March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. 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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: 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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. 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: