September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

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.