects Guide includes all the informational text for every celestial object that appears in the app.

        NOVA Black Holes Celestial Objects Guide | NOVA Black Holes Level Guide

        Lesson Summary

        NOVA Black Holes is an iPad game in which players navigate the cosmos by hurling a star at various celestial objects. Hosted by astrophysicist Janna Levin, the game is set 4 billion years in the future, when the black holes at the centers of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are colliding. This collision creates massive gravitational waves that send stars and planets flying in all directions. Players are given a star the size of our Sun and can control its trajectory and velocity.

        In each level, the player’s task is to hurl this star at the target celestial object(s) by touching the star, pulling back on it, and adjusting a velocity vector before releasing it into space. The levels become more complicated as the game proceeds and the player must navigate increasingly challenging sets of orbital patterns and celestial objects (e.g., blue supergiant stars, neutron stars, white dwarf stars, and both stellar and supermassive black holes).

        There are 53 levels divided into nine missions. Each mission is based around a different goal:

        • Mission 1: Star Smasher
          • Set a collision course with the red dwarf target by hurling your high-speed yellow dwarf star across space. Ready? Engage!
        • Mission 2: Planet Avenger
          • Planets like ours might orbit other stars in the universe, including the red dwarfs in this mission.
        • Mission 3: Case of the Blues
          • Traveling in space is rocket science. But you don’t always need rockets to do it, especially now that you’re not the biggest star around.
        • Mission 4: Good as Neutron
          • Don’t be fooled: sometimes small objects can pack a mighty punch. High density can mean strong gravity.
        • Mission 5: Star-Studded Stage
          • Keep your eyes on the prize. Multiple star systems can be hypnotizing.
        • Mission 6: Hearts of Darkness
          • A black hole’s gravity is irresistible. Cross the event horizon and there’s no coming back.
        • Mission 7: Velocity Killed the Radio Star
          • Cosmic debris (dust and gas) makes it hard to see. But if you view things in radio waves, you can find black holes by detecting their jets.
        • Mission 8: Unseen Companions
          • Stars don’t just orbit empty patches of space. So if you catch one in the act, it must be circling something massive but invisible.
        • Mission 9: Gravity Graveyard
          • Gravity can be disorienting. The acceleration of massive objects, like black holes, can vibrate the very fabric of space and time.

        Time Allotment

        NOVA Black Holes is meant to be completed in a sequential order. The initial playthrough of the game should take about 2.5 hours to complete.

        Learning Objectives

        Content Objectives

        • Students will be able to describe the life cycle of a star.
        • Students will be able to identify the different types of celestial objects and their properties.
        • Students will be able to state what black holes are and where they come from. Students will be able to articulate the effect of gravity on objects in space.

        Process Objectives

        • Students will be able to predict the motion of orbiting objects in space.

        How to Play

        1. The purpose of each NOVA Black Holes level is to hit the designated targets by aiming your star and adjusting its velocity vector.
        2. Simply pull back on the star to adjust the velocity vector and adjust the aim of your star by moving your finger to the left or right.
        3. Tap any object on-screen to receive a short text description of that object and information about its mass and size relative to the Sun or Earth.
        4. The mass of each object can also be observed by looking at deformations in the spacetime grid under each object. The greater the mass of an object, the more warped the spacetime grid under the object will be. The steeper the slope of the spacetime grid, the stronger the pull of gravity.
        5. As the game progresses, the levels become more complex. Players must navigate orbital patterns and celestial objects, including neutron stars and black holes, that threaten to destroy the star.
        6. Use gravity assists from denser stars and black holes to alter your acceleration and hit targets by paying attention to the warped spacetime grid under the denser stellar objects.


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