Celestial Highlights for February 2014
Posted: Monday, February 3rd, 2014
by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller
February Skies: Jupiter and the Dog Star dominate the dusk. Brightening Mars gleams from late evening until dawn, when Venus takes the reigns.
The two brightest “stars” at dusk in February are steady yellowish Jupiter, high in east, and blue-white vigorously twinkling Sirius, the Dog Star, in the southeast. The only other evening planet is Mercury, very low south of west, but it fades to first magnitude by Feb. 7 and very sharply thereafter, on its way to conjunction with the Sun at mid-month. The waxing gibbous Moon, four days before Full, appears near Jupiter on the evening of Feb. 10.
Surrounding Jupiter is the huge Winter Hexagon of Sirius-Procyon-Pollux-Capella-Aldebaran-Rigel. The noticeably red star Betelgeuse is also within the Hexagon. Find the 3-star belt of Orion, the Hunter, midway between his shoulder, Betelgeuse, and his foot, bluish Rigel. The belt extended southeastward locates Sirius. Extend the belt in the opposite direction, bending north a bit, and you’ll find Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull. Go farther to find the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a wonderful sight for binoculars! Rising in the eastern sky, Regulus, heart of Leo, is at opposition to the Sun on Feb. 18, and chases the Winter Hexagon across the sky.
This month, Venus attains the peak brilliance of its current morning apparition, which began in mid-January and continues until September. Telescopes and even binoculars reveal Venus as a crescent, backlit by the Sun. Find Venus before sunrise, keep track of it, and you’ll have a daytime sighting! It’ll be especially easy on Feb. 25 and 26, when the crescent Moon appears nearby.
For most of February, in morning twilight, you can observe three planets: Venus in SE, Saturn in S, and Mars in SW. In the last days of Feb., there are four planets once Mercury emerges from its Feb. 15 solar conjunction on near side of Sun into the ESE twilight glow. Backlighted Mercury is faint at first, 2nd mag. on Feb. 23, brightening to first mag. by Feb. 27 and continuing to brighten in March. Look for these bright stars, also within the zodiacal belt: Antares, heart of Scorpius, to upper right of Venus and lower left of Saturn; Spica near Mars; and Regulus, heart of Leo, in W, far to lower right of Mars and Spica. In latter half of February, the waning Moon in the morning sky will pass all of them, in order, west to east: Regulus, Spica, Mars, Saturn, Antares, Venus, and Mercury. (See diagrams from Sky Calendar.)
Other bright stars at dawn are Arcturus, high above Mars and Spica in the SW sky; and the Summer Triangle of Vega-Altair-Deneb climbing in the eastern sky. Brightest objects visible at morning mid-twilight at start of Feb., in order of brilliance, are Venus, Arcturus, Vega, and Mars. The red planet nearly doubles in brightness from mag. +0.2 to –0.5 and clearly outshines the zero-mag. stars Arcturus and Vega after mid-Feb.
On Feb. 11 the revolution of Spaceship Earth around the Sun is carrying us toward Saturn. A week later on Feb. 18, Earth passes between Sun and Regulus, and that star appears at opposition, 180° from the Sun. On Feb. 28, Earth is heading toward a point near Antares in the predawn sky (and away from a point near Aldebaran in the evening sky). On April 8, Mars will take its turn at opposition as our planet passes between that planet and the Sun. On May 10, Saturn will appear at opposition, and within three weeks later, on May 30-31, Antares will be at opposition and be above the horizon nearly all night.
Sky events in February and early March 2014 and beyond
Don’t miss the chance to provide your students with impressive telescopic views of Venus, while it still appears in crescent phase. Venus will appear half full, but smaller in size, when it is near greatest elongation, 47° from Sun, in late March. Venus switched from the evening into the morning sky during the second week of January, as it passed inferior conjunction, nearly between Earth and Sun. Venus is bright enough to observe in daytime morning hours while you’re at school. The planet appears brightest in mid-February, when telescopes and even binoculars reveal it as a crescent, about one-fourth illuminated.
The three bright outer planets all glide from dawn to dusk visibility during the early months of 2014, as the Earth overtakes them. During the transition, the planet appears at opposition, about 180° from the Sun, and is visible all night: Low in eastern sky at dusk, high in the southern sky in the middle of the night, and low in the western sky at dawn. This year, the dates of opposition of the bright outer planets are: Jupiter on Jan. 5, Mars on Apr. 8, and Saturn on May 10.
Don’t miss the total lunar eclipse on the night of Monday-Tuesday, April 14-15.
Mercury will have its best evening apparition of this year during May.
Following is a sample of the visually most striking sky events during February and early March 2014. Diagrams of these events appear on the Sky Calendar, published by Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. For more information about the calendar, point your web browser to www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar/
Before the end of April, a complete Sky Calendar for May 2014, along with a star map of the evening sky, will be available at the same website. May 2014 will be a great month for sky watchers, because the three bright outer planets as well as the innermost planet, Mercury, will all be visible at dusk. There is a good chance of a very strong meteor shower, possibly even a meteor storm, in the predawn hours of Saturday, May 24, during the Memorial holiday weekend.
For free, simplified monthly sky maps following the first-magnitude stars and the naked-eye planets at morning and evening twilight accompanied by descriptive notes, and for many other charts and activities for students, go to www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/msta/
Check that site now and then for additional postings.
For illustrations of the following events, refer to diagrams in this article, and to the February and March 2014 issues of Sky Calendar.
Feb. 6-8, one hour after sunset: Watch Moon pass Aldebaran, Hyades, Pleiades.
Feb. 10 & 11, one hour after sunset: Watch Moon pass Jupiter, Pollux, Castor.
Feb. 19 & 20, one hour before sunrise: Watch Moon pass Mars, Spica.
Feb. 21-23, one hour before sunrise: Watch Moon pass Saturn and Antares.
Feb. 25-27, 45 min. before sunrise: Watch Moon pass Venus and approach Mercury.
Feb. 28, 30 min. before sunrise: Watch for very thin Moon rising to lower left of Mercury. Binoculars help. If you spot the Moon, note the time and calculate how much time remains until New Moon at the start of March 1 at 12:00 a.m. PST.
Mar. 1, one hour before sunrise: Find Mars and Spica in SW. Mars passed near Spica on Feb. 3. Watch Mars retrograde past Spica in coming weeks, and pass it a third time in July. The event is an example of a triple conjunction.
Mar. 1, about 25 min. after sunset: Using binoculars, try to see a very thin, young crescent Moon, very low, just south of due west. If you spot it, note the time, and calculate the Moon’s age, or time elapsed since New Moon, which occurred at 12:00 a.m. PST earlier today.
Mar. 3, one hour before sunrise: Saturn begins retrograde to upper right of Antares and to east (left) of Alpha in Libra. Watch Saturn move 7° west (closer to Alpha Librae) from now until mid-July, when Saturn ends retrograde.
Mar. 4, about 45 min. before sunrise: Mercury 20° lower left of Venus.
Wishing you and your students clear skies!
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: Saturday, January 14th, 2017
The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.
Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.
If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.
California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing
The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
The early-bird registration rates for the 65th NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles is just days away (ends Feb. 3). And as the early-registration deadline approaches excitement is building for what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of science educators (both California and nationwide) – with attendance expected to reach 10,000 or more. If you have never had the pleasure of attending the NSTA National Conference, I recommend you visit their website with tips for newcomers that describe the various components of the event. A conference preview is also available for download. Learn More…