Celestial Highlights for January 2014
Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller
Jupiter up all night as students return in January. Venus, passing Earth, leaves evening sky, joining Mars and Saturn in morning. Consider a morning sky watch!
Morning and evening twilight charts for each month through the end of 2014, along with charts for plotting the positions of planets in their orbits, and exercises to help students visualize the motion of Spaceship Earth and understand and enjoy the changing visibility of planets and stars, are available online. These twilight charts are drawn for southern California (lat. 34° N, Los Angeles and Palm Springs). Charts for lat. 40° N, more accurate for northern California, are also available at the web link above.
At dusk: The six brightest “stars” in evening mid-twilight, in order of brightness, are: Venus, Jupiter, Sirius (after it appears late in month), Mercury (after it appears around midmonth), Vega, and Capella.
- Venus drops below mid-twilight horizon after Jan. 5, but can be followed closer to sunset by careful observers until its Jan. 11 inferior conjunction with the Sun. Venus’ phase narrows from 3% to less than 1% illumination of its disk, over 1 arcminute across. At the start of January, Venus is about to overtake us and does so on Jan. 11. It is on the near side of the Sun, and telescopic observation of the crescent phase confirms this.
- Jupiter: As we look into the evening sky, we are gazing out the rear window of Spaceship Earth. Jupiter and the surrounding winter stars get higher in eastern sky as month progresses, owing to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. Jupiter is visible all night early in January. Use binoculars in twilight to reveal the giant planet as a disk. It ascends in ENE to E, is at opposition to the Sun on Jan. 5 and reaches peak brilliance at mag. –2.7.
- Mercury is emerging from the Sun’s far side, and on Jan. 30 it reaches greatest elongation 18° from the Sun. We are leaving slow-moving Jupiter behind. As Orion (marked by Betelgeuse and Rigel) rises higher, Procyon and Sirius follow it into view. Once Sirius has risen, the entire Winter Hexagon Sirius-Rigel-Aldebaran-Capella-Pollux-Procyon-Sirius is in view, and within it, Betelgeuse and Jupiter. Other stars visible are the Summer Triangle sinking into WNW (Altair disappears soon after mid-Jan.) and lonely Fomalhaut sinking into SW.
At dawn: The five brightest “stars” in morning mid-twilight are: Venus (after it appears around midmonth); Jupiter (until it drops below WNW horizon around midmonth); Arcturus; Vega; and Capella, until it drops below NW horizon.
- Jupiter can still be seen in the morning sky at the end of January, but then you’ll have to look before the onset of twilight to catch the planet before it sets. Look for an arch of stars above Jupiter in NW to W, comprised of Capella, Castor (not shown, just 4.5° to the right of Pollux), Pollux, and Procyon. Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion, is far to upper left of Jupiter.
- Golden Arcturus is very high in SE to S sky, with Mars, Spica, and Saturn, from right to left, below it. Antares is the reddish twinkling star in SE, to lower left of steady Saturn. Venus first appears above our morning mid-twilight horizon around midmonth and climbs higher each morning at the same stage of twilight.
- In mid-January, our Spaceship Earth is heading in the direction of Spica. In coming months, as Earth curves around the Sun, it will overtake the slower-moving outer planets: Jupiter in early January, Mars in early April, and Saturn before the middle of May. As a result, these planets, along with their background stars, will progress toward the western horizon in our morning sky, and will appear above our eastern horizon in the early evening sky as Earth passes each one in turn.
- But Venus is an inner planet. It overtakes us on Jan. 11, as it passes between Earth and Sun. By Jan. 16 it appears 10° to the upper right of the rising Sun. By Jan. 23, this “angle of elongation” increases to 20°, and by month’s end to 29°. It will get no farther than 47° from the Sun at greatest elongation, which will be attained on March 22. If proof of Venus’ location in space is needed, examine it through binoculars and telescopes in January and February, when it’s backlighted, in crescent phase: less than one percent full through Jan. 14, increasing to 2 percent by Jan. 17, to 5 percent by Jan. 22, and 10 percent by Jan. 28.
Consider holding an early morning skywatch, perhaps in your schoolyard starting as early as 1-1/2 hours before sunrise. Solar system highlights include Jupiter and its four Galilean satellites, Saturn’s rings now tipped over 22° from edge-on, the crescent phase of Venus, and the tiny reddish disk of Mars. The best dates in January with the Moon visible occur in the week of Jan. 20-24, or 20-26 if the weekend is included. Even if you wait until the normal time of opening the school grounds, the Moon and Venus are excellent for daytime astronomy. If you fit the low-power eyepiece of your telescope with a single polarizing filter and rotate the eyepiece to darken the blue sky, Jan. 23 and 24 are prime dates.
In morning mid-twilight in January, bright blue-white Vega shines in ENE with fainter Deneb to its lower left. By midmonth Altair appears in east, completing the Summer Triangle.
Every year in mid-January, Altair is 30° due north of the midday Sun, making the star equally visible in morning and evening twilight, low in E at dawn and low in W at dusk. The entire Summer Triangle is visible at both those times, with Vega and Deneb higher and to the north of Altair.
The Moon passes all five bright planets this month. A nearly Full Moon will keep company with Jupiter from dusk until first light of dawn on the night of Jan. 14-15. An hour before sunup on the mornings of Jan. 22 and 23, watch the waning gibbous Moon leapfrog past Spica and the brighter reddish planet Mars just above that star well up in SSW. The Moon is very closely left of Spica on the morning of Jan. 23. The Moon appears at Last Quarter phase (half full) on the morning of Jan. 24, and on the next morning the fat crescent appears just below Saturn. Venus, by then a prominent morning “star” low in ESE, will appear to lower left of the waning crescent Moon an hour before sunrise on Jan. 29. The next morning, look for the last thin old Moon rising to lower left of Venus. Back in the evening sky on Jan. 31, the thin young crescent Moon will appear low in WSW at dusk, a few degrees to lower right of Mercury, which pays a brief visit to evening twilight skies in late January and early February.
Venus switches from evening to morning sky (with an overlap of a few days, when it is visible in both!); and, all this month, an even larger (in apparent diameter) Venus in crescent phase. On Jan. 1, Venus was 15° upper left of the setting Sun. As Venus traverses the near side of its orbit, it will pass only 5° north of the Sun on Jan. 10-11. By Jan. 31, Venus is 29° upper of the rising Sun.
Venus-Jupiter hide-and-seek. This month, these two planets appear in nearly opposite directions in the sky, because Earth overtakes Jupiter on Jan. 5 (creating an opposition of Jupiter, when the giant planet rises at sunset and sets at sunrise), and Venus overtakes Earth on Jan. 11 (creating an inferior conjunction of Venus, when Venus rises and sets nearly together with the Sun).
After Venus emerges into the morning sky, see four planets, in E to W order, Venus rising in ESE, Saturn in SSE, Mars in SSW, Jupiter setting in WNW. If you’re surrounded by mountains, you probably won’t spot Venus until after Jupiter has set. On Feb. 3 Mars will pass within 5° N of first-mag. Spica, the first of a colorful triple conjunction between the red planet and the blue-white star in 2014; the finale of the series occurs on July 13 at dusk. Mars moves on to pass Saturn on Aug. 25. On August 18 at dawn, Venus and Jupiter will appear only 0.3° apart! Quite a difference from this month, when these two most brilliant planets are avoiding each other, on opposite sides of the sky!
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…