Celestial Highlights for August 2013
Posted: Thursday, August 1st, 2013
by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller
At dusk in August, watch Venus slowly close in on Spica and Saturn until pairings on September 5 and 17-18. The best Milky Way viewing occurs on the evenings of July 28-August 9 and August 26-September 7. Get to a dark site by nightfall, and enjoy! The dark moonless predawn hours of August 12 and 13 make this an excellent year for the annual Perseid meteor shower. By mid-August, dawn brings forth the greatest number of bright stars visible simultaneously.
At dusk, Venus continues as the brilliant evening “star” in evening twilight, while drifting from W to WSW during August. Venus will grace our evening sky until early January 2014. Until then, a waxing crescent Moon passes Venus monthly, producing most striking views at dusk on Friday, August 9 and on Sunday, September 8. Be sure your students catch these!
On our evening all-sky chart, planets are plotted for each day when the Sun has sunk to 9° below the horizon, at “mid-twilight”. By then, two naked-eye planets and half a dozen stars of first magnitude or brighter are easily seen. In August, from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and other places near lat. 34° N, mid-twilight occurs 44 to 40 minutes after sunset. From northernmost California, wait about 5 minutes longer.
Planet positions are represented by a separate dot for each date, with positions for each Thursday in August (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), represented by a larger dot and labeled. We find Saturn and Spica in the southwest to west-southwest sky this month, to the upper left of Venus. Rotate the chart until the portion of the horizon circle nearest to your target objects is below them, and you’ll see them depicted at the same orientation as they appear in the SW to W sky: On August 1, Venus is in west, with Saturn in SW 53° to Venus’ upper left, while Spica is 12° lower right of Saturn and 41° upper left of Venus. On August 31, Venus is in WSW, with Saturn 19° to its upper left, while Spica is just 6° upper left of Venus and 14° lower right of Saturn.
On the chart, stars’ daily positions are plotted, not as individual dots, but instead by continuous tracks as the stars drift west (counter-clockwise around the North Star) in the course of the month, owing to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun.
The brightest star in August’s evening sky is golden Arcturus, high in WSW to W, to upper right of Saturn and Spica and forming a large triangle with them. When the sky darkens enough for the Big Dipper to become visible, you can “follow the arc (of the handle) to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica.”
Closely after Arcturus in brilliance is blue-white Vega, very high in ENE. Compare the contrasting colors of these two stars! To Vega’s lower left is Deneb, and to Vega’s lower right is Altair, completing the Summer Triangle. Face S to SSW to find reddish Antares, heart of the Scorpion.
During August 8-21, the Moon is above the horizon in evening mid-twilight. Follow it nightly as it waxes, (grows), from a thin crescent on August 8, past First Quarter (half full) by August 14, to Full on August 20. The Moon appears near Venus on August 9th, Spica on the 11th, Saturn on the 12th, and Antares on the 15th.
Coming events: Follow Venus! During the rest of its current evening apparition, Venus will pass three bright objects, going 1.6° north of Spica on September 5, next 3.5° south of Saturn on September 17 and 18, and finally 1.5° north of Antares on October 16. These events will be interesting to follow with unaided eye and binoculars, as Venus and companion will fit within a binoculars’ field of view for several evenings before and after the closest pairings
This selection of diagrams from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar illustrates the Moon’s changing position against background stars in August and early September, and the changing arrangements of Venus-Spica-Saturn at dusk and Jupiter-Mars-Mercury at dawn. For more on Sky Calendar, visit www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar/.
Dawn Events: Our all-sky chart for morning mid-twilight depicts the sky 44 to 40 minutes before sunrise in southern California.
Jupiter is the bright morning “star”. In mid-twilight, you’ll find it about 20° up in ENE on August 1, and climbing nearly halfway from east horizon to overhead by month’s end. Mars, of mag. +1.6 and not quite qualifying as first magnitude, is lower left of Jupiter, within 5° on August 1, widening to 18° by Aug. 31. Mercury on Aug. 1 is within 8° lower left of Mars and 12° lower left of Jupiter, but drops into bright twilight around mid-month. To Jupiter’s upper left, find bright Capella, the “Mother Goat” star, in NE, higher as month progresses. To Jupiter’s upper right is reddish Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, with the compact Pleiades star cluster or Seven Sisters (not shown) 14° higher. Below Taurus, find Betelgeuse and Rigel, shoulder and foot of Orion, the Hunter.
The Summer Triangle of Vega-Deneb-Altair is still visible in W to WNW at dawn early in August, but only Deneb remains at month’s end.
In the predawn darkness of August 12 and 13, catch the annual Perseid meteor shower near its peak. With no Moon present to spoil the view, this is a very good year! After viewing the shower, follow Orion’s belt downward as dawn brightens to watch for the rising of Sirius, the “Dog Star”, in the ESE. Procyon already risen in the east completes the Winter Triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse. Spot Sirius before you lose sight of Altair sinking in the west, and you’ll see both the Winter and Summer Triangles simultaneously!
If you succeed, you can tally 11 stars and two planets of first magnitude or brighter. We’ve not yet mentioned Pollux, in ENE to lower left of Jupiter (with 1.6-mag. Castor, the other Gemini Twin, not plotted, 4½° above Pollux), and Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, very low in SW
The waning crescent Moon in the morning sky passes appears near the Pleiades star cluster on July 31 and August 27, Aldebaran on August 1 and 28, Jupiter on August 3 and 31, Mars on August 4 and September 2, and Mercury on August 5.
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.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…