March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. 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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: 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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see 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.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. 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: