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.
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.
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.
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…