May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights for April 2015

Posted: Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller

A predawn total lunar eclipse on Saturday, April 4. (For more on that event, see the March issue of CCS). As many as four planets can be seen at dusk. Many bright stars are gathering in the west before their annual departures later in spring.

Few people may choose to arise early to catch the start of the lunar eclipse on Saturday morning, April 4, when the Moon begins to enter the umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow at 3:16 a.m. PDT. For the next 1.7 hours, progressively more of the Moon will be immersed in Earth’s circular dark shadow, until the start of total eclipse at 4:58 a.m. Even before then, the rusty color typical of the Moon in deep eclipse should be noticed, at least in the lower part of the Moon’s disk, closer to the center of Earth’s shadow. Totality lasts less than five minutes, as the northern (upper) edge of the Moon barely passes within the outer edge of Earth’s umbra. There should be a pronounced difference in color and brightness between the top and bottom edges of the Moon. Totality ends by 5:03 a.m., after which the Moon gradually emerges from shadow.

For information on how to estimate the color and brightness of the Moon during totality, refer to the Celestial Highlights article in the March issue of eCCS.

If you prefer to restrict your viewing to just an hour, I recommend 4:30 until 5:30 a.m. PDT, centering on deepest eclipse at 5:00 a.m. At mid-totality, the Moon will be quite dim compared to a normal Full Moon, and observers in dark locations will get a spectacular view of the Milky Way, from Cassiopeia low in NNE, through the Summer Triangle of Vega-Deneb-Altair high in E, and through Sagittarius and Scorpius (with Saturn and Antares) in the southern sky, these two constellations along with Ophiuchus hosting the central bulge of our galaxy.

Spica will be just 10° upper left of the Moon at mid-eclipse on April 4, with golden Arcturus high to their upper right. Next morning, on Easter Sunday April 5, Spica will appear within 4° below the Moon, and on April 8 the Moon will appear within 2° upper right of Saturn and 10° upper right of twinkling Antares, the red supergiant star marking the Scorpion’s heart. The waning gibbous Moon moves through the predawn Milky Way Apr. 9-11, and by Apr. 12 it has passed Last Quarter phase and so appears slightly less than half full. Last easy view of the waning crescent will be low in E an hour before sunup on Apr. 16, with another chance for binocular users half an hour before sunrise on Apr. 17, only 30 hours before New.

The brightest “stars” in Evening mid-twilight in April 2015, in order of brilliance, are: Venus in W to WNW; Jupiter, passing just south of overhead around midmonth; Sirius in SW sky, bluish and twinkling, lower as month progresses; Mercury, emerging from superior conjunction beyond Sun on Apr. 9 to appear very low in WNW to lower right of Venus starting around Apr. 18; Arcturus in ENE to E, higher as month progresses; and Capella, high in NW.

The gap between Venus and Jupiter continues to close, from 84° on April 1 to 51° on April 30, on the way to their spectacular rendezvous on June 30.

This is a good month to follow the motion of Venus against background stars. During Apr. 9-11, Venus passes within 3° S of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star cluster, an especially beautiful sight for binoculars! Students can make nightly sketches of the appearance of Venus and surrounding stars around those dates, and during Apr. 16-22 as Venus passes Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster, those stars together comprising the “V”-shaped head of Taurus, the Bull. Venus will pass between the tips of the Bull’s horns on the evening of May 1. Meanwhile Jupiter lingers within 5°-6° east of the Beehive all month. Use binoculars to find that star cluster.

Include the Moon in your sketches when it appears. On Apr. 19, 40 min. after sunset, the thin young crescent, age 32 hours past New, will be low in W to WNW. Binoculars may show Mercury within 8° to Moon’s lower right, and dim Mars within 4° upper left of Mercury and within 5° lower right of Moon. This is the same night Venus passes closest north (7° upper right) of Aldebaran. On Apr. 20, the lovely crescent Moon will be almost directly below Venus, within 9° lower right of Aldebaran, and 9° lower left of the Pleiades. On Apr. 21, the Moon climbs to 5° upper left of Aldebaran, while Venus shines within 8° to their upper right. Far to their lower right, dim Mars glows only 1.5° to upper left of bright Mercury.

On Apr. 22, Betelgeuse, shoulder of Orion, is 10° S (lower left) of the crescent Moon, while Mercury-Mars appear closest to each other, 1.3° apart, with fainter Mars to lower left. This is the first evening emerging Mercury is higher than sinking Mars. They’ll be 2.0° apart on Apr. 23, while Moon is midway between Betelgeuse and Pollux, brighter of Gemini twins. On Apr. 24, the fat crescent (42%) Moon exits Winter Hexagon nearly halfway from Procyon to Pollux. On Apr. 25, the First Quarter Moon, half full, is 9° lower right of Jupiter.

On Apr. 26, the Moon is in waxing gibbous phase, 8° to Jupiter’s lower left, and on the next night, Apr. 27, it appears 4° S of Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion.

On Apr. 30, Mercury passes within 2° S of the Pleiades (use binoculars to see the cluster). During Apr. 30-May 8 Mercury stays 22° lower left of Venus as both planets move eastward against the star background.

At dusk on May 1, the Moon, not quite Full, appears 5° above Spica, and on the next evening, 8° to the star’s lower left. Full Moon will occur on the evening of May 3, with the Moon 21° to the lower left of Spica.

Mid-April is a good time for students to start keeping a checklist of bright stars seen each evening, within the first hour after sunset. Many bright stars are gathered in the western sky, including the huge Winter Hexagon. Striking changes in the visibility of stars will occur in the next several weeks, as a result of the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. Students can list their sightings of the planets, too! An observer’s log is provided here.

For related classroom and desktop activities for students to explain these observations, go to this link:

and then scroll down to “Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets.” Includes planet orbit charts, a data table for plotting planets, and an activity sheet with 15 questions on visibility of stars and planets in 2015-2016.

For more information on sky events in 2015, see these articles and activities:

(A selection of twilight sky charts for use during months of the best planet gatherings.)

Links to related activities on the changing visibility of stars and planets, a selection of sky maps for northern California (exact for lat. 40° N), and a preview of Comet Halley’s next appearance in 2061, are now available at

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts, 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.

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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.

One Response

  1. Please get this to Robert Victor. I am a long time friend who has lost touch with him.


    Hello my friend, how has life been for you ? Remember me ? Bird watching and the astronomy event in Alpena/Atlanta, Michigan. Good times…

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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.