September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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.

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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.