September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Celestial Highlights for March 2014

Posted: Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller

Evening Standouts: Jupiter, Sirius, and (for Southern California) Canopus; Mars, brightening, rises into early evening view –  Venus and Mars rule the dawn.

March 2014 at dusk For monthly evening and morning twilight sky maps for northern California (exact for lat. 40° N), activities and videos on changing visibility of stars and planets, and a preview of Comet Halley’s next appearance in 2061, visit

In March 2014, the two most prominent “stars” visible at dusk attain their highest positions almost simultaneously. Ranking first is Jupiter, reaching its highest position in a dark sky it will get until many years from now. From latitude 34° north (Los Angeles and Palm Springs), it passes within 11° south of overhead. Next in brilliance is Sirius, the “Dog Star”, 40° up in south. Third in brightness in early March but visible only from southern parts of our state is Canopus, passing due south about 21 minutes before Sirius does, but 36° lower.

By month’s end, as the rising time of Mars shifts earlier to mid-twilight, the red planet brightens to become almost the equal of Sirius.

Other features of early evening: A telescope shows up to four of Jupiter’s moons discovered by Galileo in 1610. Jupiter and Orion’s red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel now lie in a nearly straight line. Orion’s 3-star belt (not shown on the chart) lies midway between those two stars and points the way left toward Sirius, and the opposite way toward Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull, and beyond to the beautiful Pleiades or “Seven Sisters” star cluster (not shown). The huge “Winter Hexagon”, in counterclockwise order Sirius-Rigel-Aldebaran-Capella-Pollux-Castor (not shown)-Procyon and back to Sirius, with Jupiter and Betelgeuse within, contains 8 of the 21 stellar objects of first magnitude or brighter (16 stars and 5 planets) viewable from southern California. Their constellations include a bull backing away from a charging hunter and his two canine followers, a pair of twins, and a chariot driver with mother goat and three kids on his shoulder.

Following this menagerie is Leo, the Lion, with the bright star Regulus marking his heart. Is the Lion chasing his dinner across the sky? Quite a menu!

By March’s end, Arcturus, the “Bear Guardian” star, pops up above the ENE horizon before mid-twilight. Follow the curve of the bear’s tail (handle of the Big Dipper) through Arcturus to brightening reddish Mars rising just south of east, and to Spica, Virgo’s sheaf of grain, rising 5° to Mars’ lower right 15-20 minutes later. (In third week of March, Mars and Spica rise almost simultaneously in a dark sky about 2 hours after sunset. Earlier in March, Spica rises first.)

March Moon Madness

The waxing Moon can be spotted daily at mid-twilight in first half of March. New Moon occurred at 12:00 a.m. PST at the start of March 1.

By the evening of Sunday, March 2, the 1¾-day old crescent is very easy to spot with unaided eye. For a few more evenings, look for earthshine, illumination from sunlight reflected by the Earth onto the Moon’s dark (non-sunlit) side. Watch the crescent thicken daily as it moves farther from the Sun on each successive evening, passing the Pleiades star cluster at nightfall on March 6, and within 3° above Aldebaran by the next evening. The Moon reaches First Quarter phase, half full and 90° from the Sun, between the evenings of March 7 and 8.

The gibbous Moon is nearly up to Jupiter on the evening of the 9th, and past it and widely south of the Gemini Twins Castor and Pollux on the next evening. The Moon hops past Regulus between the evenings of March 13 and 14.

Finally, the Full Moon on Sunday, March 16 rises about 20 minutes after sunset, and at mid-twilight is 3° up and 6° south of east. Continue following the Moon for four more evenings by waiting for its rising about an hour later each night — or switch your viewing time to morning.

March 2014 at dawn

The brightest objects in morning twilight, in order of brilliance, are: Venus in southeast, slowly declining from its astounding peak brilliance in February, and now appearing as a roughly “half moon” through telescopes; Mars in SW to WSW; Arcturus high in west; Vega high in NE; Saturn in SSW to SW. Late in month, Mercury low in ESE to E brightens to outshine Arcturus, but it drops very low in bright twilight as it approaches the far side of the Sun.

Mars-Spica are 6.0° apart on March 1, closing to 5.0° apart on March 20, to a least separation of 4.8° on March 25 and 26, in the second of three conjunctions within six months. Their final pairing, just 1.3° apart, will occur in the evening sky on July 13.

Near Vega are Altair to its lower right and Deneb to its lower left, completing the Summer Triangle.

To the left of the Mars-Spica pair lies a yellowish point of light glowing steadily. A telescope reveals the rings of Saturn, now tipped over 22° from edge-on!

Extend the Mars-to-Saturn line to left of Saturn and drop down a bit, and you’ll find reddish twinkling Antares, heart of the Scorpion.

The Moon can be followed in morning twilight, starting as a Full Moon low in the west on March 16, and ending as an old crescent very low, just S of E in bright twilight, on March 29. Along the way, the waning Moon passes four planets and two first-magnitude stars, as shown in these illustrations from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar.

Of all these events, be sure you and your students don’t miss the beautiful predawn pairing of the crescent Moon with Venus on March 27. As your first activity at school that day, use the Moon to help locate Venus in the daytime.

The second New Moon of this month occurs on the 30th at 11:45 a.m. PDT.

Evening Encore:

Finally, March ends as it began, with a beautiful young crescent Moon low in the western sky at dusk on March 31. Easy for unaided eye forty minutes after sunset, it will be 8° north of west, 7 degrees above the horizon, and 32 hours old.

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.