Movies for Introductory Astronomy


These are movies that I've created for use in classes and talks. Many of them are designed for introductory astronomy. Although I put them online for students, most don't have narration nor are they complete in and of themselves. They are designed for instructors to discuss as they play, pausing them and either pointing out features or asking predictive questions at different times during the animation.

Most of the the movies were put together using Blender, an open-source 3d modelling and animation package.

File formats of the movies vary, as over the years I've changed my mind about the "best" format to use, and indeed am still wavering. Ideally, I'd just like to use Ogg Theora for everything, but I've found that most of the players on my machine drop a lot of frame during playback of Theora video. (Both mplayer and VLC have trouble; Xine seems to do fine.) As such, some of these are still in MPEG4 format. At some point in the future I hope to clean it all up and make them all available as both MPEG4 in an AVI wrapper, and as Ogg Theora.

The Movies


Single-Degenerate Thermonuclear Supernova

The camera pans past a white dwarf accreting matter from a companion star, to the sound of the end of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. As we go into the 4th movement, the white dwarf explodes in a massive thermonuclear blast, stripping away the outer parts of its companion star. The camera zooms out, and we see the supernova brighten to be as bright as its host galaxy.


The Expanding Universe

A model two-dimensional closed universe with several galaxies, showing how the galaxies get farther apart (but not bigger) without moving "through space" as the universe expands.


Cosmological Redshift

A photon travels from one galaxy to another, with its wavelength expanding in proportion to the universe.


The Hubble Expansion

Three movies of a flat-two dimensional expanding Universe that demonstrate some properties of a uniform expansion.


The Celestial Sphere

A movie which shows the celstial sphere from inside and out. It zooms in and out, in an attempt to connect the drawings we make of the celstial sphere with what one sees in the sky.


The Motion of the Zenith

A simple movie that shows the celestial sphere rotating about an observer in the Northern Hemisphere. Used to demonstrated that the Zenith is at a constant declination, but a variable right ascension.


North & South

No, not a Civil War reference.... Rather, a quick movie that shows how the rising stars would appear to move to an observer in the Northern vs. Southern hemisphere.


The Sun's Position

The Earth orbits the Sun within the celestial sphere, showing the Sun's position on the celestial sphere at various times during the year.


The Ecliptic

The motion of the Sun around the ecliptic over the course of a year.


A Month on the Ecliptic

The rotation of the celestial sphere over the course of the month, with the Sun moving along the ecliptic the appropriate amount.


The Sun's Declination

Shows how the tilt of the Earth's axis means that the Sun is sometimes above the equator, and sometimes below the equator, ultimately leading to the Earth's Seasons.


The Phases of the Moon

The phases of the Moon over a month, looking "down" on the Earth/Moon system, and zooming in to show how it would look to somebody on the Earth.


Where Will The Moon Be Tomorrow?

An animation created to answer an in-class multiple choice question about how far the moon moves across the sky during one day.

Use of these Movies

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

You are free to download and use these movies in your classroom, or for any other non-commercial purpose. You may also modify them, or use them in other projects, as long as any distribution of modified version or projects that use them is done under the same terms.

The two "Moon" movies should also include in the attribution: Earth and Moon textures by Tor Øera. (

Any Celestial Sphere movie, and the "Sun's Declination" movie, should include the attribution: Earth texture by Rick Kohrs.