March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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.

Evening planets:

  • 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.


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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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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

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.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

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…

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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

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…

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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

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 Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Learning to Teach in 3D

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…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: