September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Summary of Sky Events for the School Year 2014-2015

Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Robert Victor

Your students can receive much inspiration from direct observation of nature. As you present astronomy, we encourage you to include opportunities for direct observation of the heavens. Here, we offer a summary of sky events for the school year 2014-2015 and beyond, to assist in planning your instruction.


Teachers who want students to view Saturn’s rings through a telescope at a convenient early evening hour should plan a sky watch for September 2014. In October, Saturn will be sinking low into the southwest evening twilight glow, not to return to the early evening sky until mid-May 2015. By May, sunset occurs quite late, which might discourage some parents of young students from bringing their children to a sky watch. Yet the presence of three planets most impressive for telescopic viewing will make sky watching in late May through June 2015 very attractive, in spite of the late hour of nightfall.

October’s Two Eclipses: The total lunar eclipse in the early predawn hours of Wednesday, October 8, 2014 may be witnessed by few Californians of school age. (Two total lunar eclipses in 2015 at more convenient times await us before dawn on April 4 and at dusk on September 27.) On Thursday afternoon, Oct. 23, 2014, there will be a major partial solar eclipse. If you plan to have your students observe it directly, be sure to order solar eclipse filters in time. See separate article, Get Ready for October’s Two Eclipses .



Each month, have students search for the young crescent Moon in the western sky at dusk on the earliest possible date, usually one to three days after New Moon. Then, by observing the Moon nightly for the next two weeks, the student can follow the Moon as it moves eastward against the background of naked-eye planets and bright stars of the zodiac. Several examples occur in the sky event summary below.

A really outstanding event during School Year 2014-2015 is the simultaneous visibility of the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, in the early evening sky from late January 2015 through late July-early August. In late January, these two planets will begin to present themselves on opposite sides of the sky. As months pass, they’ll gradually come together for an event of high visual interest, a spectacular close pairing of Venus and Jupiter on the evening of June 30, 2015, when they will appear just one-third of a degree apart in the western sky. The five-month run-up from late January to June 30 provides an excellent chance for students of all ages to follow the planets and watch for changes. Students can model the observed changes by plotting the planets’ positions on orbit diagrams or by “acting out” the motions of the planets in the classroom.

Here is our Summary of Celestial Highlights for School Year 2014-2015. Additional details appear each month in California Classroom Science.

September 2014

Sept. 27, early evening: Crescent Moon 2° lower right of Saturn. Mars passes 3° above Antares tonight and tomorrow evenings; compare their colors!

Sept. 29, early evening: Compact gathering of Moon, Mars, and Antares.

October 2014

Oct. 8, early predawn hours: Total lunar eclipse. For details, see article, Get Ready for October’s Two Eclipses <link to article>.

Oct. 23, in afternoon: Partial solar eclipse.

Oct. 25 at dusk: Can you spot Saturn 4°-5° lower right of young Moon?

Oct. 26 at dusk: Antares 8° lower left of Moon.

Oct. 27 and 28, dusk: Mars near Moon.

November 2014

Nov. 3 and 11-12, nightfall: Mars passes close to stars in the Teapot of Sagittarius.

Nov. 23 at dusk: Young Moon low in SW to WSW.

Nov. 25 and 26 at dusk: Mars near Moon.

December 2014

Dec. 22 at dusk: Look early in evening twilight for Venus 6° lower left of thin crescent Moon.

Dec. 23: Look early in evening twilight for Venus 13° below and slightly right of crescent Moon.

Dec. 24 at dusk: Find Mars 6° left of Moon.

Dec. 29 at dusk: Look early in evening twilight for Mercury within 4° lower right of bright Venus. Binoculars help. As sky darkens, find Mars 25° upper left of Venus.

Mercury will get easier to spot in coming days, as it moves higher and closer to Venus, which is itself getting a little higher daily.

Watch these three evening planets daily until two of them drop out.

January 2015

Jan. 1 at dusk: Note Aldebaran lower left of Moon, and check hourly for several hours. In early evening twilight, note Mercury 2.8° lower right of Venus, and Mars 24° to Venus’ upper left. Look nightly. As sky darkens, before Mars sets, note 3rd- and 4th-mag. stars near Mars and watch for nightly changes in the position of Mars.

Jan. 2 at dusk: Aldebaran 8° upper right of Moon. Mercury 2.5° lower right of Venus. Mars 23° upper left of Venus.

