Celestial Highlights, March Through June 2016
Posted: Monday, March 14th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Planet rising and setting graphs by Jeffrey L. Hunt
From early March through early June 2016, Earth overtakes all three bright outer planets within 90 days, each planet reaching peak brilliance and all-night visibility: Jupiter in early March, Mars in late May, and Saturn in early June. For several months following these dates of their oppositions, each respective planet will remain conveniently visible in the evening sky…at last!
In late January and for much of February 2016, early risers enjoyed a wide panorama of all five naked-eye planets across the morning sky. By early March, Mercury, heading toward its Mar. 23 superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun, disappeared from view to lower left of Venus. Look before mid-March, and you might still catch Venus low in ESE and Jupiter low in west, while Saturn with brighter reddish Mars nearby to its right adorn the southern sky. Between that pair and a little lower, look for the reddish twinkling star Antares, heart of the Scorpion.
On mornings in March 2016, Venus and Jupiter sink toward opposite horizons, Venus heading toward its June 6 superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun, and Jupiter reaching opposition to the Sun on the morning of March 8 as Earth overtakes it. With Jupiter in the west, the Sun below the eastern horizon, and Saturn in the south just over 90° W of Sun, we visualize our counterclockwise revolution around the Sun and the forward motion of our Spaceship Earth nearly toward Saturn. Venus, moving faster, is leaving us behind, and we are passing Jupiter, causing it to drop from sight in our right (west) window.
Now we change the scene to the evening sky. At dusk on March 7 (earlier on same night), we have the Sun below our western horizon, and Jupiter visible in the east. Now we’re looking out the rear window of Spaceship Earth. On March 7, we’re moving away from a point in Taurus, about 8° ENE of Aldebaran. Faster moving Mercury will emerge from beyond the Sun and have the year’s most favorable evening apparition in the western sky at dusk in April, before it transits the Sun on May 9.
As we overtake the solar system’s three bright outer planets within a 3-month interval in 2016, they’ll appear at opposition in turn: Jupiter on the night of March 7, Mars on the night of May 21, and Saturn on the night of June 2. In each case, locate the point on the ecliptic 90° east of the Sun, and that’s quite close to the direction away from which Spaceship Earth is moving, at 30 km/sec. (In the morning sky, look at the point on the ecliptic 90° west of the Sun, and that’s very close to the direction toward which Spaceship Earth is heading.)
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Following is a selection of events we suggest teachers recommend to their students to observe in the sky.
2-letter abbreviations are used for the five naked-eye planets (Me for Mercury, Ve for Venus, etc.) Also, GEE = greatest elongation of Mercury east of Sun, visible in western evening sky; UL = upper left; etc.
Angular distances between objects are not those at the time of their conjunction as listed in almanacs, nor are they the worldwide minimum separations. They are instead valid for the suggested time of observation for southern California, at dawn or dusk midtwilight, which we define as the moment when the Sun is 9° below the horizon.
Planets in evening mid-twilight, March-June 2016
Mar 21 Moon 2° from Ju, now 165° E of Sun. Note Moon’s phase
each month through Sept. 2, as it passes Ju.
Apr 8 First crescent Moon, about 39 hours after New, 9° UL of Me.
Apr 17 Me at GEE Apr 17-18, 20°, year’s most favorable evening appearance. Mercury is brighter before this date than after, because it is a backlighted, fading crescent after it passes GEE. Me will transit the Sun’s disk on May 9. (Information on Mercury’s transit and how to safely observe it will appear in next month’s article.)
Also on Apr. 17, Moon 3° LR of Ju. Within an hour after sunset from mid-April nightly into June, record in your logbook which stars of the Winter Hexagon you can spot. In clockwise order starting with Sirius, the Hexagon includes Procyon, Pollux (and Castor, not plotted on the chart), Capella, Aldebaran, and Rigel, with Betelgeuse inside. Which star will drop out on the earliest date? Which of the stars of the Hexagon will still be visible at the beginning of June? Find out by observation! You will be observing the seasonal change of the positions of stars in the sky, a consequence of the Earth’s revolution around the Sun.
May 7 First Moon, about 32 hours old, low, az ~ 285°.
May 14 Moon 4° LR of Ju. Note Ma just rising az ~ 117°.
May 21 Ma at opposition tonight (note great brilliance, equal to Jupiter’s!), 6° LR of Full Moon.
Ma retrograding near Delta in head of Scorpius. Sa rising az ~ 116°, 10° LL of Moon.
May 22 Moon, past Full, rising < 4° left of Sa. Note Antares rising 9° LL of Ma and 7°-8° right of Sa.
Jun 2 Sa at opposition tonight. Spaceship Earth is passing between Sa and Sun. As we overtake Sa, we are moving almost directly away from Ju. As we look toward Ju, we are facing out the “rear window” of Spaceship Earth.
Jun 6 Young Moon, age 24-25 hours, low in WNW, 15° below Pollux.
Jun 11 Moon, nearly at FQ, appears 5° left of Ju.
Jun 16, 17 Moon leapfrogs Ma June 16-17.
Jun 18 Moon appears 3° UL of Sa.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Robert D. Miller for his twilight sky charts, to Jeffrey Hunt for his graphs showing the rising and setting times of the planets, and to John French and Shannon Schmoll at Abrams Planetarium for helping to program the following Digistar 5 planetarium demo.
A youtube video showing a view of the morning twilight sky from mid-October 2015 until early March 2016, followed by a view of the evening twilight sky from early March through late October 2016 is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xp1bvQZDQ1Y
Illustrations of events mentioned above appear in Sky Calendar. For a sample issue and how to subscribe, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/
An activity, Modeling seasonal visibility of stars and visibility of the planets, to help students investigate visibility of bright planets and first magnitude stars, is available at the CSTA website. As stars and planets come and go in morning and evening skies and display beautiful pairings and groupings, students can model these changes and explain their observations with the aid of items provided: Two planet orbit charts, Mercury through Mars and Mercury through Saturn; a table of data for plotting planets on orbit charts (.docx file); and a sheet with questions on star and planet visibility in 2015-2016 (.docx).
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 and the planet orbit 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.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt is a retired planetarium director living in the Chicago, Illinois area. He has taught astronomy and sky watching to all ages. He learned the tricks of the trade from Robert C. Victor when he studied astronomy education at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. Jeff writes an astronomy blog at jeffreylhunt.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jeff_hunt.
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…