May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights for July 2014

Posted: Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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

In early June, after attending a reunion for Classes of 1961-64 at Stony Brook University, I remained a few days and had the pleasure of participating in a Summer Institute at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. The following blog about a previous Alda Institute gives the flavor of what occurred and includes some valuable tips to help scientists (and teachers) “distill their messages” to better communicate to the public and the media (and students).

Following this article on July skies is a selection of some of my favorite astronomy-related web resources.

Mars and Saturn are easy to spot in the evening sky for all of July, and Saturn with its rings is a real showpiece for telescopic viewing. Mars will form a close, eye-catching pair with the star Spica for several evenings around July 13. In the brightening dawn for much of month, brilliant Venus has a companion, Mercury, not far to its lower left. Especially attractive gatherings of Moon, planets, and stars occur on July 5 and 7 at dusk, and on July 22 and 24 at dawn. Dark moonless nights in latter half of month offer excellent views of the Milky Way.

July 2014 at dusk

The four brightest starlike objects visible at dusk (excluding Jupiter barely above WNW horizon at start of month)are: Arcturus and Vega (both near mag. 0.0); Mars (0.0 to +0.4); and Saturn (+0.4 to +0.5).

July’s evening planets: Using binoculars, can you spot Jupiter very low in bright twilight in WNW at start of month, before it departs? Reddish Mars in SW passes 1.3° N of blue-white Spica on July 13 in the tightest and last of their three pairings this year. It will be fascinating to follow this colorful pair for several evenings, separated by no more than 5° during July 3-22. Saturn is in S to SSW, 23° to upper left of the close Mars-Saturn pair on July 13.

Saturn’s rings are tipped 21° from edge-on during July (minimum for this year). This temporary decrease on the way toward 27° maximum in 2017 is caused by our Earth-platform revolving around the Sun, affecting our view.

In late July and early August, when Saturn is close to 90 degrees from the Sun, telescopes show the best “3-D” appearance of planet and rings, because we can then best observe the planet’s shadow cast upon the rings. Look for a “gap” where the shadowed portion of the rings goes behind the planet’s northeast limb.

Stars: Regulus, heart of Leo, sinks nearly to WNW horizon at month’s end. Golden Arcturus is high in S to WSW; Spica, spike of grain in Virgo’s hand, is in SW, near Mars; Antares, heart of Scorpius, reaches its high point low in S. The Summer Triangle of Vega-Altair-Deneb ascends in E, as befits its name. It’s up all night this month. Find it plotted on both our charts, for dusk and dawn.

Follow the waxing Moon in the evening sky as it passes near these planets and bright zodiacal stars: Regulus on July 1; Mars and Spica on July 5 (a spectacular trio!); Saturn on July 7 (close); Antares on July 8 and 9; Spica on Aug. 1 and 2; Mars on Aug. 2 and 3; Saturn on Aug. 3 and 4; Antares on Aug. 5.

For evening planet-watchers this summer: Mars goes from west to east of Spica this month. On July 1st, Mars is just over 5° NW of Spica. On July 5th, the Moon, just past First Quarter phase and a little over half illuminated, will pass between Mars and Spica while they’re within 4° apart. In a colorful patriotic pairing on July 13th, the red planet will pass just 1.3° north of the blue-white star. Mars continues east against the background, ending 14° east of Spica on July 31st. In the next two months, Mars will pass 3.4° south of yellowish Saturn on Aug. 25; Moon, Mars, and Saturn will appear within a 5° field on the evening of Aug. 31; and Mars will pass just over 3° north of reddish Antares on Sept. 28.

July 2014 at dawn 

Five brightest objects: Venus; Mercury (after it brightens past mag. 0 at midmonth); Vega, Capella, Rigel (after it appears late in month).

Planets (both in ENE): Venus, shining nearly at mag. –4, dominates morning sky. Mercury is easy to find, especially when it’s within 7° lower left of Venus July 12-20.

Stars: The Summer Triangle of Vega-Altair-Deneb, visible all night in all of July, is high in the western sky at dawn and descends as month progresses. Fomalhaut, Mouth of the Southern Fish, swims westward low in the south. Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, is just 4° S (lower right) of Venus on July 1 and ascends the eastern sky all month as Venus remains low. Far to upper left, the “Mother Goat” star Capella ascends in the NE. Late in month, Betelgeuse and Rigel, shoulder and foot of Orion, emerge above the eastern horizon. (Look midway between them at an earlier stage of twilight for a vertical line of three stars, Orion’s belt!) Farther north, find Pollux (with Castor 4.5° above). Pollux is just over 6° N (upper left) of Mercury on July 28 and 29.

The waning crescent Moon in morning sky passes near: Aldebaran on July 22 (close); Venus on July 24; Mercury on July 25 (low in twilight).

Many beautiful sights await you this summer, in both morning and evening skies. Mark Monday, August 18 on your calendar. Be sure to look about an hour before sunrise that morning to catch the spectacular close pairing of the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter. Five days later, on August 23, the waning crescent Moon joins them in a beautiful gathering. For evening events, see “For evening planet-watchers,” above. The July through September issues of the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar will provide illustrations of these and other gatherings. Those issues won’t appear online, but you can find out how to subscribe at

We hope you’ll arrange some “star parties” this summer for your students to take in the beauty of the sky including the Milky Way, and to enjoy views of the Moon, planets, and “deep sky objects” through binoculars and telescopes.

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, California.

  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. 

Astronomy-related media and web resources: A selection

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.