May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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 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.