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: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…