May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights for August 2014

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor with twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Mars and Saturn draw attention in the southwest evening sky, as they appear within 10° Aug. 8-Sept. 10, and within 5° Aug. 19-31. Viewed through a telescope this month, Saturn with its shadow cast upon its rings has a striking 3-dimensional appearance.

Some 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise, brilliant Venus low in east-northeast is accompanied by Jupiter, itself of considerable brightness, no more than 5° away Aug. 13-22. On Aug. 17, the two spectacular points of light are just 0.7° apart, and on Aug. 18, an even more impressive 0.4°.

Attractive gatherings of Moon with these planet pairs occur on August 23 at dawn, and on August 31 at dusk. Dark moonless evenings offer excellent views of the Milky Way, best Aug. 1-2 and 28-31 after moonset; Aug. 13-16 before moonrise; and Aug. 17-27.

August 2014 at dusk 

The five brightest objects in evening mid-twilight are: Arcturus and Vega, mag. 0.0; Mars (+0.4 to +0.6), Saturn (+0.5 to +0.6), and Altair (mag. +0.8).

Planets: Finally, we have our first mutual conjunction of naked-eye planets in the evening sky this year, as Mars passes 3.4° S of Saturn on Aug. 25, in SW sky. At dusk on Aug. 31 a thick crescent Moon forms a pretty gathering with Mars and Saturn, several hours after a daytime occultation of the ringed planet.

Stars: Arcturus, Spica, Antares, all in W half of sky, sink lower as month progresses. Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb, well up in E, ascends still higher.

The Moon in evening sky is found near Spica on Aug. 1 & 2; Mars on Aug. 2 and 3; Saturn on Aug. 3 and 4; Antares on Aug. 5; Spica on Aug. 29; Mars and Saturn on Aug. 31, forming a nice trio! See Sky Calendar for illustrations of these events.

Follow the Moon daily one to 1-1/4 hours after sunset August 1-11, and starting again on August 27 or 28, as a waxing crescent for the rest of the month.

On Tues. Aug. 5, Antares appears within 8° below the Moon, now nearly three-quarters full.

On Sunday, Aug. 10, with unobstructed views of the horizon, you can catch the Full “Supermoon” setting 15° south of west a few minutes before sunrise, and rising 12° south of east a few minutes before sunset. An hour after sunset, the Full Moon is 12° up in ESE.

On Monday, Aug. 11, the Moon rises within 40 minutes after sunset, and by one hour after sunset the Moon appears only 4° up and 9° south of east.

After Full, the waning Moon rises later each evening, but not quickly enough to prevent bright moonlight from diminishing the peak of the Perseid meteor shower on the night of Aug. 12-13. As an example, here are moonrise times for Palm Springs: Sun. Aug. 10 at 7:32 p.m. PDT; Mon. Aug. 11 at 8:16 p.m.; Tues. Aug. 12 at 8:57 p.m.; Wed. Aug. 13 at 9:37 p.m.; Thurs. Aug. 14 at 10:17 p.m.; Fri. Aug. 15 at 10:58 p.m. On Saturday, Aug. 16, the Moon, just over half illuminated and approaching Last Quarter phase, rises at 11:40 p.m.

Perseid meteors can be seen anywhere in the sky, but if the track of a Perseid meteor is extended backward, it will trace back to the radiant in Perseus, to lower left, or later in the night, below, the “W” of Cassiopeia. That’s the direction from which the stream of meteoroids (dust from Comet Swift-Tuttle) approaches Earth. On the evening of Tues. Aug. 12, as twilight ends from lat. 34° north some ten minutes after moonrise, the shower radiant is only 8° up in NNE. Meteors seen then won’t be plentiful, but any that are seen will be “Earth-grazers”, with long paths dipping into our atmosphere at a shallow angle. As twilight begins at 4:35 a.m. on Wednesday morning Aug. 13, the radiant is nearly 60 degrees up in NNE to NE. Meteors will be more plentiful, because our part of the Earth will be presented more broad side to the incoming stream. But this year the Moon will be high and bright, reducing the numbers seen.

Note on Wednesday evening, Aug. 13, there is a brief half-hour window of dark skies before moonrise, presenting another chance for seeing Earth-grazers, but not many, because Earth has moved out of the core of the Perseid stream.

In 2015, the Perseid meteor shower will be a grand spectacle, as New Moon will occur on August 14, only one day after peak.

August 2014 at dawn

Five brightest “stars”: Venus; Jupiter and Sirius, once they appear, in August’s second week; Vega and Capella.

Planets: A spectacular, close pairing of the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will provide much enjoyment for morning twilight skywatchers in August. Try to catch emerging Jupiter on earliest possible date. Please see Sky Calendar for illustrations of these events . On Aug. 8, watch for Jupiter rising in ENE within 10° lower left of Venus and moving about 1° closer to it each day. By Aug. 13, the planets are only 5° apart. Look daily and enjoy the show! On Aug. 17, they’re 0.7° apart, and on August 18, the two bright planets will appear closest, within 0.4° apart! They’ll spread to just over 5° apart by Aug. 23, when a waning crescent Moon appears to their right, within 5° to 8° away.

Stars: As this month begins, we see the Summer Triangle in W to NW, and Fomalhaut in SSW to SW, sinking lower with each passing day. In the eastern sky, as August opens, we’re already seeing Capella, Aldebaran, and Orion’s Betelgeuse and Rigel as described in the opening lines of Robert Frost’s poem, The Star Splitter; and we’re also seeing Venus, and Pollux. Joining the spectacle in August’s second week are Jupiter, Procyon, and Sirius. On many long-ago August mornings, I enjoyed finding out by observation on which date I could first spot Procyon, the “before the Dog” announcer of Sirius, and then Sirius itself a few mornings later.

If you look at just the right time, from a place where mountains don’t block your view, you can see the Winter Triangle and Summer Triangle simultaneously, just after Sirius rises and before Altair sets. You can then observe 11 of the 16 stars of first magnitude or brighter ever visible from southern California, or 11 of the 15 ever visible from northern parts of the state.

See the Moon in morning near Aldebaran on Aug. 18; and Venus and Jupiter on Aug. 23, a brilliant gathering!

Seize opportunities this summer to enjoy the beauty of the sky!

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.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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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.