May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. 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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.