September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.