May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

A Predawn Lunar Eclipse, a Transit of Venus, and Other Sky Phenomena in June 2012 and Beyond

Posted: Monday, June 4th, 2012

by Robert C. Victor

We hope you enjoyed the annular or partial solar eclipse of May 20. Perhaps you’ll want to start planning to take in the next two total solar eclipses within the U.S.: On August 21, 2017 (seen as total within a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina), and on April 8, 2024 (total from Texas to Maine).

Here are some fascinating events to close out the (traditional schedule) school year, and some very striking arrangements of planets, moon and stars to encourage your students to “keep looking up” during the summer months.

June 2012 brings Californians a partial lunar eclipse in the predawn hours on Monday, June 4, and a rare transit of Venus across the face of the Sun on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 5, an event not to happen again for more than a century! Within a week later, and certainly by mid-June, Venus emerges into morning twilight to the lower left of Jupiter. Venus then displays a thin crescent phase, filling out to half full by mid-August while its disk size shrinks as the planet recedes from Earth. Venus will reach peak brilliance in predawn skies in mid-July. In late June and early July, Venus and Jupiter form a brilliant pairing before dawn, an encore of their evening pairing in March. Mars-Saturn remain in the evening sky, the gap between them closing until their trio with Spica in August.

Partial lunar eclipse in predawn on Monday, June 4: moon enters the umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow, around 3:00 a.m. PDT; greatest eclipse (magnitude 37 percent, or 3/8 of the moon’s diameter in dark shadow) occurs at 4:03 a.m. PDT, with moon low in SW, above Antares, heart of the Scorpion. The moon leaves the umbra at 5:06 a.m. PDT. Of all the contiguous 48 states, California has the best view of this eclipse.

On Tuesday, June 5, the transit of Venus will be the last one until December 10, 2117. It begins in the afternoon, at 3:06 p.m. PDT along the U.S. West Coast. The event opens with a ~ 17.6-minute ingress until about 3:23 p.m., as Venus’ disk, 1/32 of the Sun’s apparent diameter, slides onto the solar limb. Venus takes about 6 hours to reach the opposite limb, so for most of North America the transit is still in progress at sunset. For details, including history, safe methods of observing, maps and timetables of visibility, visit:

I plan to have students observe the start of the transit near the close of the school day at Cahuilla Elementary School in Palm Springs, and then visit other locations in the Coachella Valley until the Sun drops below the mountains. Peter A’Hearn, K-12 Science Specialist for Palm Springs Unified School District, plans to host a continuous transit watch in a park adjacent to Vista del Monte Elementary School. We will use solar filters suitable for safe viewing of solar eclipses with unaided eye, and telescopes fitted with front aperture filters for safely viewing the Sun in detail.

The Moon and Planets in June 2012

Morning planets: Jupiter rises in ENE in midtwilight (when Sun is 9° below the horizon) by June 5, and Venus by June 17. These two planets will form a spectacular pair within 5° in late June and early July. Follow Venus until sunrise and observe its crescent, one percent full on June 11, to 5 percent on June 18, and 16 percent on June 30. The planet’s disk, nearly one arcminute (1/60 of a degree) across during transit on June 5, is still 3/4 arcminute across on June 30, enough for 7-power binoculars to resolve the crescent in bright twilight or in daylight.

Mercury, passing superior conjunction May 27 and perihelion May 29, emerges quickly and brightly into WNW, setting after midtwilight by June 4. Binoculars help spot it in bright twilight first few days. Mercury shines at magnitude –1.5 on June 2, then fades, to –1.0 on June 7, –0.5 on June 14, 0.0 on June 22-23, +0.5 on July 1, and +1.0 on July 8.  Mercury passes Venus on June 1, Pollux on June 20, and closely aligns with the Gemini Twins Castor and Pollux on June 23 and 24.

Saturn, shining at mag. +0.5 to +0.7, drifts through S and SSW at dusk in course of June, staying within 5° of +1.0-mag. Spica. (Saturn ends retrograde June 25.) Through a telescope, rings reach a temporary minimum of 12.5° from edgewise, owing to motion of Earth around Sun. In the longer term, as Saturn orbits the Sun, the rings will “max out” at 27° from edgewise in 2017.

Mars in June fades from mag. +0.5 to +0.9 in SW to WSW at dusk, while shifting east 0.4° to 0.5° daily against stars of Leo-Virgo. On June 25-26, Mars is midway between Regulus and Saturn, 26°-27° from each. On Aug. 13-14, Mars will pass between Saturn and Spica, forming a striking compact, nearly straight-line trio in the WSW at dusk. In surrounding days, from August 7 to 20, the three objects will form a triangle no more than 5° on a side.

Moon near planets, June through August

Sun. June 17 at dawn: Waning crescent old moon low in ENE, between Jupiter to its upper right, and Venus rising to its lower left.

Thurs. June 21 at dusk: First easy waxing crescent young moon low in WNW. To moon’s upper right, locate Mercury, Pollux, and Castor.

Mon. & Tues. June 25 and 26 at nightfall: moon near Mars. Moon passes First Quarter phase (half full and 90° or one-quarter circle east of Sun) on June 26.

Wed. & Thurs. June 27 and 28 at nightfall: Waxing gibbous moon near Saturn and Spica. Saturn is the higher and brighter of the two “stars” near the moon.

Sun. July 15, about 1-1/2 hours before sunrise: Spectacular gathering of waning crescent moon, Venus, Jupiter, the star Aldebaran, and the Hyades star cluster, with the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster not far above. Wonderful views for unaided eye and binoculars.

Mon.-Wed. July 23-25 at nightfall: Fat waxing crescent moon, approaching First Quarter phase, slips past Mars, Saturn, and Spica. On the middle date, Saturn-Spica are 4.5° apart, with Mars 12° to their west (lower right), forming a nearly isosceles triangle.

Sat. August 11, about 1-1/2 hours before sunrise: moon near Jupiter, Aldebaran, and the Hyades. The waning crescent moon will interfere little with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower in the predawn hours of Sunday.

Mon. August 13, about 1-1/2 hours before sunrise: moon near Venus. A perfect day for using the moon to follow Venus long into daylight hours! The moon will occult Venus between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. PDT from West Coast. For a map and timetable of disappearance and reappearance of Venus, go to

Wed. August 15, about one hour before sunrise: Mercury very low in ENE, to lower left of old crescent moon. On Thursday, look about 45 minutes before sunrise to catch an even older crescent moon rising to lower right of Mercury.

Tues. August 21, one hour after sunset: Waxing crescent moon about 4-1/2 days after New, is low in WSW below a compact triangle of Saturn, Mars, and Spica. Four bodies within a 6.5° field! Can you fit all four within the field of view of 7-power binoculars?

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.


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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. Thanks for keeping us up to date on the celestial occurrences. I am looking forward to looking at the transit this afternoon.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.