Scientifically Accurate Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

[Update: Now available for pre-order as a children’s book!]

 

Reposting this from its original home, with minor edits:

Singing to our kids: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…how I wonder what you..

HEY, what a second, we’re astronomers! None if this “how I wonder” stuff about facts established 100 years ago for OUR little prodigy.

Inspired by a Girl Scout poster we saw in Oakland with insipid, inaccurate doggerel, Julia Kregenow and I wanted a better version.  Here is Julia’s updated version (with some contributions from me). We had these mostly done back in 2012 (long before that Weinersmith guy put his out…) with some updates in July 2015.

Scientifically Accurate Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
I know exactly what you are

Opaque ball of hot dense gas
Million times our planet’s mass
Looking small because you’re far
I know exactly what you are

Atmospheric turbulence
Causes rays of light to bend
Blurry light gives views subpar
Causing twinkling little star

We see you as if in the past
Light’s not infinitely fast
Lookback time delays our view
I know exactly what you do

Fusing atoms in your core
[1]Hydrogen, helium, carbon and more
With such power you shine far
Twinkle twinkle little star

Classed by their spectroscopy
Types named O, B, A, F, G…
Bright when close and faint when far
I know exactly what you are

Smallest ones burn cool and slow
Still too hot to visit, though
Red stars dominate by far
Twinkle twinkle little star

Largest ones are hot and blue
Supernova when they’re through
Then black hole or neutron star
I know exactly what you are

Gravity holds on too tight
Nothing gets out, mass or light
Black holes are the most bizarre
Remnants of a twinkling star

Neutron stars spin really fast
When their beams of light sweep past
Then we call you a pulsar[2]
I know exactly what you are

Our Sun’s average as stars go
Formed 5 billion years ago
Halfway through its life so far
Twinkle mid-size yellow star

Sunspots look dark but they’re bright
Slightly cooler so less light
Temporary surface scar
I know exactly what you are

Swelling up before it’s dead
Cooling off and growing red
Then its end is not so far
Twinkle big red giant star

Outer layers float away
Planetary nebulae
Wispy gas is gossamer
I know exactly what you were

White dwarf is the core you get
matter is degenerate[3]
When small stars say au revoir
Twinkle very little star

Interstellar medium
Recycled ad nauseam
Gas and dust are spread afar
I know exactly what you are

Forming from collapsing clouds
Cold and dusty gas enshrouds
Spinning, heating protostar
Twinkle twinkle little star

Often forming multiply[4]
Clusters bound by gravity
Open type or globular[5]
I know exactly how you purr

Two stars make a binary
Or a triple if there’s three
Some are solo just like ours
Twinkle twinkle little stars

Two hundred billion stars all stay
Bound up in the Milky Way
Dusty spiral with a bar
I know exactly what you are

Stars have planets orbiting
Rocky or gassy, moons or rings
Earth’s unique with life so far
Twinkle twinkle little star

Lyrics copyright Julia Kregenow and Jason Wright, 2011, 2012, 2015. If you reproduce these lyrics in whole or in part, please include the copyright and credit the authors.

[1] Pronounce these as quick triplets for proper scansion, i.e. “HYdrogen, HElium, CARbon-and, MORE”

[2] emphasize the last syllable: “puhl-SAR”

[3] this actually does rhyme with “get”: de-JEN-ur-ET

[4] pronounced “MUHL – teh – PLEE”

[5] pronounced “GLAH-byoo-luhr”

 

5 thoughts on “Scientifically Accurate Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

  1. Sarah

    I have loved singing this song to my newborn son. I think it has excellent rhyme, rhythm, etc, to really make it fun to sing to the twinkle, twinkle Little Star tune (definitely not all adaptations to popular tunes have this). Also, I’ve enjoyed learning more about stars as I’ve researched the different verses – reading about the science behind them has helped with memorization. My baby is 4 months old, and I finally have all 20 verses memorized! Love this lullaby!

  2. Dan Priven-Troncoso

    Oh, thank you for this. I agree with the “we have studied what you are” change, noted above.

    I think I might be able to substitute this song for the entirety of the Astro 100 curriculum.

  3. jtw13 Post author

    Thanks for that! I love hearing peoples’ variations. “know exactly what you are” is mostly designed to contrast with the original version’s celebration of our ignorance. We *do* have an excellent understanding of stars (and as a stellar astrophysicist I certainly appreciate how much more we have to learn!)

    We did wonder if we should get “plasma” in there somewhere, but we decided that since for most stars the ideal gas law is an excellent approximation for most of their mass, “hot dense gas” was the best compromise among the scansion, rhyme, and precision. That is, the Sun *is* made out of gas—an ionized one, for the most part, but still a gas (They Might Be Giants overcorrected with “The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma”).

  4. Alan Glynne-Jones

    Thank you for the wonderful inspiration Jason and Julia!

    I have a similar view to the previous comment by Stephen Thompson:
    So when I sing this to my daughter I change the line ‘I know exactly what you are’ to ‘We have studied what you are’. And I use ‘Opaque ball of plasma (and gas)’ in the first verse. Eight verses memorised so far!

    P.S. I do wonder if the ‘historic record’ that Stephen has found may be a little behind the times ;-)

  5. Stephen Thompson

    Interesting, but presumptuous. The scientific facts we think we have often turn out to need some revision. Science cannot tell us about origins. Only the historical record can do that. And it has never been refuted. The origin of all creation was 6000 years ago.

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