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.
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 www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/
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.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…