May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights, August and September 2017 – With a little more on the solar eclipse of August 21

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times for School Year 2017-18 by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

Eclipse! The summer of 2017 marks the 54th anniversary of my first successful expedition to observe a total solar eclipse. The date was July 20, 1963, when our carload of graduate students in astronomy from University of Michigan made the long drive to the path of totality in Quebec. Cumulus clouds parted, and we had a spectacular view. I was hooked! I hope some of you have a chance to make the journey to this summer’s total eclipse somewhere within its narrow track from Oregon to South Carolina. This event is part of the same Saros series as the eclipse I saw in 1963. The eclipses belonging to a Saros are spaced at intervals of 18 years plus 11 and one-third days, so after three Saros intervals, called an Exeligmos, a solar eclipse very much like the one in 1963 happens again within a similar track through our region of the world, only farther south. Instead of Alaska through Canada and Maine as in ‘63, the ringside seats on Monday, August 21, 2017 will be in Oregon to South Carolina, making this eclipse an exclusively American event.

If you need to remain in California that day, there are plenty of ways to safely observe the partial solar eclipse. Explore this website and others we listed in the last issue of eCCS and repeat at the end of this article. Track the Moon in the weeks leading up to and following eclipse day.

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Within California, the partial eclipse begins sometime between 9:01 a.m. PDT (on the Pacific Coast near Point Arena) and 9:11 a.m., when the Moon’s penumbral (partial) shadow reaches the far southeast corner of the state, on the Arizona border, northeast of Yuma.

The Moon’s penumbra begins its departure from California just after 11:34 a.m., when the eclipse ends on the Pacific Coast near Capetown. The shadow completely leaves the state as the eclipse ends just south of the Parker Dam on the Colorado River just after 11:55 a.m. PDT.

Roughly, for most locations in California for this eclipse, the first contact of the Moon with the Sun’s disk occurs near the top of the solar disk (near “12 o’clock”, if the disk is imagined as a clock face). At greatest eclipse, the Moon covers the upper left of the solar disk centered near “10 o’clock” and leaves a brilliant solar crescent uncovered, centered near “4 o’clock”. The last contact of the Moon’s disk with the Sun’s will occur at the lower left edge of the disk, near the “8 o’clock” position. Of course, you must use proper eye protection to observe these events directly; see the web resources. If you don’t have a solar filter, you can use projection methods.

Within California, the portion of the Sun covered at maximum eclipse ranges from 0.65 of Sun’s diameter covered (the magnitude of the eclipse) and 57 percent of the disk area (the obscuration), as seen from the U.S. border south of San Diego, up to magnitude 0.935 and obscuration 92.5 percent in the northeast corner of California, at the border of Oregon and Nevada. If you can, don’t settle for these numbers; go to the path of totality where the Sun will be 100 percent covered. It’ll make a world of difference!

Interactive web resources available through the above link will enable you to obtain your local circumstances for the eclipse. If output times are offered in Universal Time (GMT), remember to subtract 7 hours to convert them to PDT. As an example, in the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs), the solar eclipse starts just before 9:08 a.m. PDT, when the Moon begins to take a “bite” at the top edge of the Sun. The eclipse is deepest (magnitude 0.69; obscuration 62 percent) at 10:24.5 a.m., when the Moon covers the solar disk from the “9.7 o’clock” (upper left) side, leaving exposed a bright crescent centered at the opposite, lower right side of the Moon’s dark disk. Finally, the eclipse ends at 11:49 a.m., as the Moon’s dark disk exits the Sun’s, at the “8’o’clock” (lower left) position.

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. http://www.abramsplanetarium .org/skycalendar/

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. http://www.abramsplanetarium .org/skycalendar/

Follow the Moon – before the eclipse. 

On August 7, two weeks before the solar eclipse, there will be a Full Moon with a partial lunar eclipse. But the event isn’t visible from our part of the world. It occurs during our daytime, when the Full Moon, opposite the Sun, is below our horizon. Instead, watch a nearly Full Moon rise shortly before sunset on Sunday, August 6, and just a few minutes after sunset on Monday, August 7. For the next several evenings, you can watch the Moon rising later each night. Or, you can shift your Moon viewing time to mornings, either in predawn darkness, or in the daytime in the first part of the morning. Observing in predawn darkness will enable you to catch the peak of the Perseid meteors, expected around August 12. Note the Moon just past its Last Quarter phase, when it’s half full and 90 degrees west of the Sun, on the morning of August 15. On the next morning, Aug. 16, look for bright Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull, just to the upper right of the crescent Moon. Observe the beautiful pairings of Venus with the waning crescent Moon on August 19 (top) and 20 (bottom). These are the last two mornings before the Moon’s rendezvous with the Sun on Eclipse Day.

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. http://www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/

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. http://www.abramsplanetarium .org/skycalendar/

Seasonal motions of stars. Our morning twilight all-sky charts for August [S201708A] and September [S201709A] show the changes in positions of the naked-eye planets and the stars of first magnitude or brighter less than an hour before sunrise. Changes are caused by the motion of the Earth and the other planets in their orbits. As weeks pass, stars will appear to drift from east to west across the sky, owing to the revolution of Earth around the Sun. Venus now dominates the predawn sky, but is getting a little lower each morning, because it is heading toward the far side of the Sun, where it will arrive in January 2018.

