May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights, August 2016

Posted: Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt

August 2016 has rare gifts for skywatchers — for most of the month, all five naked-eye planets can be seen during evening twilight, and they participate in beautiful pairings and groupings! From a site with an unobstructed view of the western horizon, begin within half an hour after sunset, to catch Venus before it sinks too low. Use our evening twilight chart and diagrams selected from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar to guide you.

Venus at mag. –3.8 will be visible with unaided eye. (It will get higher in coming months, setting in a dark sky starting in October, climbing highest in January 2017, and reaching spectacular brilliance at mag. –4.8 in February, before quickly departing from the evening sky in late March.) Links to graphs of planet setting times in 2016-2017: [SoCal] [NorCal]

Jupiter, next in brightness at mag. –1.7, is easy to find not long after you spot Venus. For most of August, Jupiter appears to upper left of Venus, 1° closer to it each day until their spectacular close pairing on Sat. Aug. 27, described below. Thereafter Jupiter will appear to lower right of Venus.

Use binoculars all month, if necessary, to catch Mercury, starting August at mag –0.1 while 8° upper left of Venus, and fading to mag. +0.5 by Aug 24 while 6° lower left of Venus.

As the sky darkens, Mars (mag. –0.8 to –0.3), Saturn (+0.3 to +0.5), and first-magnitude Antares 6° from Saturn all month become easy for unaided eye. The two planets and the red supergiant star will have a striking arrangement Aug. 23 and 24.

Watch for these events (data for California sky watchers): 

In morning twilight Aug. 4-14, look daily within an hour before sunrise and watch for the first appearance of Procyon about 6°-7° N of east, and Sirius in ESE. Sirius is nearly in line with Orion’s belt, and completes the almost equilateral Winter Triangle with Betelgeuse (Orion’s shoulder) and Procyon. Look up the meanings of these stars’ names, the meaning of the term heliacal rising, and reasons for the importance of Sirius to ancient Egypt.

Aug. 4, beginning 30 minutes after sunset: Find 2.3-day-old crescent Moon low in west, and Venus 11° to its lower right. Mercury appears 2° left of Moon, nearly 9° upper left of Venus, and 15° lower right of Jupiter. Mars-Saturn are 10° apart in southern sky. Six solar system bodies, Venus-Mercury-Moon-Jupiter-Mars-Saturn, span 100°.

Aug. 5: Jupiter about 1° above Moon. Mercury remains 9° from Venus Aug 4-16 (max. dist. 9.2° on Aug. 10).

Aug. 6: Three planets, Jupiter-Mercury-Venus, appear 12°, 24°, and 33° to lower right of Moon. Mars and Saturn appear 57° and 65° to Moon’s upper left. Venus and Mars appear 90° apart – in quadrature this evening. Verify that by observation!

Aug. 7 and 8: Moon near Spica, brightest star in Virgo.


Click on image to view a larger version.

Abrams Planetarium
A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12.

Aug. 8 and 9: Mars 0.9° from Delta Scorpii, middle and brightest of three stars in head of the Scorpion. Moon passes First Quarter phase at 11:21 a.m. PDT on Aug. 10. Tip for teachers and students – telescopic observation of Moon in daytime: When Moon is within 2 days before or after half full – this month, on afternoons of Aug. 8-11, near First Quarter phase, and on mornings of Aug. 23-26, near Last Quarter phase, thread a single polarizing filter into a low-power eyepiece of your telescope. Next, while viewing the Moon, rotate the eyepiece until the blue sky surrounding the Moon appears darkest, increasing contrast of Moon against sky for wonderful daytime views of lunar craters and other features!

Thurs Aug. 11: As darkness falls, note the beautiful diamond-shaped arrangement of Moon-Mars-Antares-Saturn, about 6°-7° on each side. Tonight’s moonset occurs just over halfway from sunset tonight until sunrise on Friday. Peak of the Perseid meteor shower occurs after moonset, in Friday’s predawn darkness hours! The dark, moonless sky should be wonderful for observing meteors.

Aug. 12: Moon 8° upper left of Saturn. The famous ringed planet marks the top vertex of an attractive triangle of three “stars”. Compare color and brightness of its two other members, Mars and Antares. Venus 15° lower right of Jupiter and 1° closer each day!

Aug. 16: Mercury at greatest elongation, 27° E of Sun. Since Mercury is more to left of setting Sun, rather than high above it, the planet sets well before darkness falls, and this is an unfavorable apparition for observers at mid-northern latitudes, despite Mercury’s unusually large angular distance from the Sun. Folks in southern California will have an easier time spotting it than folks in northern part of the state.


Click on image to view a larger version.

Abrams Planetarium
A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12.

Wed Aug. 17, dusk: Venus 10° lower right of Jupiter. Ten days to go! Five planets span 84°. Also, Full Moon overnight, at 2:26 a.m. PDT on Thursday. Moon shines with enhanced brightness in that hour as it narrowly misses penumbra of Earth’s shadow and reflects sunlight toward us and source of illumination; look up opposition effect.

Aug 19: Mercury 3.8° lower left of Jupiter, their minimum distance apart in a quasi-conjunction.

Aug 22: Venus 4.9° lower right of Jupiter! Aug 23: Ve-Ju = 3.9°, Me-Ju = 4.3°, Me-Ve = 6.4°, in a nearly isosceles triangle.

Aug 23 and 24: In order from top to bottom, Saturn, Mars, and Antares nearly line up, as Mars goes 4.4° S of Saturn and 1.8° N of Antares!

Aug 25 predawn (telescope): Moon occults 3.7-mag Gamma Tauri, point of “V” of Hyades star cluster, 1:17-2:10 a.m. PDT from Palm Springs, CA. Daytime occultation of Aldebaran visible through telescope: Disappearance on Moon’s bright side occurs in Palm Springs at 10:24 a.m. PDT, and reappearance at Moon’s dark side at 11:27 a.m. Last Quarter phase occurred on Aug 24, at 8:41 p.m. PDT, so Moon on Aug. 25 is a fat crescent. Follow waning Moon mornings through Aug. 31.

Aug 25: Ve-Ju 1.8°. Aug 26: Ve-Ju 0.8°.

Aug 27: This is the first evening Jupiter appears to lower right of Venus. The planets are just 0.2° apart, as seen from California — and about 0.1° apart from eastern U.S. – alert your friends in that part of the country! Mercury, faded to mag +0.8, appears 5.1° S (lower left) of the bright pair.

Aug 28: Ve-Ju 1.2° apart. Their separation increases by about 1° daily. Ve-Me 5.0° apart, the minimum distance for this passage.

Aug 31: Ve-Ju 4.3° apart, Jupiter getting lower each evening. On what date will you last spot Jupiter?

Sept. 1: New Moon, 2:03 a.m. PDT.

Sept. 2: Find 1.7-day-old thin crescent Moon very low in west, 4.5° lower right of Venus. Can you spot Jupiter within 2° to Moon’s lower right? Mercury is already gone, and Jupiter will sink into the solar glare within a few days.

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 East Lansing, MI and in and around Palm Springs. 

Robert D. Miller did graduate work in Planetarium Science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy. 

Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt, a retired planetarium director now living in the Chicago area, has taught astronomy and sky watching to all ages. He studied astronomy education at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. Jeff writes an astronomy blog at and can be followed on Twitter at @jeff_hunt.

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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.