Celestial Highlights for March 2013
Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2013
by Robert Victor and Robert Miller
In planning a first sky watching session for your classes, you may want to begin your observations during evening twilight so students can experience the joy of discovering and identifying the brighter stars as they first appear. Begin no later than one-half hour after sunset, or even earlier when the Moon or bright planets are visible, and continue until you have the dark-sky time needed to observe the deep sky objects on your list.
Robert Miller created the computer programs to provide us with the attached monthly sky charts tracking daily locations of the five naked-eye planets and the sixteen stars of first magnitude or brighter visible from California. Positions of the stars and planets are plotted each day at the moment the Sun is 9° below the horizon, which we have called mid-twilight. Locations of planets are plotted as a separate dot for each day, with bolder dots plotted weekly on the 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th day of the month. Star positions are plotted as continuous tracks, with all stars drifting westward (left to right on the charts) in the course of the month, owing to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun.
For the latitude of Palm Springs (and Los Angeles), near 34° N, evening mid-twilight during March occurs about 40 minutes after sunset, and morning mid-twilight occurs about 40 minutes before sunrise. From northern California, the sky will appear to be shifted farther south, depending on the difference in latitude, and Canopus, shown a few degrees up in the south from Palm Springs, will be hidden from view for northerners, below the southern horizon. Mid-twilight from lat. 40° N in March occurs about 43 minutes after sunset.
Sometimes a star is below the horizon at the start of a month, but might appear above the eastern horizon before month’s end, for example Arcturus low in ENE in evening mid-twilight in late March. On the same chart, Deneb and Mars are very low in NW and W at the start of March, but drop below the horizon within a few days.
Here is our evening chart, with description following:
Evening mid-twilight in March:
In March 2013 at dusk, what seems to be the brightest “star” is actually Jupiter, shining with a steady light, very high in SW to W in mid-twilight.
We encourage you and your students to follow Jupiter at evening mid-twilight from now until late in May. Jupiter will lead you to a spectacular evening twilight trio of Venus-Jupiter-Mercury, all within a 5° field May 24-29. The gathering will be described and illustrated in the May issue of eCCS.
Next in brilliance after Jupiter at dusk in March is the star Sirius, crossing the southern sky during March and twinkling noticeably. Ranking next after Sirius is Canopus, visible very low in the south from the southern part of our state. (Since Canopus is so low in the sky, its apparent brightness may be greatly reduced by absorption and scattering by the Earth’s atmosphere.)
To the upper right of Sirius in March at dusk are blue-white Rigel and reddish Betelgeuse, Orion’s two brightest stars. About midway between them lies the striking row of three stars marking the Hunter’s belt.
Once you spot the belt, extend the line of stars toward the east and you’ll find Sirius, the Dog Star. Extend the belt in the opposite direction and bend slightly north, and you’ll come to Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, with much brighter Jupiter 5° farther north.
Orion’s shoulder, Betelgeuse, together with Sirius and Procyon, the bright stars of Canis Major and Canis Minor (the dogs following Orion across the sky), form the Winter Triangle.
North of that Triangle are Pollux and Castor, 4-1/2° apart, marking the heads of the Twins of Gemini. Castor isn’t plotted because it is of mag. +1.6.
Just north of overhead in mid-twilight as March begins is Capella, the “Mother Goat” star under the arm of Auriga, the Charioteer.
Note the huge oval of stars, in order, Sirius-Procyon-Pollux-(Castor)-Capella-Aldebaran-Rigel, and back to Sirius. This oval is sometimes called the Winter Hexagon, or Winter Ellipse. Betelgeuse is inside the figure, and during March-April 2013 Jupiter crosses the Aldebaran to Capella line to move within the Hexagon until 2014.
Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion, was at opposition to the Sun about Feb. 18. The star then rose around sunset and was visible all night. By the start of March, Regulus is already some 20° up in the east in mid-twilight and higher as the month progresses.
During the last days of March, Arcturus starts rising before mid-twilight, and can be spotted very near the ENE horizon. You can find Arcturus earlier in March simply by looking later in the evening! The curve of the Big Dipper’s handle leads you to the star; remember, “Follow the arc to Arcturus.”
The Moon graces the sky in evening mid-twilight during March 12-26, while changing from a thin crescent low in the west on March 12, to nearly Full, low in E to ESE, on March 26. On Tuesday, March 12, Comet PanSTARRS will appear just 4° to the left of the thin crescent Moon. (Go directly to http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/CometPanSTARRSforecast.pdf
for information on when and where to look for the comet.) Follow the link to Sky Calendar www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/ for views of Moon and comet for March 12-14, as well as of the Moon passing planets and bright stars during the month. On Sunday, March 17, be sure not to miss the spectacular compact gathering of the crescent Moon with Jupiter, Aldebaran, and the Hyades star cluster! On Wed. Mar. 27, the Moon rises just a few minutes after evening mid-twilight. If you wait an hour past moonrise, you can find the star Spica within 6° lower left of the Moon, and within another hour you’ll find Saturn 17° lower left of Spica. The rising of Spica and Saturn shift to earlier evening times and even before sunset in April. In March, you’ll find them rising not too late in the evening, or can find them in the southwestern morning sky.
Here is our morning mid-twilight chart for March, showing sky from SoCal about 40 minutes before sunrise:
The waning Moon is depicted in predawn views on the Sky Calendar during March 1-10, and again beginning March 27. Watch for the Moon to pass, in order from west to east, Spica, Saturn, and Antares.
Daytime viewing: The Moon is near Last Quarter phase (half full and 90° W of Sun) on Mar. 4 and April 3. Accordingly, March 4-6 and April 1-4 will be great school days for viewing the Moon with a telescope, perhaps as the first activity of the morning, especially if the telescope’s low-power eyepiece is fitted with a single polarizing filter. Rotate the eyepiece in its tube to maximize the darkening of the blue sky.
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…