May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Celestial Highlights for November

Posted: Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller

The full November 2013 Sky Calendar is available online at

A common, yet often striking event, is the monthly pairing of Venus and the crescent Moon. In the closing 10 weeks of Venus’ current evening apparition, pairings will occur at dusk on Nov. 6, Dec. 5, and on Jan. 1 and 2. The pairing at dusk on Thursday, Dec. 5 will be very impressive, because around that date, Venus will attain its greatest brilliance and highest position in the evening sky. That afternoon, the Moon can even help the observer spot Venus as they move together across the daytime sky. 

Jupiter is usually the planet next in brilliance after Venus, so its pairings near the Moon, occurring at intervals of 27-28 days, are also impressive. The Moon must always be in crescent phase when it is seen near Venus, but can appear in any phase when it passes Jupiter. (Why is that?!) This month Jupiter will appear near the Moon on the night of Nov. 21-22, from four hours after sunset until dawn.

Venus appears at greatest elongation, appearing a maximum of 47° from the Sun in our sky, on 2013 Oct. 31 in the afternoon and evening sky, and on the morning of March 22, 2014. Near those dates, when viewed with a telescope Venus appears as a tiny “half moon.” About midway between those dates, on Jan. 11, 2014, Venus passes nearly between Earth and Sun, and appears as a large, very thin crescent. Five weeks before and after this inferior conjunction with the Sun, Venus reaches greatest brilliancy and appears through binoculars as a crescent about 25 percent illuminated. The 20 weeks from the end of October to late March will be an exciting time to follow Venus through telescopes and binoculars as the backlit planet swings close to Earth and displays all its crescent phases, in the daytime as well as at dusk or dawn.

On our evening twilight chart for November 2013, bright objects are plotted for each day when the Sun has sunk to 9° below the horizon, at “mid-twilight”. By then it is easy to see Venus and about half a dozen stars of first magnitude or brighter, including the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair, and Deneb high in the western sky. In November, mid-twilight in southern California (lat. 34° N) occurs about 40-43 minutes after sunset, and 45-48 minutes after sunset for the northern border of the state (lat. 42° N).

Planet positions are represented by a separate dot for each date, with positions for each Friday in November (1, 8, 15, 22, 29), represented by a larger dot and labeled. Rotate the chart until the portion of the horizon circle nearest to your target objects is below them, and you’ll see them depicted at the same orientation as they appear in the sky.

On the chart, stars’ daily positions are not plotted as individual dots, but instead by continuous tracks as the stars drift west (counter-clockwise around the North Star) in the course of the month, owing to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun.

Jupiter does not appear on November’s evening twilight chart. On Nov. 1 it rises within 4.5 hours after sunset. Its rising time shifts earlier by about 4 minutes per day, until at month’s end it will rise a few minutes before Venus sets.

Jupiter is also present in the morning, as the brightest “star” then visible. In mid-twilight, find it very high in SW on Nov. 1, moving to about halfway from horizon to overhead in west at month’s end. The other morning planet in view for entire month is Mars. In November find the red planet just over halfway up, drifting through SE early in month, ending in SSE.

Two additional planets join the morning scene as they emerge from the Sun’s glare. The November chart depicting the sky in morning mid-twilight illustrates the changing positions of the four morning planets. First, Mercury pulls out from its Nov. 1 inferior conjunction on the near side of Sun to be spotted by Nov. 8. Look low in ESE, to lower left of Spica. Mercury brightens, rapidly at first, then more slowly. Next, just after midmonth, Saturn emerges from far side of the Sun to appear to lower left of Mercury. The two planets form a close pair on Nov. 25-26 and switch places as speedy Mercury moves around toward the far side of its orbit. Saturn appears higher each morning because of the Earth’s faster orbital motion. The sample Sky Calendar at illustrates their arrangement on these and several adjacent mornings.

The calendar also shows the waning crescent Moon near Mars on Nov. 27, near Spica on Nov. 29, and near Saturn and Mercury on Dec. 1.

On Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 28, the four planets, Mercury-Saturn-Mars-Jupiter, span 120° across the sky. Later that same day, Comet ISON will pass within 725,000 miles of the Sun’s surface and make a sharp turn to the north, or upper left of the predawn Sun. Visit for updates on the comet. The November and December issues of Sky Calendar provide illustrations of its location for selected mornings.

Abrams Planetarium has created a new webpage especially for teachers at

We plan to add files to it, so you might want to check it regularly. At present, you will find downloadable files including:

  • The November 2013 Sky Calendar and evening sky map.
  • Monthly charts depicting the sky at evening and morning mid-twilight from October 2013 through December 2014, with descriptions of the evening charts. (Descriptions of the morning charts will be added later.)
  • A 2-foot by 2-foot poster showing the orbits of the six inner planets out to Saturn, with a data table for plotting the positions of the planets and a set of questions about star and planet visibility.
  • Information on the next apparition of Halley’s Comet, in 2061. (Start making plans now!)
  • Video previews of Comet ISON’s visit in November-December 2013 and of Comet Halley’s visit in July-August 2061.
  • Information about the four total lunar eclipses in 2014-2015. A version of this information applicable to California is available here.

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, 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.