May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights for December 2014

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Near the start of December each year, the first magnitude star Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull and “follower” of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, is visible all night as Earth makes its annual passage between Aldebaran and the Sun. Look for Aldebaran low in ENE at dusk, high in south in middle of night, and low in WNW at dawn.

On New Year’s Eve, the brightest star, Sirius, the Dog Star, reaches its high point in the south in the middle of the night, 6° higher and almost exactly 12 hours after the Sun reaches its midday perch. You can observe Sirius for much of the night, but not at dusk or dawn, because the star’s path from rising to setting is too far south and too short to keep it above the horizon through the long winter night. Some 21-22 minutes earlier and 36° below where Sirius reaches its highest, observers in southern California can try for Canopus, second brightest star visible in the nighttime skies of Earth. From Los Angeles and Palm Springs, it’s only 3°-4° up.

Four brightest “stars” at dusk: Venus (after it emerges around midmonth) mag. –3.9; Mercury (near month’s end) –0.8; Vega 0.0, Capella +0.1.

Planets: Watch for slow emergence of Venus from beyond Sun, followed by Mercury closing to 3° lower right of Venus at month’s end, in SW to WSW. Binoculars help spot Mercury very low in bright twilight by closing days of December. On Jan. 10 Mercury will approach to just 0.6° lower right of Venus! Mars (+1.0 to 1.1) is in SSW to SW all of December, to upper left of Venus.

Stars: The Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb is high in W, still well up at dusk as winter arrives. Fomalhaut, mouth of the Southern Fish, crosses south. Capella is in NE, Aldebaran is in ENE, both moving to upper right as month progresses. Appearing above eastern horizon late in month are Orion’s Betelgeuse and Rigel, and Gemini’s Pollux (with fainter Castor above it, not plotted).

Moon near bright objects at dusk: Full Moon appears closely upper right of Aldebaran at dusk on Dec. 5 (passing it overnight), and widely lower left of that star on the next evening. On Dec. 22 about 30 min. after sunset, Venus appears about 6° S (lower left) of the young crescent Moon. On the next evening, look for Venus about 11° to Moon’s lower right. On Dec. 24, look for Mars 6°-7° S (lower left) of Moon. On Dec. 5, Mars appears about 11° to Moon’s lower right. From Jan. 1 to Jan. 2, 2015, the waxing gibbous Moon will “leapfrog” past Aldebaran.

December 2014 at dawn:

Five brightest “stars”: Jupiter (mag. –2.3 to –2.4); Sirius (–1.4), Arcturus (mag. –0.1), Vega (0.0), Capella (+0.1).

Planets: Jupiter high in SW sky; Saturn (mag. +0.5) ascending in ESE to SE.

Stars: All the stars of the huge Winter Hexagon except Rigel are visible in the western morning sky at the start of December. As the month progresses, two more of its stars, Aldebaran and Sirius, drop out, as well as Betelgeuse within the Hexagon. The trailing side of the Hexagon, forming the arch of Procyon, Pollux (and Castor, not shown) and Capella remains in view throughout December. Jupiter and Regulus close in tow follow the descending arch into the western sky. In the eastern sky, Arcturus dominates, with Vega and Deneb far to its lower left, and Spica to its lower right. Find Saturn to Spica’s lower left, and, late in month, Antares below and a little left of Saturn.

Moon near bright objects at dawn: The Full Moon appears closely upper left of Aldebaran low in WNW at dawn on Dec. 6. A waning gibbous Moon appears between Procyon and Pollux on Dec. 9; near Jupiter on Dec. 11 and 12; near Regulus on Dec. 12. A waning crescent Moon appears near Spica on Dec. 16 and 17; closely upper right of Saturn on Dec. 19; to lower left of Saturn and upper left of Antares on Dec. 20.


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: $11.

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.

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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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.