September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.



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.

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.

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 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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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.