September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Selected Sky Events for August 2012

Posted: Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

by Robert C. Victor

Events for August 7, 13-14, and 20-21 are illustrated below. For illustrations of additional events, refer to the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar. Subscription information is available at Here are the selected sky events for August, along with some questions to prompt discussions with students: 

  • Wed. Aug. 1, one hour after sunset: Saturn and Spica are now within 4.5°, forming a nearly isosceles triangle with Mars, within 8° to their west. On Aug. 3, Saturn passes conjunction with Spica in celestial longitude for the third and last time during this apparition. They reach least separation of 4° 27’ apart on Aug. 6 and won’t appear that close again until 2041. 
  • Tues. Aug. 7, one hour after sunset: Mars now pulls to within 4.8° of Saturn and within 4.2° of Spica. Saturn is within 4.5° of Spica. All three sides of the triangle remain less than 5° long tonight through August 20. Image courtesy of Abrams Planetarium. Subscriptions to the sky calendar ar  $11.00 per year, starting anytime, from Sky Calendar, Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University, 755 Science Rd, East Lansing, MI 48824 or online.
  • Sat. Aug. 11, 1-1/2 hours before sunrise: Here is a beautiful gathering of the waning crescent Moon with bright Jupiter (mag. –2.2), Aldebaran, and the Hyades star cluster. Jupiter is 4° to 5° lower left of the Moon from mid-U.S. (The Moon occults Jupiter by 12 noon from Hawaii). Aldebaran is just over 5° S of Jupiter. There is a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Aldebaran in 2012-2013, in each case the planet going N of the star. Least separations occur on July 30 and December 11 (4.7°), and on March 18, 2013 (5.1° apart).

Also visible this morning, but not shown, is Venus, now 22° lower left of Jupiter. Within a half an hour, watch for Mercury (mag. +0.9), rising 28° lower left of Venus, and Procyon, rising 15° right of Mercury.

  • Mon. Aug. 13, one hour before sunrise: Venus appears within 4° E of the waning crescent Moon from mid-U.S. This is a perfect day to use the Moon to follow Venus long into daylight hours. The Moon occults Venus in afternoon from most of North America, soon after 1 p.m. PDT from U.S. West Coast but just before moonset from E coast. For a map and timetable of disappearance and reappearance, visit To convert UT to your local time, use Image courtesy of Abrams Planetarium. Subscriptions to the sky calendar ar  $11.00 per year, starting anytime, from Sky Calendar, Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University, 755 Science Rd, East Lansing, MI 48824 or online.

In morning twilight, Mercury (mag. +0.5) is 28° lower left of Venus. (See Aug. 15 and 16.) Also visible is Jupiter (mag. –2.2), 23° upper right of Venus. Keep watch low in ESE for the rising of the Dog Star Sirius, 26° to the right and a little lower from Procyon, the “before the dog” star announcing the imminent rising of Sirius.

  • Tues. Aug. 14, one hour after sunset: A striking, nearly straight-line arrangement of three bright objects: Saturn (mag. +0.8) highest, with Mars of mag. +1.1 located 2.7 degrees below Saturn on their evening of least separation, and finally +1.0-mag. Spica 1.8° below Mars. Mars and Spica were closest last night, 1.7° apart. Tonight’s distances in light travel time: Mars 14 minutes, Saturn 85 minutes (6 times as far away as Mars), and Spica 260 years.
  • Wed. Aug.15, one hour before sunrise: This morning Venus (mag. –4.4) reaches greatest elongation, 46° W of Sun. Through a telescope it appears as a half-illuminated disk, 0.4 arcminute across. Far to its lower left is a beautiful crescent Moon, with +0.1-mag. Mercury 8° or 9° to its lower left. 
  • Thurs. Aug. 16, 45 minutes before sunrise: This morning is Mercury’s turn to reach greatest elongation, in this case just 19° W of the Sun. Also on this date, Mercury reaches its least distance from Venus during this apparition, 27°. Binoculars might help you spot the thin old crescent Moon, rising about 6° below and a little right of Mercury. The Sun is about 8° below the ENE horizon, 19° lower left of Mercury. 

Visualize this: If you could park yourself in space north (upper left) of the Sun, so you could watch from “above” the solar system to see the planets revolve around the Sun, in which direction would they go? Recall that Venus passed inferior conjunction, between Earth and Sun, during the transit on June 5, and Mercury passed inferior conjunction, but without a transit, on July 28. Both planets pass greatest elongation just a day apart on Aug. 15-16, and are therefore now heading around toward the far side of the Sun. Earth is revolving around the Sun also, but Mercury and Venus, on the inside tracks, are going faster. From the vantage point north of the solar system, the planets revolve counterclockwise around the Sun. Mercury will reach superior conjunction on Sept. 10, but Venus won’t do so until March 2013.

Here is another question to ponder: Venus reaches its greatest brilliance about five weeks before and after inferior conjunction, while it’s in crescent phase about one-fourth full, on the nearer side (but not the closest point) of its orbit. But Mercury is brightest close to superior conjunction, when it is near its maximum distance from Earth. So now, even though both planets are near greatest elongation west of the Sun, Venus is fading and Mercury is getting brighter. Can you explain why?

  • Mon. Aug. 20, one hour after sunset: The triangle Mars-Saturn-Spica, for the last time, is still less than 5° on each side. The shortest side is Mars-Saturn, 4.1° long. Look early to catch the Moon about 12° lower right of Spica.
  • Tues. Aug. 21, one hour after sunset: Here’s a compact gathering of the crescent Moon, two planets, and a star, all within a 6.5° field. Can you fit all four bodies within the field of view of 7-power binoculars? Of the three bright stellar bodies, Mars (mag. +1.2), Saturn (mag. +0.8) and Spica (+1.0), which do you think will still be visible evenings in October? (In fact, it will still be visible at dusk at year’s end.)

I hope you have enjoyed the selection of sky events for August. In the rest of 2012, we’ll see spectacular conjunctions of the waning crescent Moon and Venus before dawn on Sept. 12, Oct. 12, Nov. 11, and Dec. 11. Jupiter will appear near the Moon on the mornings of Sept. 8, Oct. 5 and 6, Nov. 1 and 2, and evenings of Nov. 1, 28, and Dec. 25. Venus and Saturn will appear in a close pairing on the mornings of Nov. 26 and 27. All these and many more events will be illustrated in future issues of Sky Calendar.

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.


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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. Thanks so much for all your good work! I printed it!

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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.