January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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 http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar/NovSC13.pdf.

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 www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar/ 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 www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/ison/ 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 www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/msta/

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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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. 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.