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: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…