September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Celestial Highlights for September 2014

Posted: Friday, August 29th, 2014

by Robert C. Victor with twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller

Mars forms colorful pairs with other objects in the southwest evening sky in September, as the red planet moves from just over 5° from yellowish Saturn on Sept. 1, to within 5° of red Antares Sept. 22-Oct. 3. Saturn with rings tipped 22° from edge-on is impressive through a telescope, if you catch it before it sinks low.

Some 40 minutes before sunrise, the brightest planet Venus can still be spotted low, north of east early in month, but in twilight, to lower left of bright Jupiter. The gap between them is 15° on Sept. 1 and widens by 1° daily, as Jupiter ascends higher, while Venus sinks deeper into the solar glare.

The crescent Moon near a planet is an attractive sight. Catch a waning crescent near Jupiter at dawn on Sept. 20, and a waxing crescent very near Saturn at dusk on Sept. 27. On Sept. 29, the lunar crescent passes above a pair of red objects, Mars and Antares, just over 3° apart.

The Moon appears in Sagittarius, not far from the center of our galaxy, on Sept. 3 and 30. Those are not good nights for viewing the Milky Way! Neither is the night of Full Moon, Sept. 8. By Sept. 13, moonrise occurs two hours after the end of twilight, allowing dark moonless skies for excellent views of the Milky Way for the next two weeks.

September 2014 at dusk

The five brightest objects in evening mid-twilight (ignoring Mercury near mag. 0, but very low in W to WSW) are: Arcturus and Vega, mag. 0.0; Saturn (+0.6); Mars (+0.6 to +0.8) fading to equal Altair (+0.8).

Evening planets: Saturn is in SW to WSW, lower as month progresses. Mars starts this month just over 5° lower left of Saturn and 18° right of Antares, heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Watch Mars move! On Sept. 5 and 6, look for a nearly vertical “fence” of three stars about midway between Mars and Antares; it marks the head of the Scorpion. By Sept. 12 Mars is equidistant from Saturn and Antares, 11° from each. On Sept. 17, Mars passes just half a degree north of 2nd-mag. Delta Scorpii, the middle star of the “fence”. Mars passes 3° N of Antares on Sept. 27 and 28, with a crescent Moon nearby on the next evening. Compare color and brightness of Mars and Antares (“rival of Mars”) for several evenings around their closest approach. Mercury is highest at midmonth, but a paltry 3° up in mid-twilight from southern California in this poor apparition, and even worse from farther north. It passes 0.6° S of Spica on Sept. 20. Binoculars, very clear skies, and an unobstructed horizon are needed to observe this event.

Stars: Spica departs in WSW. Arcturus remains prominent in W, and Antares sinks toward SW. Vega, leading star of the Summer Triangle, passes nearly overhead, with Altair and Deneb remaining east of the meridian (north-overhead-south line) at mid-twilight through September. Fomalhaut rises in SE at month’s end.

Moon in evening sky is found near Mars and Saturn on Aug. 31; near Antares on Sept. 1; near Saturn on Sept. 27; and near Mars and Antares on Sept. 29. On evenings following the Full Moons of late summer and early fall, we usually get a “Harvest Moon effect”, when the Moon rises not very much later each evening. But this year, the perigee on Sept. 7 and low inclination of the Moon’s orbit increase the daily time delay over what it can be for the Harvest Moon in most years. (The year-round long-term average delay is 50 minutes.)

This month, the smallest delay for Palm Springs is an unremarkable 41 minutes.) For those who enjoy catching a “big” reddened Moon as it first appears, here are moonrise times (in PDT) for Palm Springs, and Moon’s position along the horizon. (Mountains can delay the appearance by several minutes.)

Mon. Sept. 8, 6:47 p.m., 3° S of E

Tue. Sept. 9, 7:29 p.m., 3° N of E

Wed. Sept. 10, 8:10 p.m., 8° N of E

Thu. Sept. 11, 8:51 p.m., 13° N of E

Fri. Sept. 12, 9:34 p.m., 17° N of E

Sat. Sept. 13, 10:19 p.m., 20° N of E

Sun. Sept. 14, 11:06 p.m., 22° N of E

Mon. Sept. 15, 11:55 p.m., 23° N of E

Sun rise/set and Moon rise/set times for any location and much more are available at the Astronomical Applications Department of the U.S. Naval Observatory, at Remember to add one hour when applicable, if the data doesn’t already include a correction for daylight saving time.

September 2014 at dawn

The four brightest objects are: Venus near mag. –4, but in bright twilight and sinking out of sight at our mid-twilight viewing time during third week; Jupiter near mag. –1.8 and climbing in the east will take over the reigns. Next in brightness are Sirius in SE to SSE, and Capella nearly overhead.

The latter two are the southernmost and northernmost stars of the huge “Winter Hexagon”, in clockwise order, Sirius, Procyon, Pollux (and Castor, not shown), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, and back to Sirius. Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder, resides within the Hexagon. Regulus, the heart of Leo, the Lion, follows the Hexagon across the sky, as if to chase his next meal, with the twins of Gemini, Orion and two dogs, Auriga, the Charioteer with Capella, the mother goat, and Taurus the Bull as possible menu options. Find emerging Regulus just 0.8° south (lower right) of Venus on Sept. 5. The only other star of first magnitude visible in September’s dawns is Deneb in NW, the last star of the Summer Triangle to set.

Before morning twilight brightens, use binoculars to find the Beehive star cluster, 3° above Jupiter on Sept. 1, widening to 8° upper right of Jupiter at month’s end, as the planet moves eastward against background stars.

Moon in morning sky appears near Aldebaran on Sept. 14 and 15; widely (11°) N of Betelgeuse on Sept. 16; between Procyon and Pollux on Sept. 17; S of Jupiter on Sept. 20; and within 5° S of Regulus on Sept. 21.


— Resources —

On next month’s eclipses: Get Ready for October’s Two Eclipses [link]

For an overview of this school year, with some activities to start right away:

Getting started in skywatching (for school year 2014-2015) [link]

For a detailed account of sky events for this entire school year:

Summary of Sky Events for the School Year 2014-2015 [link]

Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets. As stars and planets come and go in morning and evening skies and display beautiful pairings and groupings, students can model these activities with the aid of these four items: Two planet orbit charts, Mercury through Mars [link]; and Mercury through Saturn [link]; a table of data for plotting planets on orbit diagrams, Heliocentric Longitudes of the Planets [link]; and an activity sheet with15 questions on star and planet visibility in 2014-2016, Seasonal Visibility of Stars, and Visibility of Planets in 2014-2016, from positions of planets in their orbits [link].

Enjoy the changing sky!

Powered By DT Author Box

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.

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.