September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.

The morning twilight sky is rich with stars as the Winter Hexagon comprised of stars from Orion, his Dogs, the Twins, the Charioteer with Mother Goat, and Taurus, the Bull. Tracing out the Hex starting with Sirius, the brightest star, going clockwise, we encounter Procyon, Pollux (and nearby Castor, not quite first magnitude and therefore not bright enough to be plotted), Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, and back to Sirius. Inside the Hexagon lies Betelgeuse, Orion’s shoulder. The Summer Triangle’s Deneb sinks into the NW. Regulus, Leo’s heart, emerges into ENE early in month and is well up in E by month’s end. By. Sept. 22, emerging Mercury approaches within 15° below Regulus. Brightening rapidly, in its best-of-year morning appearance, Mercury reaches peak altitude just before month’s end. If you’re in southern California, can you spot the second brightest star Canopus before month’s end? It’ll be easier in October, when the star reaches its high point in the south (from Los Angeles and Palm Springs, only 3° up!), 4 minutes earlier each day, in ever darker morning skies. Choose your vantage point carefully, with no high mountains nearby to your south. 

There are two New Moons in September – on the 1st at 2:03 a.m. PDT, and on the 30th at 5:11 p.m. PDT. So this month we can observe a complete cycle of the Moon displaying all its phases, starting as a thin crescent Moon very low in the west at dusk on Sept. 2, waxing through first half of month, until it becomes Full on the 16th. Next, we can follow the waning Moon in the morning sky through Sept. 29. There are many striking events, starting with a close pairing of Jupiter and a young crescent Moon on Friday, Sept. 2. Early that evening, get to a place with unobstructed view toward west by 25 minutes after sunset, and look for Jupiter and the crescent Moon, about 5°-6° lower right of Venus. Binoculars will help! Moon occults or covers Jupiter that afternoon, but the event will be impossible to see in daylight only 18° from Sun.


Click on image to view a larger version. Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12.


Click on image to view a larger version. Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12.

Watch the Moon pass planets, as shown in our selection of illustrations from the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar. To subscribe, visit   By next evening, Sat. Sept. 3, Moon is easy to spot, about 6° upper left of Venus. On Sunday, Sept. 4, look for Spica 5° to Moon’s south (lower left). Binoculars will help. Wait for the sky to darken some, but don’t wait too long, or Spica and Moon will set! Don’t miss Moon sliding past the beautiful triangle of Saturn, Antares, and Mars on evenings of Sept. 8 and 9.

Full Moon on Fri. Sept. 16 comes up within 15 minutes after sunset. It’s fun to watch moonrises, and on next five nights the Moon rises about 40-50 minutes later each night.

Nasco Science



Click on image to view a larger version. Abrams Planetarium A 1-year subscription to the Abrams Sky Calendar consists of 4 quarterly mailings of three calendars each. The quarters begin with February, May, August, and November issues. Cost: $12.

Beginning Sept. 17, you can shift your viewing times to mornings, about an hour before sunrise, and catch the Moon passing by bright zodiacal stars: Aldebaran in Taurus on Sept. 21 and 22; Pollux and Castor in Gemini on Sept. 24 and 25; and Regulus in Leo on Sept. 27 and 28. On the Moon’s final morning, Sept. 29, the old crescent Moon will appear low in the east, just 2° below Mercury. 

Tip for telescopic observation of Moon in daytime: When Moon is within 2 days before or after half full – this month, late in afternoons of Sept 7-10, near First Quarter phase, and on mornings of Sept 21-24, near Last Quarter phase, insert a single polarizing filter into a low-power eyepiece of your telescope. Next, while viewing Moon, rotate the eyepiece until the surrounding blue sky appears darkest, increasing contrast of Moon against sky for wonderful views of lunar craters! (Threaded polarizing filters and threaded eyepieces can be obtained from Orion at I often enjoy setting up my telescope at schools before the school day begins on mornings in autumn, on days when the Moon is near Last Quarter phase and high in the sky.

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 East Lansing, MI and in and around Palm Springs. 

Robert D. Miller 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, a retired planetarium director now living in the Chicago area, has taught astronomy and sky watching to all ages.  He studied astronomy education at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. Jeff writes an astronomy blog at and can be followed on Twitter at @jeff_hunt.

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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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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.

Is This a First: Young Female Teens Propose California Water Conservation Legislation?

Posted: Monday, August 28th, 2017

Meet the La Habra Water Guardians from the Optics of their Teacher Moderator, Dr. P.

by Susan M. Pritchard, Ph.D.

You have just won the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge as one of four First Place Winners in the Middle School Category across the nation! Now, what are you going to do … go to Disneyland? No, not for four of the six La Habra Water Guardians, Disneyland is not in their future at this time. Although I think they would love a trip to Disneyland, (are you listening Mickey Mouse?), at this moment they are focused big time on one major thing … celebrating the passage of their proposed legislation: Assembly Bill 1343 Go Low Flow Water Conservation Partnership Bill and now promoting the enactment of this legislation. Learn More…

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