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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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.