September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. 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.