Celestial Highlights for February 2015
Posted: Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015
by Robert C. Victor and Robert D. Miller
Venus and Jupiter can now be viewed simultaneously each clear evening until about a month after their spectacular pairing on June 30. This month, consider an early evening sky watch for the gathering of Venus, Mars, and the crescent Moon on Friday, February 20. Hardy sky watchers may want to schedule a predawn session to view Saturn’s rings.
The two twilight charts plot locations of the five naked-eye planets and 16 stars of first magnitude or brighter in dusk and dawn skies.
Two planets and a star far outshine all competitors at dusk. They are: Venus of magnitude –4, low in WSW, shifting toward W and slowly gaining altitude as this month progresses; Jupiter of mag. –2.6, starting very low in ENE, moving into E and climbing about 1° higher each day if viewed at the same stage of twilight daily; and blue-white Sirius, the “Dog Star” and brightest of nighttime stars, twinkling at mag. –1.4 and ascending through SE toward SSE at dusk as February runs its course.
Follow these three bright objects at dusk in coming months. Sirius will disappear into the WSW twilight glow during May, while Venus and Jupiter remain in view until at least late in July. Over five months after these two brilliant planets first became visible simultaneously (just above opposite horizons, in late January), Venus and Jupiter will form a spectacular close pair on June 30, just 0.3° apart. A telescopic view of the planet pair that evening will be a memorable sight!
February’s other naked-eye evening planet is Mars, appearing as a red “star” of mag. +1.2 to +1.3, not far from Venus all this month. Look about 9° upper left of the brighter planet on Feb. 1, to 3° lower right on Feb. 28. Both planets move rapidly against background stars, and remain within 10° of each other for six weeks, Jan. 31-Mar. 14. They can be viewed together within a 5° binocular field for three weeks, Feb. 11 through Mar. 4.
Stars at dusk: Look for the huge Winter Hexagon of Sirius-Procyon-Pollux-Capella-Aldebaran-Rigel. The noticeably red star Betelgeuse is 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, Jupiter followed by the star Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion, pass opposition to the Sun on Feb. 6 and 18, respectively, pursuing the Winter Hexagon across the sky.
Moon at dusk in early February: On Feb. 1 at dusk, less than two days before Full, the Moon appears between Pollux, the brighter of the Gemini twins, and Procyon, the Lesser Dog star. (The Moon will return to the same place among the stars in just over 27 days, but at a lesser phase, on the final evening of this month.) On Feb. 3, the Moon, just past Full and rising a few minutes after sunset, appears 5°-6° south (right) of bright Jupiter. The Moon rises about an hour after sunset on Feb. 4, and nearly an hour later nightly for the next several evenings. Rather than staying up late to watch moonrise, shift your viewing time to morning, and follow the Moon in morning twilight, less than an hour before sunrise:
Moon in morning twilight:
Feb. 3: Nearly Full Moon, setting in W to WNW, 10° lower right of Jupiter.
Feb. 4: Moon just past Full, low, just N of W, 7° lower left of Jupiter.
Feb. 5: Moon low in W, 5°-6° lower left of Regulus.
Feb. 9: Waning gibbous Moon in SW, less than 4° upper right of Spica.
Feb. 12: Moon just past Last Quarter phase in south, a little less than half full, 5° upper right of Saturn.
Feb. 13: Waning crescent Moon in SSE, about 8° left of Saturn and 8°-9° upper left of Antares.
Feb. 16: Thin crescent Moon low in SE to ESE, 9° upper right of Mercury.
Feb. 17: Last old very thin crescent Moon very low in ESE, 6° lower left of Mercury.
[New Moon, invisible near the Sun, occurs on Feb. 18 at 3:47 p.m. PST.]
Moon returns to evening sky on Feb. 19. About 40 minutes after sunset, look for the young, thin crescent about 9° S of due west and 6° up, 13°-14° lower right of Venus. Moon’s age (time elapsed since New) will be just 26-27 hours.
Be sure to catch the spectacular gathering of the crescent Moon and two planets at dusk on Feb. 20, all within a 2° field. The 2-day-old Moon will be within 1.7° upper right of Venus, with Mars is between them, 0.7° upper right of Venus. Venus-Mars appear closest to each other the next evening, Feb. 21, as Venus passes 0.4° south of Mars. That same evening, the crescent Moon will appear 14°-15° above the pair; as darkness falls, binoculars will show another planet, 6th-magnitude Uranus, just 2° below and slightly right of the Moon.
