March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Celestial Highlights for January 2015

Posted: Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

updated January 8, 2015, 11:30 am

by Robert C. Victor
twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Mercury snuggles up to Venus on Jan. 10, and then backs off. Mars closes in on Venus for next 6 weeks until Feb. 21. Jupiter rises ever earlier in evening, until, starting in late January, Venus-Jupiter can be viewed simultaneously, but low above opposite horizons. Consider an early evening skywatch for the gathering of Mercury, Venus, and Mars, and a predawn skywatch for Jupiter and Saturn!

The Sky Calendar  features illustrations of this month’s attractive gatherings of Moon, planets, and stars.

This January 2015 evening twilight chart plots locations of the five naked-eye planets and stars of first magnitude or brighter visible at dusk:

The six brightest “stars” in evening mid-twilight, in order of brightness, are: Venus in SW to WSW; Jupiter (but only after it rises in ENE before mid-twilight in last few days of month); Sirius (after it rises in ESE late in month); Mercury (while it’s still brighter than zero mag. through Jan. 19); Vega until it drops below NW horizon late in month; and Capella.

Evening planets: Venus and Mercury appear within 3° of each other in first half of January, and approach to within two-thirds of a degree apart on Jan. 10. This event is a quasi-conjunction, because Mercury appears to approach Venus without overtaking it. Mars, appears as a reddish “star” a little fainter than first magnitude, 24° to 10° upper left of Venus. Jupiter, rising in ENE to E just over three hours after sunset on Jan. 1, rises within half an hour after sunset at month’s end. Jupiter will pass opposition to the Sun on Feb. 6 and reach peak brilliance at mag. –2.6.

As we look into the evening sky, we are gazing out the rear window of Spaceship Earth. The two faster-moving inner planets recently passed on the far side of the Sun, (Venus on Oct. 25, 2014 and Mercury on Dec. 8). At the start of January, both have both moved out far enough to be seen. Mercury reaches greatest elongation 19° from Sun on Jan. 14, but Venus will take until June 6 to reach its maximum angular distance from the Sun, 45°. Both planets will overtake us: Speedy Mercury passes inferior conjunction nearly between Earth and Sun on Jan. 30, and Venus will do so in mid-August. If proof of Venus’ location in 3-D space is needed, examine it through binoculars and telescopes in June and July, just before it exits the evening sky: it will appear backlighted, in crescent phase.



After Jupiter passes opposition on Feb. 6, we will leave that slow-moving planet behind. Jupiter and the winter stars preceding it will get higher in eastern sky as we pass into February, owing to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. 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, with Betelgeuse inside, is in view. Jupiter and Regulus follow the Hexagon across the sky. Other stars visible at dusk mid-twilight until mid-January are the Summer Triangle sinking into WNW (Altair departing soon after mid-Jan., and Vega doing so before month’s end), and lonely Fomalhaut sinking into SW.

This January 2015 morning twilight chart plots locations of the naked-eye planets and stars of first magnitude or brighter visible at dawn:

The seven brightest “stars” in morning mid-twilight, in order of brightness, are: Jupiter, sinking in the western sky; Arcturus high in S; Vega in NE to ENE; Capella, until it drops below horizon in far NW; Procyon low in W early in month; Saturn in SE; and Altair, after it appears in E around midmonth.

Look for an arch of stars, the trailing edge of the Winter Hexagon, before it sinks from view in W to NW, below and lower right of Jupiter. The arch is comprised of Procyon, Pollux, and Castor (not shown, just 4.5° to the right of Pollux), and Capella. Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion, is not far to upper left of Jupiter.

Golden Arcturus is very high in SE to S sky, with Spica below it. Antares is the reddish twinkling star in SE, below steady Saturn.

In mid-January, our Spaceship Earth is heading in the direction of Spica, the first-mag. star near the Last Quarter Moon, half full in morning sky, on Jan. 13. In coming months, as Earth curves around the Sun, it will overtake the slower-moving outer planets: Jupiter in early February, and Saturn after 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.

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 nearly 25° from edge-on. And the Moon is visible each morning Jan. 5-19 as it wanes from Full to a thin crescent. Best mornings in January with the Moon at a good phase occur in the week of Jan. 12-16. Even if you wait until the normal time of opening the school grounds, the Moon is still fine for daytime astronomy. When the Moon is close to half full, fit the low-power eyepiece of your telescope with a single polarizing filter and rotate the eyepiece to darken the blue sky. January 12-14, with the Moon near Last Quarter (half full) phase, are prime dates.

Morning and evening twilight charts for selected months of 2015, 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 at the links below. These twilight charts are drawn for southern California (lat. 34° N, Los Angeles and Palm Springs).

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.

In early summer, the Summer Triangle will be visible all night: Low in eastern sky at dusk, high up in the middle of the night, and low in the western sky at dawn. So despite its visibility at dusk and dawn in the chill of mid-January, the configuration is appropriately named.

The Moon passes all five bright planets and the five first-magnitude stars of the zodiac this month. See the January 2015 Sky Calendar for illustrations of all these events. Here are just the Moon-planet pairs: The Moon, in waning gibbous phase, appears near Jupiter from late evening until dawn on the night of Jan. 7-8. A waning crescent Moon appears quite close to Saturn on the morning of Jan. 16. After the invisible New Moon of Jan. 20, a thin young crescent will appear near Mercury and Venus at dusk on Jan. 21, and near Mars on the next evening.

The next Full Moon will occur on Feb. 3, with Jupiter nearby all night.

Begin seeing the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, simultaneously. Starting in late January, they appear just above the horizon in nearly opposite directions in the sky, Venus about to set in WSW, soon after Jupiter rises in ENE. If there are mountains nearby, you may have to wait until sometime in February.

Once you can see both planets simultaneously, keep track evenings until they disappear in late July/early August. On June 30 at dusk, Venus and Jupiter will appear only 0.3° apart! This event should not be missed! Plan to observe it with unaided eye, binoculars, and telescope. You’ll witness quite a change from late January, when these two most brilliant planets stand on opposite sides of the sky!

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 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.

 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.

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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: