January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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 www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/FebCalMap12.pdf, and to the PowerPoint slide show illustrating events through August 2012 at ww.pa.msu.edu/abrams/celest12.html, 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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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.