On Feb. 24, the fat crescent Moon passes 8° S of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star cluster. By the next evening, the Moon will have passed First Quarter phase and appear just over half full, within 2° E of Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull. As we look out the rear window of Spaceship Earth on Feb. 24-28, we are speeding away from the Hyades star cluster with Aldebaran in the foreground. On the night of Feb. 28, the waxing gibbous Moon will lie about midway between Pollux and Procyon. At dusk on March 2, the Moon will lie 5°-6° S of Jupiter, and on the next evening, some 6° upper right of Regulus. On March 4, the nearly Full Moon will appear 8°-9° below that star. On March 5, the Moon, just past Full, will rise just 3° north of east about a quarter-hour after sunset. Rising 4° farther south nightly, the waning gibbous Moon rises in twilight just over an hour after sunset of March 6, and about two hours after sunset on March 7.
For most of February, in morning twilight, you can observe as many as three planets: Jupiter before it drops below horizon in WNW near end of third week, Saturn in S all month, and Mercury after it brightens to first magnitude early in second week. Look for these bright stars, also within the zodiacal belt, within a few degrees of the plane of Earth’s orbit: Antares, heart of Scorpius, to lower left of Saturn; Spica to right of Saturn; and Regulus, heart of Leo, in W, far to lower right Spica and upper left of Jupiter. During February 3-17, as listed above, the waning Moon in the morning sky will pass these three planets and three stars, in order from west to east: Jupiter, Regulus, Spica, Saturn, Antares, and Mercury.
Other bright stars at dawn are Arcturus, high above Spica in the SW sky; and the Summer Triangle of Vega-Altair-Deneb climbing in the eastern sky. Brightest objects at morning mid-twilight for most of Feb., in order of brilliance, are: Jupiter (until it drops below WNW horizon), Arcturus, and Vega. In the last week of February, Jupiter sets before middle of morning twilight, but Mercury becomes a close match in brightness to these two stars.
A View out the Front Window of Spaceship Earth!
Step outside on February mornings about an hour before sunrise and visualize the motion of our planet in orbit around the Sun. In what direction are we heading? The Sun is below the eastern horizon, below the brightest twilight glow. If you could go to a place high “above” the solar system, high in the northern sky toward the constellation Draco, and look “down”, you would observe that the revolutions of the eight planets around the Sun and the revolution of the Moon around the Earth would all be counterclockwise. On Feb. 6, Earth passes between Sun and Jupiter, and that planet appears at opposition, 180° from the Sun. Note the star Regulus 12° upper left of Jupiter that morning. Twelve days later, on Feb. 18, Earth passes between Sun and Regulus, and that star takes its turn at opposition. If you look each morning at the same stage of twilight, Jupiter and Regulus appear lower daily, as we overtake and then look back at them. On Feb. 23, the revolution of Spaceship Earth around the Sun is carrying us toward Saturn. By Feb. 28, Earth is heading toward a point 5° N of Antares in the predawn sky (and away from a point 5° N of Aldebaran in the evening sky). As we travel around our curving orbit and overtake Saturn on May 22, that planet will appear at opposition and be above the horizon all night, and on May 31, Antares will be at opposition.
Mercury, an inner planet moving faster than Earth, passed nearly between Earth and Sun, inferior conjunction, on Jan. 30, and then moved ahead of us to emerge into the morning sky in February (faint at first, while displaying a backlighted crescent). Mercury reaches greatest elongation on Feb. 24. Next heading toward the far side of the Sun, Mercury will drop below the horizon at morning mid-twilight by mid-March, and finally pass beyond the Sun at superior conjunction on April 9.
Wishing you and your students frequent clear skies to enjoy the ride!
For more information on sky events in 2015, see these articles and activities.
(A selection of twilight sky charts for use during months of the best planet gatherings.)
(Scroll down to “Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets.” Includes planet orbit charts, a data table for plotting planets, and an activity sheet with 15 questions on visibility of stars and planets in 2015-2016.)
Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit 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…