September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

California Skies for November and Early December 2011

Posted: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Robert Victor

See brilliant evening planets Venus and Jupiter wide apart, and Mercury in a close pairing with Venus visible with binoculars in the first half of November. Early risers can enjoy two planet-star pairings (Mars-Regulus and Saturn-Spica) in November, and a total lunar eclipse on Saturday morning, December 10.

Evening Planets: In the middle of autumn 2011, Venus starts to become noticeable in evening twilight. Within one-half hour after sunset on Friday, October 28, look for Venus 11° lower right of a thin crescent moon low in southwest. Binoculars may show Mercury about 2° below or lower left of Venus until mid-November. After that, Mercury pulls away to the lower right of Venus and fades.

This November, whenever you spot Venus, remember to turn around to face Jupiter in the eastern sky. These two planets will remain the brightest “stars” in the evening sky until Jupiter disappears into the west-northwest evening twilight glow in late April 2012. (Venus will depart by the end of May.) In November 2011, Venus-Jupiter appear 150° apart on November 5, 135° apart on November 16, and 120° apart on November 27. Students and teachers will enjoy following these two brilliant planets as they progress toward their rendezvous just 3° apart on March 13, 2012.

Morning planets and bright stars: On Wednesday, November 9, about 1.5 hours before sunrise, look low in the west-northwest to find the nearly full moon with Jupiter 5° to its left. At the same time, the striking pair of reddish Mars and blue-white Regulus, just 1.5° apart, is high in east-southeast to southeast, and Saturn-Spica, 4.4° apart, have just risen in east to east-southeast. If you look after Saturn rises and before Jupiter sets, you’ll catch all three bright outer planets simultaneously!

Sirius, the brightest star, twinkles in south south-west, more than a third of the way from horizon to overhead. To its right, in the southwest, stands Orion, the Hunter. His prominent 3-star belt extended to the left locates the Dog Star Sirius. Extend Orion’s belt to the right to find Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster, comprising the V-shaped head of Taurus, the Bull, and farther to the right, the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster.

Follow the moon for the next two weeks as it moves through the zodiac constellations and passes the two other morning planets. On November 11, the moon appears below the Pleaides star cluster; on November 12, near Aldebaran and the Hyades; and on November 13, near the Bull’s horns.

On November 15 and 16, the moon passes widely south of Pollux and Castor, the Twins of Gemini. Those stars are 4.5° apart, and serve to help you compare the separations of Mars-Regulus and Saturn-Spica to the gap between those stars. Mars-Regulus appear closer together than the Twins during November 3-19, and within 1.4° apart in a very striking conjunction on November 10 and 11. Saturn-Spica appear within 4.5° during Nov. 4-24, and closest, 4.3° apart, on Nov. 14. That will be the closest of their three-times pairing in 2011-2012. At no time during their common apparition which ends in September 2012 will Saturn-Spica be more than 7.2° apart.

On November 18 and 19, the moon passes Regulus and Mars, and on November 22, the moon appears near Spica and Saturn. November 23 is the last easy old moon. Look for the thin waning crescent below Saturn and Spica one to 1.5 hours before sunrise.

The moon is new on Thanksgiving night, Thursday, November 24, at 10:10 p.m. PST, coinciding with a partial solar eclipse in the Antarctic. The first easy chance to see the young crescent after the new moon will be at dusk on Saturday, November 26. Half an hour after sunset, the thin crescent will be very low in the southwest, just three degrees to the lower right of Venus. On the next evening, Sunday, November 27, the lunar crescent appears 11° to the upper left of Venus. Note Jupiter shining brightly in the east. That evening these two brightest planets appear 120° apart in the skies of Earth.

Direct a telescope toward the moon and both planets to rediscover what Galileo observed four centuries ago: Mountains and craters on the moon, Jupiter accompanied by four satellites of its own, and Venus now in gibbous phase, 90% full, even though it appears close to a crescent moon in the sky on November 26 and 27. What can you deduce about Venus’ location in 3-D space in relation to the sun, Earth, and moon?

Continue following the moon each evening for two weeks after it passes Venus. On December 5 and 6, it will appear close to Jupiter. On Friday, December 9, the moon, nearly full, rises shortly before sunset. Lunar eclipse: Late that night, at 4:45 a.m. PST on Saturday morning December 10, the moon begins to enter the umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow. By 5:21 a.m., the upper half of the moon’s diameter is in deep shadow. The moon is then sinking in west northwest, appearing against the background of Taurus, the Bull, above setting Aldebaran and the Hyades, and below the horns. By 6:06 a.m. the moon is completely immersed in the umbra, marking the beginning of total eclipse. Brightening twilight will make it difficult to observe the dim totally eclipsed moon, especially in southern California where sunrise and moonset occur earlier than for the rest of the state. Binoculars may help you keep the eclipsed moon in sight longer.

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.


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.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. 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.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.