Celestial Highlights for September-October and School Year 2013-2014
Posted: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
by Robert Victor and Robert D. Miller
Astronomy instruction for elementary and secondary students should not fail to include the inspiration of direct observation of the night sky. Among the common visually impressive events are monthly pairings of Venus and the crescent Moon. While Venus is still visible in the evening sky this school year, Venus-Moon pairings will occur at dusk on 2013 Sept. 8, Oct. 7 and 8, Nov. 6, Dec.5, and on 2014 Jan. 1 and 2. Of these, the pairing on Sunday, September 8 will be the closest, and the Moon will even help the observer spot Venus as they move together across the daytime sky. From California, Moon and Venus appear closest, in the southeast sky shortly after 12:00 noon PDT, with Venus only 0.6 degree, or just over a Moon’s width, from the northern cusp or point of the crescent. When Moon and Venus are highest, due south nearly halfway from horizon to overhead around 3:15 p.m., they’re over a degree apart. By sunset, Venus will appear over 2 degrees to the right of the Moon. As twilight deepens, after 45 minutes look for Spica within 4 degrees to lower right of Venus – binoculars will help pick it out of the bright twilight – and Saturn some 11 degrees upper left of Venus and 9 degrees upper left of the crescent Moon.
Don’t wait until Sunday to have your students begin sky watching! During the week of Labor Day, the star Spica appears quite close to Venus, only 1.6 degrees lower left of the brilliant planet on
Thursday evening, Sept. 5. Venus now moves about a degree daily against the background, so it will be easy to notice changes in their arrangement from one night to the next. A thin crescent Moon can be easily spotted on Saturday evening, Sept. 7, if students look early enough, say half an hour after sunset. Have students keep a log of their sky watching sessions, with notes and drawings of what they see.
On Sunday evening, Sept. 8, as Moon and Venus sink into the west-southwest – because of the Earth’s rotation – the Moon creeps slowly to the upper left of Venus, owing to the Moon’s revolution around the Earth. Check again after sunset on Monday evening, Sept. 9, to see how far the Moon has progressed in 24 hours. On that evening, Saturn appears about 6 degrees to the right of the crescent Moon. By Wednesday evening, Sept. 11, the red supergiant star Antares appears within 7 degrees below the Moon, now nearly half full. On Thursday the 12th, the Moon appears just over half full, having passed First Quarter phase 90° east of the Sun earlier that day.
The Moon is Full overnight Sept. 18-19, rising not long before sunset on the 18th. For the next several evenings, the waning “Harvest Moon” comes up not much later each night, still rising before 9 p.m. on Sept. 22.
Students can follow the waning Moon in the morning sky daily an hour before sunrise from Sept. 19 through Oct. 3, watching it pass, in turn, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Jupiter, Pollux and Procyon, Mars, and Regulus. See September’s morning twilight sky map.
Daytime Moonwatch: Teachers may want to bring their students outdoors daily Sept. 23-Oct. 2 to follow the Moon as it changes from 82 percent full on Sept. 23, through 46 percent on Sept. 27 (just after passing Last Quarter phase, when it’s 90 degrees from Sun), to a thin 6 percent crescent on Oct. 2, just 28° from the Sun. Best time for this project is when students are in the playground just before classes start, or right at the start of classes, as late as 9 a.m. This activity can be repeated during Oct. 21-Nov. 1.
Whenever a planet passes near a star or another planet, the event will be great fun to track nightly for a week before and after the night they’re closest. Evening pairs coming soon include Venus-Spica on Sept. 5, Venus-Saturn 3.5° apart on Sept. 17 and 18, and Venus-Antares 1.5° apart on Oct. 16. Antares is the heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Our evening twilight chart for September helps pick out Venus, Saturn, and the brightest stars as they appear about 40 minutes after sunset.
Now in the morning sky, bright Jupiter is a slow-moving planet, taking 12 years to make one circuit around the belt of zodiac constellation. During the 2013-2014 school year, note the changing shape of the triangle Jupiter makes with the Gemini twin stars of Pollux and Castor. During Labor Day week, these twin stars appear 11°-12° lower left of Jupiter, while Mars appears some 20° more steeply lower left of Jupiter. On the weekend of Sept. 7-9, Mars passes through the Beehive Cluster of faint stars, an event best seen with binoculars. In a colorful, very pretty pairing on the morning of Oct. 15, reddish Mars will pass within 1.0 degree of the blue-white 1.4-magnitude star Regulus, heart of Leo, the Lion.
Planetary Highlights of School Year 2013-2014
Venus appears at “greatest elongation”, farthest from Sun in our sky, 47° both times, on 2013 Oct. 31 in the afternoon and evening sky, and 2014 March 22 in the morning. Through a telescope near those dates, Venus appears as a tiny “half moon.” About midway between those dates, on 2014 Jan. 11, Venus passes nearly between Earth and Sun, and appears as a large, very thin crescent. Five weeks before and after this “inferior conjunction”, Venus reaches “greatest illuminated extent,” taking up the greatest apparent area in our sky, and appears near its greatest brilliancy at about –4.9, and shows through binoculars as a crescent about 25 percent illuminated. The 20 weeks from end of October to late March will be an exciting time to follow Venus as the backlit planet swings close to Earth and displays all its crescent phases, in the daytime as well as at dusk or dawn.
Jupiter is at its brightest (mag. –2.7) and is visible all night in early January 2014 as Earth overtakes it on Jan. 5. For nearly six months after this “opposition” of Jupiter, until early July 2014, Jupiter will remain visible in the evening sky.
Mars is at its biennial closest approach (57 million miles this time) and brightest (mag. –1.5, about as bright as Sirius), as Earth overtakes it in April, creating another opposition, on Apr. 8. A total lunar eclipse on the night of April 14-15 will feature the 1.0-magnitude star Spica and brilliant Mars nearby.
Saturn is at its closest and brightest (mag. +0.1) and visible all night in early May 2014, as Earth overtakes it on May 10, creating the third opposition of an outer planet in just over four months.
Mercury becomes visible low in the WNW early evening sky in early May. From then until early June, there are four bright planets simultaneously visible at dusk. In order from east to west, they are Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury.
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.
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 http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
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. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
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
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…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
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…
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…