January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

Events for Sky Watchers (Mostly mornings), May 2011

Posted: Sunday, May 1st, 2011

with a Look Ahead at Sky Events in School Year 2011-2012

by Robert C. Victor

Our May evening sky map at www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar shows three of the four brightest stars visible from mid-northern latitudes. All within a few hundredths of a magnitude of mag. 0.0, they are Arcturus, Vega, and Capella. But notice the striking differences in their colors! Spica and Pollux, also contrasting in color, are noticeably fainter, near mag. +1.0. A complete list of all ten objects of magnitude 1.5 or brighter in May skies appears in the caption of that map. For a discussion of each star’s legends, physical characteristics and more, visit James Kaler’s The 152 Brightest Stars Through Magnitude 2.90, at http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/bright.html

If you look early in the evening in the first part of May, you can still catch the “Dog Star” Sirius (the brightest star at mag. –1.5), Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, and possibly Rigel, the foot of Orion. These stars set too early to appear on the May sky map, but you can use the April map, linked from last month’s sky article in California Classroom Science.

The solitary evening planet is Saturn, in SE to S at dusk, halfway to overhead by month’s end. At mag. +0.5 to +0.7 in Virgo, Saturn outshines +1.0-mag. Spica 13°-14° to its lower left. Watch Saturn close in on the 3rd-mag. star Gamma Virginis until the second week of June, when planet and star will appear just one-quarter of a degree apart. A telescope shows the planet’s rings tipped 7.8° to 7.3° from edge-on, with their north face visible. A high-power eyepiece in steady seeing conditions reveals Gamma Virginis to be a very close binary star, current separation only 1.7 arcseconds. When Saturn gets back around to this part of the sky again in 2039-40, Gamma’s components will an easy five arcseconds apart.

The moon, in the evening sky, leapfrogs past Aldebaran low in bright twilight May 4-5, and then passes widely south of Pollux and Castor, the Gemini Twins, on May 8. After passing widely south of Regulus, heart of Leo, on May 10-11, the moon goes widely S of Saturn on May 13 and more narrowly S of Spica on May 14. Finally, just past Full, the moon passes closely north of Antares on the night of May 17-18. All these events are depicted on the May Sky Calendar.

Planets at dawn: Venus rises about one hour before sunup from lat. 40° N; at mid-twilight (when Sun is 9° below horizon) it’s about 2° up in E to ENE. Bright Venus (mag. –3.8) helps locate three other planets nearby. Drawings showing Venus-Mercury-Jupiter-Mars for every morning of the month appear on the May Sky Calendar. They depict the view for observers at lat. 34° N, where the gathering rises in a darker sky and climbs higher in morning twilight than from northern U.S. (Farther south is even better.) For all locations, binoculars are recommended for fully enjoying what can be seen of May’s clusters of planets low in bright morning twilight. After your planet viewing, stay outdoors to enjoy the spring dawn chorus of birds!

For May 2011:

  • Follow these two trios (three planets within a 5° field):
  1. Mercury-Venus-Jupiter during May 7-15
  2. Mercury-Venus-Mars during May 15-25

(Both trios will share a close Mercury-Venus pair on May 15.) Mercury has its poorest apparition of this year for northerners: although 27° W of Sun on May 7, it rises in bright twilight.

  • On May 1, find Mercury at mag. +0.8 and about 3° lower left of Venus.
  • During May 6-20, Mercury brightens through zero mag. and lingers within 1.5° of Venus, with least separations of 1.4° on May 8 and 18.
  • On May 11, Venus and Mercury pass 0.6° S and 2.1° S (lower right) of Jupiter, making the trio Me-Ve-Ju tightest, just 2.1° across.
  • From May 11 onward, Jupiter, rising over 3 minutes earlier daily, is the highest member of the four-planet gathering Ju-Ve-Me-Ma.
  • Faint Mars (mag. +1.3), after passing just 0.4° N (upper left) of Jupiter on May 1, is lowest member of foursome until mid-May, when Mercury drops lower.
  • A spectacular quartet, Venus within a triangle of fainter planets, fits into a field just over 6° across on May 12.
  • Watch the faster planets overtake Mars: On May 21, Mercury passes 2.1° S of Mars, making the trio Me-Ve-Ma tightest, 2.1° across; and on May 23, Venus goes 1.0° S of Mars.
  • A waning crescent moon appears near the morning planets on Apr. 30 and May 1, and again on May 29-31.

In Palm Springs, we’re planning to set up public viewing sessions for most mornings, May 10-23, starting about an hour before sunrise. From our vantage point, the planets will rise over a distant mountain ridge on the far side of the valley extending no more than 2 degrees above the ideal horizon. On May 10, the three brightest planets, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury, will appear above the ridge, in that order, all within a 6-minute interval, and fainter Mars will follow just 7 minutes later. On May 16, Jupiter will rise first, followed within 15-16 minutes by Venus, and then by both Mars and Mercury between five and six minutes later.

Using binoculars, I spotted Jupiter in bright twilight 13 degrees lower left of Venus this morning (April 28), for the first time since Jupiter’s solar conjunction on Apr. 6. As Mercury brightens, and Mars and Jupiter (and Mercury until mid-May) climb a little higher each morning, I am looking forward to May’s dawn planetary rendezvous.

The school year 2011-2012 will bring some planetary gatherings in the evening sky, well placed at a convenient time for observation, and mostly unencumbered by bright twilight. The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will be simultaneously visible evenings from late October 2011 until late April 2012, and will form a brilliant pair high in the western sky at dusk in March. The three bright outer planets, Jupiter (in October 2011), Mars (in early March 2012), and Saturn (in mid-April 2012) reach peak brightness and all-night visibility, and remain visible evenings for several months thereafter. Two distinct sets of four naked-eye planets will take turns on the evening celestial stage for simultaneous visibility, in late winter and early spring. Venus’ crescent phase will be easily detected through binoculars and telescopes afternoons and around sunset in April and May 2012. A major solar eclipse will be visible in western U.S. before sunset on May 20, followed by a transit of Venus across the face of the Sun for all of North America and Hawaii on the afternoon of June 5. It will be a great year to get students involved in direct observation of sky phenomena!

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing sky watching opportunities for schoolchildren in and around Palm Springs.

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.

One Response

  1. ADDENDUM: For early risers in the Palm Springs area, we have arranged five public skywatching sessions for viewing the compact gathering of morning planets, on May 10-12, 15, and 21. Details are available at the web link below. If you can’t join us any of those mornings, you (and your students) can get up early anyway, and have looks for yourselves. The views on May 10-12 will be especially striking!


    Robert Victor

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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. 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.