Annually by the beginning of August, there are several bright stars in the eastern morning sky. During the second week, Procyon and the Dog Star Sirius, the brightest star (but not as bright as Venus) will rise into view.  Beginning then, if you catch Sirius rising in ESE before Altair sets just N of W, you will see the Summer and Winter Triangles – Vega, Altair, and Deneb in W to NW — and Betelgeuse, Procyon, and Sirius in E to SE — simultaneously!

Morning planet gatherings.

Low in the eastern morning sky in early September this year, Mars, Mercury, and Regulus emerge to the lower left of Venus. Regulus at mag. +1.4 is the faintest of the first-magnitude stars. Mars is now even fainter, at mag. +1.8, as dim as it gets. But Earth will catch up to it and close the gap. In July 2018, Mars will gleam at mag. –2.8, visible all night, in the southwest at dawn (and southeast at dusk), and be closer to Earth and brighter than at any time since the very close approach of August 2003.

On September 4, 2017, Mercury at mag. +1.7 is a close match in brightness to faint Mars (mag. +1.8); they rise nearly at the same time, with Mars 3° left of Mercury, and Regulus at mag. +1.4, below them. Binoculars will show them in twilight about 17° lower left of Venus, and the contrasting colors of reddish Mars and blue-white Regulus. All rise earlier each morning and get easier to see, especially Mercury, which brightens sharply, to mag. +1.0 by Sept.6, to mag. 0 on Sept. 9 and 10, and to mag. –1.0 on Sept. 18. Watch for these close pairs, all less than one degree apart: Mercury-Regulus on Sept. 10; Mercury-Mars on Sept. 16; Venus-Regulus on Sept. 18 and 19; Venus-Mars on Oct. 5; and Venus-Jupiter on Nov. 13.

On Tues. Sept. 12, Mercury reaches a favorable greatest elongation 18° from the Sun and 11° lower left of Venus. Earlier on the same morning, telescopes show the Moon covering and uncovering the first-mag. star Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull. From Palm Springs, the star’s disappearance at the Moon’s leading bright edge occurs just before 4:39 a.m. PDT, and reappearance at the dark edge just after 5:53 a.m. From Sacramento, the corresponding events occur just before 4:32 a.m. and just after 5:51 a.m.

A few days later, on the mornings of Sept. 17 and 18, a waning crescent Moon will appear near the Venus-Regulus pair, with the Mercury-Mars pairing below.

Follow the Moon – in evening sky, after the eclipse.

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. http://www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/

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. http://www.abramsplanetarium .org/skycalendar/

Careful viewers might spot the young crescent Moon early on Tuesday evening, Aug. 22, just 2 or 3 degrees above the horizon about 25 minutes after sunset, where the sky is very clear and no mountains or other surroundings obstruct the view. It’ll be much easier to spot the crescent starting on August 23. Here is a drawing showing nightly positions of the Moon for nine evenings Aug. 23-31, depicted on the left. Notice the Moon passing by two more planets, Jupiter (with Spica nearby) on Aug. 24 and 25, and Saturn (with twinkling reddish Antares to its west) on Aug. 29 and 30. Several nights later, the Moon will be full and will be low, a little south of east at dusk, opposite to the Sun’s direction in the sky.

Jupiter and Saturn are the slowest of the bright naked-eye planets. Jupiter takes nearly 12 years to make one trip around the Sun, and Saturn takes about 29.5 years. Jupiter will pass 3.4* N of Spica, the spike of grain in Virgo’s hand, on Sept. 11, and will return for a triple encounter with that star in 2029. Saturn appeared near Antares, heart of the Scorpion, in 2016, and will return to that star’s vicinity in 2045. Watch Jupiter creep slowly past Spica for several evenings around Sept. 11.  Binoculars will help you pick up Spica to lower left of Jupiter as both sink into the twilight glow.

By the time the Moon makes it around to Jupiter and Saturn again during September 20-26, the planets will appear lower in the sky, as shown on our all-sky evening twilight charts for August [S201708P]  and September [S201709P] . So, if you’d like to have your students enjoy telescopic views of both Jupiter and Saturn during an evening session, schedule it soon! On these charts, note also the seasonal westward motions of Arcturus and the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb.

To help you plan evening or morning planet viewing sessions during the coming school year (August 2017 to August 2018), download Jeffrey Hunt’s 2-page graphic summary of Moon and planet setting and rising times relative to times of sunset and sunrise, exact for Palm Springs. [2017-18-SchlYearPlanetsPalmSprings] Wishing you clear skies!

Solar Eclipse information and Resources

On Monday, August 21, there will be a solar eclipse, visible throughout North America, and visible as a total solar eclipse within a narrow track across the U.S., tracking coast to coast from Oregon to South Carolina. Get to the path of totality, if you can! Whether you do so or stay at home to see the partial eclipse, the following web resources should help you prepare yourself and your students for the event, and observe it safely.

 Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching 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 jeffreylhunt.wordpress.com 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 zi@cascience.org.)

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.

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Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

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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…

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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.

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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.