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 www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar/.
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.
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…