May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. 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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.