September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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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.