March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Celestial Highlights for June 2013

Posted: Monday, June 3rd, 2013

by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller

In evening twilight in June 2013, the brilliant evening “star” Venus gleams very low in the west-northwest, while Mercury lingers nearby during the first three weeks. Saturn glows yellowish and steadily well up in the south-southeast to south, contrasting with the twinkling blue-white star Spica just 13° to 12° to Saturn’s west (right).

On our evening all-sky chart, planets are plotted for each day when the Sun has sunk to 9° below the horizon, which we call “mid-twilight”. We have chosen that time, because we have found that by then, planets and stars of first magnitude or brighter are easily visible to the unaided eye, except those of lesser brightness low in the western twilight glow. In June, from Palm Springs, Los Angeles and other places near lat. 34° N, it takes until 46-47 minutes after sunset to reach mid-twilight. From northernmost California (lat. 42° N) this month, it takes about 9 minutes longer for the sky brightness to diminish to the same level.

Planet positions are represented by a separate dot for each date, with the positions for each Saturday in June (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), represented by a larger dot and labeled. We see that Jupiter is barely above the horizon on June 1. Rotate the chart until the portion of the horizon nearest to the cluster of planets low in WNW is at the bottom of the circle, and you’ll see the cluster depicted at the same orientation as in the sky: Jupiter 2.5° steeply lower right of Venus on June 1, and Mercury nearly as far to Venus’s upper left.

Note that Jupiter drops below the horizon in a couple of days, while Mercury and Venus climb a little higher each evening. But Mercury reaches its peak altitude for this apparition around the 8th of June, while Venus slows its climb and begins shifting to the left, or southward. In fact, Venus sets farthest north for this entire evening appearance – which lasts from late April 2013 until early January 2014 – on June 5, then starts a long southward trek until November 6, when Venus will set far to the southwest.

Getting back to events in June, Mercury lingers 5° above Venus for several days around June 6-7, then starts to move closer to Venus. Pick out the planet dots for June 19; on that date Mercury-Venus will appear closest, 1.9° apart, with rapidly fading Mercury passing to the south (lower left) of Venus. Mercury dots are shown through June 27, but in practice we’ll lose sight of it sooner: Mercury fades to mag. +1 by June 18, and to mag. +1.6 by June 22, as it heads down toward the near side of the Sun and becomes backlighted. Use binoculars to keep Mercury in view until the last possible date. By the last week in June, Venus will be the only planet remaining of the beautiful compact planet trio we enjoyed in late May.

One other planet resides in our June evening sky: Saturn tracking from SSE to S in mid-twilight as June progresses. The reason it drifts that way is that our Earth is moving in orbit around the Sun, overtaking the outer planets. Stars on our chart drift westward for the same reason: The revolution of Earth around the Sun. Notice the blue-white first-magnitude star Spica 13° to 12° to the west (right) of Saturn and preceding it as both objects go westward across the sky. The stars’ daily positions aren’t plotted as individual dots, but are simply represented by tracks as the stars go west (counter-clockwise around the North Star) in the course of the month, or during a single night.

The brightest star in June’s evening sky is Arcturus, high above Saturn and Spica and forming a large triangle with them. When the Big Dipper becomes visible, you can “follow the arc (of the handle) to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica.”

Next after Arcturus in brilliance is Vega, climbing in the northeast. Compare the colors of these two stars! To Vega’s lower left is Deneb, and ascending into view later in the evening or later in the month is Altair, completing the Summer Triangle. Climbing in the southeast is reddish Antares, heart of the Scorpion.

In the west to northwest in early June is a curved arch of four stars topped by Pollux (and Castor, not shown because it’s just a little fainter than the magnitude +1.5 limit of our chart). These two stars make up the heads of Gemini, the Twins. To the Twins’ lower left is Procyon, the Little Dog Star, and in the northwest, anchoring the northern end of the arch, is Capella, the Mother Goat Star, ranking next after Vega in brightness.

Ranking last in brightness of the 16 stars of first magnitude or brighter visible in the course of a year from southern California is +1.4-mag. Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion. Watch Regulus descend the western sky during June and July, before it passes on the far side of the Sun around August 23.

During June 10-23, the Moon is above the horizon in evening mid-twilight. Follow it nightly as it waxes, or grows, from a thin crescent on June 10, through First Quarter (half full) on June 16, to Full on the night of June 22-23. The Moon passes, in order, Venus and Mercury on June 10, the Twins on June 11, Regulus on June 13 and 14, Spica and Saturn during June 17-19, and Antares on June 21.

Source: Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The  quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11.

Source: Abrams Planetarium
A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $11.

These diagrams from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar  illustrate the Moon’s changing position against background stars in June, and Venus and Mercury in various pretty arrangements with stars Pollux and Castor. For information on Sky Calendar and a past sample issue, visit

Full Moon at 4:32 a.m. PDT on Sunday, June 23 nearly coincides with the closest perigee of the year, 221,824 miles from Earth.

From southern California on Saturday, June 22, the Moon rises in the east-southeast about 38 minutes before sunset. On Sunday morning, June 23, the Moon sets in WSW 19 minutes after sunrise (the Moon having been up all night). And on that Sunday evening, the Moon rises in ESE 21 minutes after sunset. Does the Full Moon at rising or setting seem unusually large this month? But note that the Moon at rising or setting always seems large (the “Moon illusion”), even when it is at its most distant from Earth.

Looking ahead, watch for a fairly close pairing of Venus and Saturn at dusk in mid-September. In the following weeks, Venus will become a fascinating target for telescopes afternoons and evenings until early January 2014. In late November and early December 2013, four bright planets and Comet ISON will be simultaneously visible at dawn. In winter and spring 2014, Earth will overtake Jupiter in January, Mars in April, and Saturn in May, giving each planet its turn at peak brilliance and all-night visibility. Two total lunar eclipses and a partial solar, all visible throughout California, will round out the calendar year 2014.

Robert D. Miller 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: