September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Celestial Highlights for May and June 2016

Posted: Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Planet rising and setting graphs by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Make necessary preparations to safely observe the transit of Mercury across the Sun on May 9. Jupiter is brightest “star” in evening sky this spring until Mars offers serious competition in late May, as the Red Planet presents its brightest and closest approach since 2005. Mars-Saturn-Antares triangle expands in size and rises earlier in evening as weeks pass. Moon-Jupiter pair up on May 14, and a “Blue Moon” and Red Mars at its brightest, team up on May 21. Provide your students chances in May and June to get close-up telescopic views of all three bright outer planets!

On our chart depicting the sky at evening mid-twilight in May, we find two bright stars, Rigel south of west, and Aldebaran in WNW, leaving the scene early in the month – they may have already departed by the date you receive this. The brightest star, Sirius, the Dog Star, is the next to go, in the WSW. Then all that will remain of the Winter Hexagon will be the “Spring Arch” of Procyon, Pollux (with Castor 4.5 degrees to its right, not shown), and Capella. Orion’s shoulder Betelgeuse, sheltered under the Arch, drops out by late May, soon after Sirius.

On the chart, bright Jupiter follows Regulus across the sky’s vertical north-south-overhead line – the meridian (Sun’s midday line) – crossing it high in the south. Golden Arcturus climbs high in the east, while blue-white Spica is in SE, climbing toward the south. In the SE, Mars first appears in evening mid-twilight around midmonth – and competes with Jupiter in brilliance — while Saturn and Antares follow about a week later. But you can see Mars, Saturn, and Antares earlier in May, simply by observing later in the evening, or before dawn.

Off in the northeast in May’s evening twilight, bright blue-white Vega appears, followed by fainter Deneb. Altair, south point of the Summer Triangle, first graces our evening twilight scene in June.

For illustrations of the following sky events in May, you are encouraged to download and reprint the free May 2016 Sky Calendar and evening sky map available at

A graph of the rising and setting times of the planets for southern California may be found here.

May 6: New Moon 12:30 p.m. PDT.

May 7: At dusk, look for first young Moon, age 31-32 hours, very low in WNW. Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, just to upper left, beautiful in binoculars! On May 8, Moon will be higher, to upper left of Aldebaran.

May 9: Transit of Mercury visible in California from sunrise until 11:42 a.m. PDT. For details and links on how to observe the event safely, see article in April California Classroom Science < link >.

May 10, 11: From one evening to the next, Moon leaps over the line joining Pollux and Procyon.

May 13: Moon, just past First Quarter phase (half full and 90° from the Sun) in afternoon and evening sky. Whenever the Moon is close to half full in a blue daytime sky, you can install a single polarizing filter in your telescope’s low-power eyepiece and then rotate the eyepiece to darken the sky, improving contrast of Moon against sky. This evening, note Regulus, heart of Leo, above the Moon.

May 14: Using binoculars a few minutes before sunset, can you spot Jupiter not far upper left of the Moon? This evening, you can’t miss it! Saturday, May 14 is ASTRONOMY DAY. Visit to find a club, planetarium, or observatory and participate in their activities.

May 15-21: This week, Mars, going west 1/3 of a degree per day against background stars, passes closely N of Delta, brightest and middle star of three in the head of Scorpius. Two hours after sunset, Mars is the brilliant reddish object low in SE. Use binoculars, and you’ll notice Mars’ changing position with respect to Delta Sco from one evening to the next

May 17, 18: The bright star near the Moon is Spica, in Virgo.

May 21: The Full “Blue Moon” and red Mars hang out together from dusk until dawn. In spring 2016, we have four Full Moons: On Mar. 23, Apr. 21, May 21, and Jun. 20. The third Full Moon of four within the same astronomical season is called a “Blue Moon”:

So tonight’s Full Moon, the third of four this spring, is a “Blue Moon”.

May 21: Mars at opposition. Tonight, as Earth overtakes Mars, we observe the red planet all night long, from dusk to dawn, in the direction opposite to the Sun. Today’s Full “Blue Moon” rises in ESE around sunset, with Mars quickly becoming visible 6°-7° to Moon’s right. Within two hours after sunset, below Moon and Mars, look for Saturn with the twinkling red first-magnitude star Antares, “Rival of Mars”, about 7.5° to Saturn’s right. For the rest of the night, these four bright objects form a striking quadrilateral, in clockwise order, Moon, Mars, Antares, Saturn. The two planets lie at the ends of the longer diagonal. Best viewing time lasts from about two hours after sunset on Sat. May 21, until 1.5 hours before sunrise on Sun. May 22. Also that night, for skywatchers in California, Syrtis Major, the most prominent of the dark markings on Mars, lies near the center of the Martian disk as the planet reaches its highest position in the southern sky, when viewing is best. For more on observing surface features of Mars, see the April issue of California Classroom Science.

If you’re inclined to observe the predawn sky at this time of year, despite the very early sunrises, you’ll find the triangle of Mars, Saturn, and Antares sinking into the southwest, Arcturus in W to WNW, the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb overhead, Fomalhaut low in SE, and, by June, Capella rising in far NE. In early June, Mercury reaches the peak altitude of an unfavorable morning apparition very low in ENE . Follow the Moon in the morning sky during May 22-June 3, and on the last day binoculars will show a thin old crescent Moon tucked just below Mercury half an hour before sunrise.

On the night of June 2, Earth passes between Sun and Saturn, and the ringed planet appears at opposition. An hour after sunset, find Saturn low in SE to lower left of Mars and upper left of Antares. Earth has now overtaken all three bright outer planets within three months, an event which hasn’t occurred since 1984. It’ll happen again in 2018, from May through July!) Now all three bright outer planets will adorn the sky at dusk until Jupiter sinks into the western twilight glow near the end of August 2016.

New Moon occurs on June 4 at 8:00 p.m. PDT. By the evening of June 6, the nearly 2-day-old crescent will be easy to spot low in WNW in twilight. Follow the waxing Moon. On June 7, it’s to lower left of the Twins, Pollux and Castor. Very low in W to Moon’s lower left, can you still spot Procyon, the Little Dog star? During June 9-11, watch the Moon march past Regulus and Jupiter. By June 11, the Moon has nearly reached First Quarter phase.

On June 14 the waxing gibbous Moon is near Spica in Virgo. During June 16-18, the Moon hops past Mars, Antares, and Saturn. By now the gap between Mars and Saturn has widened to 18°, with Mars having retrograded well to the west of the head of Scorpius. The Moon is Full overnight on June 19-20, actually at 4:02 a.m. PDT on the morning of June 20. Summer begins 11.5 hours later that day, with the solstice at 3:34 p.m.

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.

Robert D. Miller, who provided the twilight charts and the planet orbit 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.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt, a retired planetarium director now living in the Chicago area, has taught astronomy and sky watching to all ages.  He studied astronomy education at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. Jeff writes an astronomy blog at and can be followed on Twitter at @jeff_hunt.

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.

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California Science Assessment Update

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 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

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. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

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

John Keller

John Keller

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…

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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

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…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

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…

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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.