May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

California Skies for February and March 2012

Posted: Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

by Robert Victor

These are great months for viewing bright planets in the early evening! Students will enjoy following brilliant Venus and Jupiter through their closest pairing on March 13, and viewing four planets simultaneously in late February and early March. During Feb. 22-Mar. 7, the moon forms attractive early evening groupings with four of the five bright planets and three of the five bright zodiacal stars. After returning to the early evening sky on Mar. 23, the moon sweeps past four bright planets during Mar. 25-Apr. 6.

Evening planets: At dusk in February-March, Venus, the brilliant “evening star”, is well up in WSW to W, higher and farther north as weeks pass. Moving east 1.2° to 1.0° per day against background stars, Venus aligns with the east side of Great Square of Pegasus on Feb. 12, and will pass very close to the Pleiades cluster on April 2-3.    

Venus brightens from mag. –4.1 to –4.5 during February-March, enough to spot in daylight.  Daytime sightings are easiest just before sunset, when Venus is to upper left or above the setting sun, by 40° on Feb. 1, widening slowly to 46° at greatest elongation on Mar. 26. Telescopes show Venus’ phases, nearly 3/4 full and 1/4 arcminute across at the start of February, to just half full and 0.4 arcminute across near the end of March. Watch for striking changes in this planet’s telescopic appearance during April and May, as it swings closer to Earth and grows to nearly one arcminute (1/60 of a degree) across. The thinning crescent can be resolved even with binoculars, if observed in daylight or soon after sunset. In Palm Springs Unified School District, we are planning to have students observe Venus through a telescope repeatedly during the ten weeks leading up to its transit across the sun’s disk on June 5.

Jupiter is next brightest “star” at dusk, to the upper left of Venus in Feb. and early March, and below Venus in late March. Near mag. –2.2 in late Feb., Jupiter is about one-sixth as bright as Venus, but presents a full disk 0.6 arcminute in diameter, twice as large as Venus appears then. At midtwilight, Jupiter is high in SSW on Feb. 1, and just a quarter of the way up to overhead in W at end of March.


Watch the waxing crescent moon climb past Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter Feb. 22-26. Follow links to the February 2012 Sky Calendar at, and to the PowerPoint slide show illustrating events through August 2012 at, and to two sets of illustrations, a color set for February-March, and a black-and-white set for January through August. Also, watch Venus close in on Jupiter until their spectacular pairing just 3° apart on March 13: Venus-Jupiter are separated by 40° on Feb. 1, and one degree closer daily, to 12° apart on Feb. 29. Ve-Ju stay within 5° of each other during March 9-17.

Mars rises north of east just over 3 hours after sunset on Feb. 1, to just minutes after sunset on Feb. 29. The red planet nearly doubles in brightness that month, from mag. –0.5 to –1.2, outshining all stars except Sirius. On Feb. 1, Venus and Mars are less than 1° above opposite horizons about 3.2 hours after sunset (from lat. 40° N). With each passing day, Venus sets 2 minutes later, and Mars rises about 5 to 6 minutes earlier. By February’s second week it should be easy to spot Venus-Jupiter-Mars simultaneously.

Mercury during late Feb. and early Mar. appears 33° to 27° lower right of Venus. It is then possible to see four planets Me-Ve-Ju-Ma simultaneously. On Feb. 22 Mars rises just before Mercury sets, and after that date, spotting four planets at once becomes easier with each passing day.

Saturn in February rises in ESE 3 to 4 hours after Mars. For most of March and April, it will be possible to see another selection of four planets simultaneously, in order Ve-Ju- (or Ju-Ve- after Mar. 13) Ma-Sa. On March 2 Saturn will rise just before Venus sets, and as Saturn rises earlier and Venus sets later daily, it will become easier each day.


Around Feb. 19, “Spaceship Earth” is moving toward head of Scorpius in morning sky and away from the Pleiades star cluster in evening sky. Regulus appears at opposition, 180° from sun. As you observe planets in evening, visualize effects of differences in their orbital speeds in following weeks: Speedy Mercury on Feb. 19 has just emerged into visibility from far side of the sun, and will reach greatest elongation on March 4, and inferior conjunction (passing nearly between Earth and sun) on March 21. Venus, hidden on far side of sun in mid-August 2011, will reach greatest elongation 46° from sun on March 26, and inferior conjunction ten weeks later as it transits sun’s disk on June 5. Earth is leaving Jupiter behind, so the giant planet will sink into bright twilight in late April and reach conjunction on the far side of sun on May 13. In February 2012, Mars and Saturn rise after sunset. But Earth will overtake them, causing them to rise very near the time of sunset on their respective dates of opposition (and greatest brilliance), Mars on March 3, and Saturn on April 15.

In a series of beautiful conjunctions visible at dusk, the waxing crescent moon passes Mercury on Feb. 22, Venus on Feb. 25, Jupiter on Feb. 26, and the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster on Feb. 28. On Feb. 29, the first quarter moon, half full and 90° from the sun, passes the Hyades star cluster and Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull. On March 3, the waxing gibbous moon passes widely south of Pollux and Castor, the Gemini Twins, and on March 6, the moon is a few degrees south of Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion. Finally on March 7, the full moon is widely south of Mars.

Four nights later, on March 11, those willing to stay up until four hours after sunset will see the waning gibbous moon in a gathering with Saturn and Spica.

The moon returns to the early evening sky as a thin crescent low in the west on March 23. Mercury will be gone, but you can catch the waxing crescent moon near Jupiter on March 25, and near Venus on March 26. The waxing gibbous moon will appear near Mars and Regulus on April 3. Three days later on April 6, the moon, just past Full and rising in twilight, will be closely accompanied by Spica and Saturn.

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.

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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.