May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Get Your Students Started in Sky Watching

Posted: Friday, September 30th, 2011

by Robert Victor

The current school year will be exceptionally rich for sky watching. October is a good time to get your students started!

The school year 2011-2012 will be enhanced by many spectacular sky events: evening planet gatherings, with as many as four bright planets visible simultaneously from late February until late April, and a close pairing of Venus-Jupiter, the two brightest planets, on March 13; predawn lunar eclipses on December 10 and June 4; a deep solar eclipse late in the afternoon of May 20; and a rare transit of Venus across the face of the Sun on the afternoon of June 5. In October the Milky Way passes nearly overhead at nightfall, and a sky watching session can provide good telescopic views of Jupiter and its four bright satellites discovered by Galileo, and many star clusters and other favorite deep sky objects.

Bright evening planets: Venus moves out from 13° to 20° upper left of the setting Sun in October 2011 and begins to set in a darker sky. The brilliant planet of magnitude –4 thus becomes easy for unaided eye, but you must look early, very low in the WSW evening twilight glow. Mercury emerges after midmonth, but in this poor apparition it remains low in twilight. Mercury is brighter than magnitude zero, but still much less bright than Venus, so binoculars are useful. Look just 3° lower right of Venus on the 21st. After passing below Venus, Mercury lingers only 2° lower left of the brighter planet during Oct 29-Nov. 14. Look for Venus and Mercury to the lower right of the young crescent Moon on Oct. 28. Jupiter on Oct. 1 rises N of E as darkness falls. Its rising time shifts over 4 min. earlier each day, and by the 28th Jupiter rises at sunset and reaches opposition in Aries, all-night visibility, and greatest brilliance near mag. –3. Jupiter appears near the Moon on the nights of Oct. 12 and 13, from shortly before nightfall until next day’s dawn.

On Oct. 14, Venus-Earth-Jupiter align in space. With Earth between them, Venus and Jupiter then appear to us in mutual opposition. On what date after Oct. 14 will your students first see Venus and Jupiter simultaneously? (Observers with mountains around them may have to wait until November.) Beginning on the first date some of them succeed, have them keep track of Venus and Jupiter until March 13, 2012, when they’ll form a spectacular pair just 3° apart well up in the western sky at dusk. Venus-Jupiter will then be in mutual conjunction, when Earth-Venus-Jupiter align in that order, on March 13. Coming issues of California Classroom Science and the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar will chart their progress between now and then as the Venus-Jupiter gap closes. Keep looking up! For a sample issue of the Sky Calendar and subscription info, visit

Planets at dawn: Jupiter in dawn twilight begins October well up in WSW, and sinks low, N of W, by month’s end. Mars rises after midnight and by dawn twilight is high in ESE to SE. Against stars, Mars opens October at mag. +1.3 in Cancer near the southern edge of the Beehive cluster (use binoculars to see the cluster) and goes 17° E, ending at mag. +1.1 in Leo, within 6° W of Regulus, heart of Leo. Mars will pass within 1.4° north of Regulus on the mornings of Nov. 10 and 11. Saturn and Spica emerge less than 5° apart low in E to ESE morning twilight glow in the closing days of October and rise about half an hour earlier each week.

While we’re still on daylight saving time (until November 6), take advantage of the dark morning skies available at a convenient time to get a preview of the stars where theyll appear after nightfall in February and March: Orion the Hunter and the brilliant blue-white Sirius the Dog Star high in the southern to southwestern sky, and the Big Dipper and Leo high in the northeast to southeast.

Once the Moon has passed Full on Oct. 11, students can follow the waning Moon in the predawn sky for the next two weeks until Oct 25. Catch the Moon near Jupiter before dawn on Oct. 13 and 14; near the Pleiades star cluster on Oct. 15; Aldebaran, eye of Taurus on Oct. 16; Pollux and Castor, the Gemini Twins on Oct. 19; Mars on Oct. 21; Regulus, heart of Leo, on Oct. 22; and — more difficult — using binoculars 40 min. before sunrise, try for Saturn rising 10° to lower left of the last, old crescent Moon on Oct. 25.

Even if you wait until the students arrive at school, they can use the recess period before first bell, or the opening few minutes of first period, to follow the Moon with unaided eye in the daytime sky each morning from Oct. 12 or 13 (just past Full, setting in WNW) until the Moon becomes too thin and too close to the Sun to find easily in daylight, before Oct. 25. Especially for a few mornings around Oct. 19 and 20, with the Moon near Last Quarter phase (half full), if you fit your telescope’s low-power eyepiece with a single polarizing filter, and rotate the eyepiece within its tube while you’re observing the Moon, you can darken the blue sky and greatly improve the contrast between Moon and sky. Even in daylight, craters along the lunar terminator will really stand out!

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.

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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.

One Response

  1. Y’know, there is a daytime sky as well as a night sky. Once they know how to read the clouds, students will be able to predict weather, know how sunlight and moisture team up to produce weather, and much more. It’s also interesting to compare satellite views of one’s area and what one sees from the other side. All you have to do is march the students out of the door, look up, and observe.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. 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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.