Jan. 5 at dusk: Mercury 1.6° lower right of Venus. Mars 22° upper left of Venus. Look nightly!

Jan. 6 at dusk: Mercury 1.3° lower right of Venus. Can you guess what will happen at the end of this week?

Jan. 7 at dusk: Mercury 1.0° lower right of Venus. Mars 21° upper left of Venus.

Jan. 8 at dusk: Mercury 0.8° lower right of Venus. Don’t miss next several nights!

Jan. 9 at dusk: Mercury 0.7° lower right of Venus. Mars 20° upper left of Venus.

Jan. 10 at dusk: Mercury just over 0.6° lower right of Venus. This is as close as they will get this time around! As seen from Earth, Mercury does not overtake Venus, but falls short. This event is called a quasi-conjunction, an approach within 5° but with no actual conjunction, when one planet passes another and shares the same right ascension or celestial longitude, the “x-coordinate” for describing apparent motions of planets.

Jan. 11 at dusk: Mercury 0.7° lower right of Venus, a little farther than last night. Mars 19° upper left of Venus.

Jan. 12 at dusk: Mercury 0.8° lower right of Venus.

Jan. 13 at dusk: Mercury nearly 1.1° lower right of Venus. Mars about 18° upper left of Venus tonight and tomorrow.

Jan. 14 at dusk: Mercury 1.4° lower right of Venus. Mercury now appears at greatest elongation, farthest from Sun this time around, 18.9°.

Jan. 15 at dusk: Mercury 1.7° lower right of Venus.

Jan. 16 at dusk: Mercury 2.2° lower right of Venus. Mars 17° upper left of Venus.

Jan. 17 at dusk: Mercury 2.8° lower right of Venus.

Jan. 18 at dusk: Mercury 3.5° lower right of Venus. Mars 16° upper left of Venus.

Jan. 19 at dusk: Mercury 4.4° lower right of Venus. Mercury has been fading slowly. It is now of mag. 0 and will fade more rapidly in coming days, as it heads between Earth and Sun and shows us less of its lighted side. Try to observe Mercury on the last possible date, as weather allows. Binoculars will help!

Jan. 20 at dusk: Mercury 5.5° lower right of Venus. Mars 15° upper left of Venus.

Jan. 21 at dusk: A beautiful gathering of the young crescent Moon and all three of the other terrestrial planets of our solar system. Look for the crescent Moon low in WSW with brilliant Venus 5° to its left and a little lower. Mercury is 5°-6° below the Moon, and Mars is 16° to Moon’s upper left.

Jan. 22 at dusk: The Moon has climbed higher since last evening, and now Mars is 3°-4° to its left. Venus shines 13°-14° below the Moon, and Mercury glows at first magnitude 8° to Venus’ lower right. Mercury will fade sharply in next few nights, so you may have difficulty following it through the weekend.

Jan. 23 at dusk: Find Mars about midway between Venus and the crescent Moon, about 13° from each. Binoculars may show Mercury within 10° lower right of Venus.

Jan. 28 at dusk: Tonight and tomorrow evening, near the Moon, look for the star Aldebaran, eye of Taurus the Bull. Look for Mars 11° upper left of Venus. Not long before Venus sets in WSW, watch in the opposite direction, ENE, for Jupiter rising. If you look at the right time of evening, you will easily catch both planets simultaneously. Tonight they are 167° apart. Keep track of these two brightest planets for the next five months, until a wonderful event involving Venus and Jupiter will take place on June 30. Make sure to make arrangements to view the planets through a telescope that night!

February 2015

Feb. 3 at dusk: In case you missed seeing Jupiter, here it is, just 5°-6° to the left of the Full Moon early this evening. Before it rises too high, catch brilliant Venus low in WSW, with Mars 8°-9° to its upper left. Jupiter will reach opposition and all-night visibility on Feb. 6 as Earth passes between Sun and Jupiter.

Feb. 11 at dusk: Starting tonight through March 4, Mars is never more than 5° away from brilliant Venus. In ten days, on Feb. 21, they’ll appear only 0.4° apart.

Around midtwilight this evening (Feb. 11), some 40 or 45 minutes after sunset, Venus in WSW and Jupiter N of E are both about 15° above the horizon, and you should have no difficulty seeing both simultaneously unless your view is blocked by nearly mountains.

Keep watch of these two brilliant planets until the end of June and about a month beyond, and enjoy the show!

Feb. 15 at dusk: Venus-Mars within 3°.

Feb. 17 at dusk: Venus-Mars only 2° apart.

Feb. 19 at dusk: Venus-Mars only 1.1° apart! Look for a very thin crescent Moon within 14° lower right of Venus. Don’t miss Friday evening’s spectacular gathering!

Feb. 20 at dusk: Early this evening, brilliant Venus gleams only 1°-2° to the south (lower left) of the young crescent Moon with earthshine on its dark side. Face WSW to W. Dim Mars glows just 0.7° to upper right of Venus tonight. This is a real treat for unaided eye, binoculars, and telescope! Don’t overlook Jupiter – just turn around!

Feb. 21 at dusk: The Moon has moved on since last night, and so it appears some 14° upper left of Venus. Mars is just 0.4° north (upper right) of Venus at their conjunction tonight. Follow these objects nightly.

Feb. 24 at dusk: A fat crescent Moon is about 8° S of the Pleiades star cluster. Note the bright star Aldebaran about 12° E of the Moon. Check again tomorrow evening. Venus-Mars are now 1.4° apart.

Feb. 25 at dusk: Aldebaran is less than 2° to Moon’s upper right. Venus-Mars are 1.8° apart.

March 2015

Mar. 2 at dusk: Bright Jupiter is 6° N of Moon. Mars is 4° lower right of Venus.

Mar. 4 at dusk: Venus-Mars 5° apart. Venus-Jupiter are nearly 120° apart; 118 days to go!

Mar. 5 at dusk: Full Moon rises shortly after sunset. As sky darkens, note lineup of four solar system bodies along a line arching almost overhead. From west to east, they are Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon.

Mar. 15 at dusk: Venus-Mars have spread to 10° apart. Venus is getting a little higher each day, Mars a little lower.

Mar. 21 at dusk: The Moon is back! Look for the thin crescent low in west within 12° below Venus. Note Mars just 1°-2° lower right of the crescent. Can you guess where the Moon will appear tomorrow evening?

Mar. 22: This afternoon before sunset and at dusk look for Venus 3°-4° from the crescent Moon. As the sky darkens, Mars appears 13° to the lower right of Venus. Jupiter shines well up in ESE. Regulus, heart of Leo the Lion, appears 17° to Jupiter’s lower left. How many days do you think must pass before the Moon will appear near Jupiter? Tonight, while the Moon is still thin, use binoculars to look for the Beehive star cluster, 5°-6° upper right of Jupiter.

Mar. 24 at dusk: Moon near Hyades cluster and Aldebaran, a bright foreground star. Venus-Mars 14° apart; Moon-Aldebaran 3° apart.

Mar. 27 at dusk: Venus and Jupiter are now 90° apart. In 95 days, a very special event will occur involving these two bright planets. Mars now appears 15°-16° lower right of Venus.

Mar. 29 at dusk: Tonight the Moon appears closest to Jupiter, as it passes 6° to the planet’s south.

April 2015

Fri. Apr. 3: The Moon rises less than half an hour before sunset this evening. As the sky darkens, watch for the rising of Spica 13°-14° below and a little left of the Moon. A lunar eclipse gets underway early on Saturday morning, April 4, as the Moon begins to enter the umbra, or dark central core of Earth’s shadow, at 3:16 a.m. PDT. The eclipse is total for only 5 minutes, between 4:58 a.m. and 5:03 a.m. while the Moon passes through the outmost part of Earth’s dark shadow. Even during totality, the eclipsed Moon may be very colorful, with a bright northern edge. Spica will appear about 10° to upper left of the Moon during totality. After 5:03 a.m., the Moon slowly withdraws from Earth’s shadow, but for Californians the Moon will set, around sunrise, while still in partial eclipse.

Sat. Apr. 4, predawn lunar eclipse. See entry for Apr. 3.

Apr. 4 at dusk: Watch for moonrise about 10° S of E within 20-30 minutes after sunset. As the sky darkens and Moon rises higher, look for Spica about 3° to Moon’s lower right. Within an hour after sunset, look for a lineup of four solar system bodies stretched along a line nearly 170° long. From W to E they are Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon. If you include some well-known background objects in the broader belt of the zodiac, then the list becomes: Mars; Venus; Pleiades star cluster, Hyades star cluster, and Aldebaran, of Taurus; Castor and Pollux of Gemini; the Beehive cluster of Cancer; Jupiter; Regulus of Leo; the Moon; and Spica of Virgo.

Apr. 10-12 at dusk: Using binoculars as the evening sky darkens, look for the beautiful Pleiades star cluster as Venus passes 2°-3° to its south. Can you still see dim Mars about 22° to Venus’ lower right? Through binoculars, the Beehive cluster appears 5° west of Jupiter. Two months past its Feb. 6 opposition, Jupiter has ended retrograde and begins normal eastward motion, away from the cluster. Not until the year 2026 will Jupiter again appear as close to the Beehive.

Apr. 13 at dusk: Tonight the star Spica in Virgo reaches its annual opposition to the Sun. The star is visible all night, setting just a few minutes before sunrise. You can estimate the time of night by observing Spica’s position in the sky. Spica reaches its high point in the south in the middle of the night, about 12 hours after the Sun does so.

Apr. 18 at dusk: Look early during evening twilight, very low in WNW, for Mercury, of magnitude –1.4 and 30° lower right of Venus. As sky darkens a little, before Mercury sets, look for fainter reddish Mars (mag. +1.4) 5° upper left of Mercury and 25° lower right of Venus. Mercury begins its evening apparition at considerable brightness, but low in bright twilight. Although Mercury will fade in coming weeks, it’s getting higher day-by-day until May 5, and for now it’s getting easier to see.

Apr. 19 at dusk: About 40 minutes after sunset, look for a thin, young crescent Moon very low in W to WNW, 24° lower right of Venus. Just 7° lower left of Venus, find Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, the Bull. About 7°-8° lower right of the Moon, look for Mercury, very low. Within 4° upper left of Mercury and about 4° lower right of Moon, look for faint Mars.

Apr. 21 at dusk: As evening twilight deepens, find the crescent Moon well up in west, with brilliant Venus 7°-8° to its right, and Aldebaran 5° to Moon’s lower right. Some 27° to Venus’ lower right find the Mercury-Mars pair 1.5° apart, low in WNW, with Mars as the fainter member, to Mercury’s upper left.

Apr. 22 at dusk: This evening Mercury appears to overtake Mars, as our solar system’s innermost planet passes 1.3° north (upper right) of the faint more distant red planet. Look for the planet duo low in WNW, 27° to lower right of brilliant Venus. Both members of the pair are now beyond the Sun, or more distant from us than the Sun is. Mercury, moving faster than Earth, is gaining on us and getting higher each evening until rounding the “top of its orbit” as seen from Earth in the first week of May. Mars, moving slower than Earth, is being left behind, so it appears lower each evening, until it reaches conjunction with the Sun in mid-June. Bright Jupiter now appears high in SSW at dusk, 60° east (upper left) of Venus tonight. Jupiter will eventually suffer the same fate as Mars, that is, it will get lost in the glare of the Sun, but not until August.

The zodiac belt or plane of the solar system is well marked by four planets and several bright stars. In order from W to E, they are the Mercury-Mars pair, 1.3° apart; the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster 14° to upper left; the Venus-Aldebaran pair 8° apart and 13°-14° upper left of the Pleiades; the Moon, 17°-18° upper left of Venus-Aldebaran; Pollux (with its fainter Gemini Twin, Castor, 4.5° away), 28° upper left of the Moon; Jupiter, 20° E of Pollux; Regulus, heart of Leo, 17° E of Jupiter; and finally Spica, the spike of wheat in the hand of Virgo, low in ESE to SE, 54° E of Regulus.

Apr. 24 at dusk: Find bright Mercury (now of mag. –1.0) low in WNW 25° to Venus’ lower right. Can you spot Mars (mag. +1.4) 3° below and a little left of Mercury, and the Pleiades star cluster 10° above Mercury? By Apr. 27, Mercury will narrow the distance to the Pleiades to just 5°, and widen its distance from Mars to nearly 6°.

Apr. 25 at dusk: Tonight the Moon is just past First Quarter phase, when it’s 90° E of the Sun and half full. Tonight and tomorrow the Moon is not far from bright Jupiter.

As the Earth moves in orbit around the Sun, it’s moving directly away from a place in the sky 90° from the Sun, just upper right of tonight’s First Quarter Moon. Each year around Apr. 27, the Earth moves directly away from the Beehive cluster in Cancer, the Crab. By late in July the cluster is hidden on the far side of the Sun.

Apr. 27 at dusk: The waxing gibbous Moon has moved 19° E of Jupiter and passes only 4° S of Regulus, heart of Leo. Bright Mercury (mag. –0.7) is low in WNW. Binoculars help locate the Pleiades star cluster about 5° above, and Mars nearly 6° below Mercury.

Apr. 30 at dusk: Tonight through May 8, Mercury fades from mag. –0.4 to +0.5 and stays 22° lower right of Venus. In only three weeks, the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster will be on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth and will therefore be hidden from view. But tonight, with the help of binoculars, the cluster can be spotted in twilight, within 2° upper right of Mercury.

May 2015

May 1 at dusk: Find Spica about 5° below the Moon, two days short of Full.

May 2 at dusk: Tonight and all next week, Mercury is highest in its current evening apparition, 10° up in WNW at midtwilight, some 47-48 minutes after sunset from lat. 40° N. But in one week from tonight until May 9, the planet fades from mag. –0.2 to +0.6. Look soon, rather than waiting!

May 6 at dusk: Venus-Jupiter are 45° apart tonight; 55 days to go! Mercury reaches greatest elongation tonight, 21° east of Sun.

May 8 at dusk: Tonight a planet and two first-magnitude stars lie 22°-23° from Venus: Mercury (mag. +0.5) to Venus’ lower right; Aldebaran 8° to Mercury’s lower left; and Pollux to Venus’ upper left. Aldebaran and Pollux are 45° apart, with Venus midway between them tonight.

May 11 at dusk: Mercury, now of mag. +1.0 and 23° lower right of Venus, becomes difficult to observe this week. Mercury will fade to mag. +2.0 by Saturday, when it will be 27° to Venus’ lower right. Using binoculars, try for first-mag. Aldebaran within 8° lower left of fading Mercury all this week. If you spot Mercury, try to see four planets simultaneously; in order, they are: Mercury, very low in WNW, to lower right of Venus; Jupiter well up in WSW; and Saturn very low in ESE. Mars at a dim mag. +1.5 sets before midtwilight and just after Saturn rises, so it would be very difficult to see all five naked-eye planets simultaneously. An easy opportunity to do so will come in late January and early February 2016, before dawn.

May 19 at dusk: A beautiful thin crescent Moon with earthshine can be spotted in WNW, 22° lower right of Venus. Mercury at mag. +2.8 and 12° lower right of the Moon is likely too faint to be spotted in bright twilight, even with binoculars. Follow the Moon daily at dusk for next two weeks.

May 20 at dusk: Moon 11° below Venus.

May 21 at dusk: Moon 9° lower left of Venus. Venus forms an isosceles triangle with Gemini’s “Twin” stars Pollux and Castor, 9° from each. Jupiter is 30° upper left of Venus. Only 40 days until their spectacular event!

May 22 at dusk: Moon 18° upper left of Venus and 14° lower right of Jupiter, and 15° left of Pollux, in a nearly straight line with the Twins. Venus-Jupiter-Saturn span 135°. Saturn is now at opposition and visible all night.

May 23 at dusk: Moon 5°-6° lower left of Jupiter.

May 24 at dusk: Moon 5° lower right of Regulus. Tomorrow evening it will be 10° lower left of Regulus.

May 28 at dusk: Moon 9° upper right of Spica. Tomorrow evening it will be 5° left of Spica.

May 29 at dusk: Venus passes 4.0° south (lower left) of Pollux. Castor is 4.5° to right of Pollux.

May 31 at dusk: Locate Saturn 8° lower left of Moon, and Antares 11° below and a little left of Saturn.

June 2015

June 1 at dusk: Venus lies in a nearly straight line with the Gemini Twins, Pollux and Castor, 5° and 9.5° to Venus’ right. June will be an excellent month for impressive telescopic views of the “showpiece” planets. Venus, now about half illuminated, will become a crescent, one-third full and nearly 50 percent larger in apparent size by month’s end as the planet begins its swing between Earth and Sun and draws closer. Jupiter, 20° to upper left of Venus tonight, shows its lineup of four satellites discovered by Galileo, and two dark equatorial cloud belts. Saturn shows its incomparable rings, now tipped 24° from edgewise.

Tonight Saturn (mag. +0.1) is 5° upper right of the nearly Full Moon. Antares, heart of the Scorpion, is 11° below Saturn.

June 2 at dusk: Moon, just past Full, is 18° lower left of Saturn and 13° left of Antares. Tonight and tomorrow after darkness falls, use binoculars to search for the Beehive cluster about midway between Venus and Jupiter, 9°-10° from each.

June 6 at dusk: Venus reaches greatest elongation, 45° from Sun. The planet is rounding the apparent end of its orbit and rapidly approaching Earth.

June 7 at dusk: Using binoculars at nightfall, look for the Beehive cluster 5° upper left of Venus and 10° lower right of Jupiter.

June 12 at dusk: Through binoculars or a telescope tonight and Saturday after nightfall, look for the Beehive cluster centered about one degree south of Venus. Jupiter is about 11° upper left of Venus.

June 13 at dusk: Saturn is 12° upper right of Antares this weekend.

June 14 at dusk: Venus-Jupiter are 10° apart. Just 16 days to go!

June 17 at dusk: Using binoculars about 30 minutes after sunset, try for young Moon very low in WNW about 27° lower right of Venus. Tonight Jupiter is 8° to Venus’ upper left. Just 13 days remain until their spectacular conjunction!

June 18 at dusk: Moon easy to see this evening, in W to WNW, 16° lower right of Venus.

June 19 at dusk: Moon in W, about 7° lower left of Venus. Jupiter-Saturn are now 100° apart. About 5½ years from now, on the evening of December 21, 2020, Jupiter-Saturn will have a spectacular pairing, their closest since 1623. Mark Dec. 21, 2020 on your calendar, and keep track of Jupiter and Saturn until then!

June 20 at dusk: Jupiter 6° to Moon’s upper right, and 6° upper left of Venus. Only ten days to go! Note also Regulus about 8° upper left of Moon.

June 21 at dusk: Regulus 6° right of crescent Moon and 10° upper left of Jupiter. Tonight Jupiter is just over 5° upper left of Venus. Just 9 days to go!

June 23 at dusk: Venus-Jupiter 4° apart. One week to go! Nearly 90° from Sun, Moon is approaching First Quarter and is nearly half full.

June 25 at dusk: With only five days until their close conjunction on June 30, Venus-Jupiter this evening are within 2.8° apart. Look for Spica in SSE, about 3° lower left of gibbous Moon, two-thirds full.

June 26 at dusk: Spica is 12° right of gibbous Moon, three-quarters full.

June 27 at dusk: Find Saturn 11° lower left of gibbous Moon. Venus-Jupiter are 1.6° apart.

June 28 at dusk: Saturn is 2° to Moon’s lower right. Antares, heart of the Scorpion, is 12°-13° to their lower left. Venus is just 1.1° to lower right of Jupiter. Now two days before their closest pairing, they can already be viewed together within the same field of view of a telescope.

June 29 at dusk: In the west, Venus and Jupiter appear just 0.6° apart, with Jupiter still to upper left. What will the pair look like tomorrow evening? In SE to SSE, the Moon two days before Full appears 15° lower left of Saturn and 9° upper left of Antares.

June 30 at dusk: Do not miss this spectacular pairing of Venus and Jupiter, just one-third of a degree apart during evening twilight! Fit them in the same telescope field, and you’ll notice that Venus is a crescent, one-third full, while fully-lit Jupiter is accompanied by its four Galilean satellites, brightest Ganymede to the east of the planet, and Europa, Io, and Callisto to the west. Tonight, the disks of Venus and Jupiter appear the same size, because Jupiter, with an actual diameter 12 times that of Venus, is by coincidence at this conjunction, 12 times farther away. Viewed with a magnification of about 60-power, both planets will appear as large as the Moon does with unaided eye, 32 minutes across, or just over half a degree.

July 2015

July opens with Venus-Jupiter just 0.6° apart, and the star Regulus just 8° to their upper left. The two planets spread farther apart, to 1° on July 2, to nearly 2° on July 4, and to 5° on July 13. It is during this period Venus attains greatest brilliance at mag. –4.7 while showing a thin crescent resolvable even in binoculars, if you look in afternoon or not long after sunset, to reduce the glare of Venus against a darkened sky.

The star Regulus remains the highest member as the gathering sinks lower into the twilight glow each evening in July. On July 14, Venus approaches within 2.4° below Regulus and gets no closer: A quasi-conjunction! On July 18, the waxing crescent Moon makes one final, spectacular pass just over a degree south (lower left) of Venus. On July 23, Venus-Jupiter are 6.3° apart while Regulus, 4° from each planet, marks the apex of an attractive isosceles triangle. Follow them for another week or so until they disappear into twilight.

In School Year 2015-2016, a total lunar eclipse on evening of Sept. 27, 2015, and…

By late summer 2015, the planet-watching scene shifts into the eastern morning sky. Keep watch during dawn twilight, and you can catch Mars emerging by late July 2015, Venus by late August, Regulus in early September, and Jupiter in the second week of September. So not long after the 2015-2016 school year begins, three planets will adorn the eastern sky. From the second week of October until early November, Mercury will add a spark of light to the twilight glow, well to the lower left of the prominent gathering.

After their spectacular June 30 evening pairing, Venus and Jupiter will have a second pairing in 2015, well up in the eastern morning sky before sunrise, on October 25 and 26. Then they’ll appear 1.1 degrees apart, again fitting within a low-power telescope field. Venus will appear half full at that conjunction, but only three-quarters the apparent size of Jupiter.

An added bonus is that Mars will appear near the Venus-Jupiter pair, so that all three planets will fit into a 5° binocular field, forming a “trio” for eight mornings, Oct. 22-29, 2015. Yet another perk will be that the Moon will form impressive gatherings with the planets on the mornings of September 10-11, October 8-11, and November 6-7. With daylight saving time still in effect in September and October, you and your students can observe these gatherings in the fall of 2015 at a time not too much earlier than the start of your school day.

Finally, in January-February of 2016, there will be a wonderful opportunity to observe the Moon and all five naked-eye planets simultaneously, in a long arc across the morning sky Jan. 23-Feb. 7. The Moon then drops out, but the five planets continue to be visible in twilight until Mercury drops out in late February or early March, depending on your latitude. The Moon returns to the scene on Feb. 22. There will be no conjunctions of planets throughout the period, the lineup remaining, in order of increasing apparent distance westward from the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter. Mercury appears highest around Feb. 1, reaches greatest elongation on Feb. 7, and approaches within 4.0° lower left of Venus during Feb. 11-15 in a quasi-conjunction.

Heliocentric Longitudes of the Planets for the first day of each month, Sept. 2014-Dec. 2016

   Date Mercury Venus   Earth   Mars Jupiter Saturn

——- ——- ——- ——- ——- ——- ——-

9/2014   227   124   339   273   125   234

10/2014   314   173     8   291   127   234

11/2014   115   223   39   310   130   235

12/2014   236   270   69   329   132   236


1/2015   329   319   100   349   135   237

2/2015   138     9   132     8   137   238

3/2015   241   53   160   25   139   239

4/2015   337   103   191   43   142   240

5/2015   144   152   220   60   144   241

6/2015   253   202   250   76   147   242

7/2015   350   250   279   91   149   243

8/2015   163   299   309   106   151   244

9/2015   264   348   338   121   154   245

10/2015   9   36     8   134   156   246

11/2015   180   86   38   148   159   247

12/2015   272   135   69   161   161   248


1/2016   31   185   100   174   163   248

2/2016   196   235   132   188   166   249

3/2016   281   281   161   201   168   250

4/2016   48   330   192   216   170   251

5/2016   203   18   221   231   172   252

6/2016   293   67   251   247   175   253

7/2016   67   116   280   263   177   254

8/2016   216   166   309   281   179   255

9/2016   305   216   339   300   182   256

10/2016   92   264     8   318   184   257

11/2016   228   313   39   338   186   258

12/2016   315     0   69   357   189   259


This data table and accompanying orbit charts can be used for plotting the positions of the six inner planets, and determining any planet’s visibility as seen from Earth. See the activity sheet, Seasonal Visibility of Stars; and Planet Visibility in 2014-2016 from Positions of Planets in their Orbits.

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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.

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California Science Assessment Update

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 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

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. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

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

John Keller

John Keller

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…

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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

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…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

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…

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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.