May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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 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.