May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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.

Powered By DT Author Box

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.

Leave a Reply


Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.