March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. 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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: 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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. 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: