September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Celestial Highlights for November 2014

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller.

Annually in late November, catch the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster visible all night: Low in ENE at dusk, high in S in middle of night, and low in WNW at dawn. A view of this beautiful star cluster through a pair of binoculars is a sight not to be missed!

The brightest stars in November at dusk:

(1) Arcturus, the “Bear-chaser” star, can still be spotted very low in WNW at dusk at start of November but disappears below the horizon by second week. Mountains to your west would hasten its departure. (2) Vega is very high in WNW, 3/4 of the way from horizon to overhead on Nov. 1, and still halfway up to overhead at month’s end. (3) Capella, the “Mother-goat” star, is very low in NNE to NE at dusk in November and very slowly gaining in altitude. Note how stars near the horizon such as Arcturus and Capella twinkle much more than stars nearly overhead, such as Vega. The twinkling, as well as the considerable dimming of stars near the horizon, is caused by the passage of their light through Earth’s atmosphere.

Other bright stars at dusk: Altair, high in SSW to WSW, marks the southern point of the Summer Triangle it completes with Vega and Deneb. Fomalhaut, “Mouth of the Southern Fish”, is low in SSE, climbing toward its highest point in S. Late in month, Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull, begins rising before mid-twilight. Look in ENE, about 14° below the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster. Aldebaran’s name is Arabic; it means “the follower”, because that star follows the Pleiades cluster across the sky. (The cluster does not appear on our star maps, because its brightest star is of 3rd magnitude; the maps plot only the stars of first magnitude or brighter, and the naked-eye planets.)

Every year around December 1, the Earth passes between Aldebaran and the Sun, and the first magnitude star appears at opposition, nearly 180° from Sun and above the horizon nearly all night. About ten days earlier, around Nov. 20-21, the Pleiades star cluster comes to opposition, rising in the ENE in deepening twilight. The scene is well described in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall:

“Many a night I saw the Pleiades,
rising thro’ the mellow shade
glittering like a swarm of fireflies
tangled in a silver braid.”

Evening planets: In Nov. 2014 at dusk, Mars is the only planet visible to unaided eye. It glows at first magnitude in SSW to SW all month. Look 1-1/4 hours after sunset to follow the eastward motion of Mars past the background stars of Sagittarius. On Nov. 4 Mars passes only 0.6 degree north of the 3rd-mag. star marking the top of the Teapot. On Nov. 10, Mars passes 2° north of a 2nd-mag. star in the Teapot’s handle. Venus passed superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on Oct. 25. Wait until just after the Sun disappears below your horizon in late November, and start searching for Venus. By November 30, Venus is 9° upper left of Sun and sets 33 minutes after sundown. In December, Venus will become easier to see with unaided eye, and during spring and early summer of 2015, it will be very impressive indeed.

Moon near bright objects: Moon, Full on Nov. 6, draws closer to Aldebaran overnight on the next night, Nov. 7-8, and pulls away from that star on night of Nov. 8-9, from two hours after sunset until dawn. A waxing crescent Moon appears near Mars at dusk on Nov. 25 and 26.

November’s dawn sky has many bright stars!

Six brightest objects are Jupiter of mag. –2.1 to –2.2, very high in SE to SW; Sirius, the “Dog star”, in SSW to SW; Mercury –0.6 to –0.9 low in ESE until it drops below mid-twilight horizon near end of 3rd week; Arcturus climbing in ENE to E; Vega emerging in NE at month’s end; and Capella well up in NW.

Other stars: The huge Winter Hexagon now appears entirely west of the meridian (N-S overhead line). In clockwise order, its stars are Sirius, Procyon, Pollux (with fainter Castor nearby, not shown), Capella, Aldebaran, and Rigel. Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder, is inside the Hexagon. Rigel will be the first star of the Hexagon to reach the western horizon, near month’s end. Jupiter and Regulus cross the meridian in pursuit of the Hexagon. Arcturus and Spica ascend the eastern sky all month. Brighter descending Mercury passes 4° N of Spica on Nov. 4, as Spica climbs higher daily.

Moon near bright objects at dawn: Moon appears near Aldebaran at dawn on Nov. 8 and 9; widely N of Betelgeuse at dawn on Nov. 10; between Procyon and Pollux at dawn on Nov. 12. At dawn on Nov. 14, find the Last Quarter (morning half moon) 5° from Jupiter, with Regulus about 8° E of the bright planet. At dawn on Nov. 15, the Moon will appear within 6° of Regulus. On Nov. 19, the waning crescent Moon will appear within 3° of Spica. Using binoculars, watch for Mercury rising 13° lower left of Moon Nov. 20, and just 2° lower right of the last old crescent Moon 40 min. before sunrise on Nov. 21.

  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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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.