Astronomy midterm question: plausible date/time for viewing circumpolar constellation configuration

Astronomy 210 Midterm 1, spring semester 2014
Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA

An illustration depicting a boy wearing shorts outside at night, observing the Etoile Polaire ("Pole Star," or Polaris), Petite Ourse ("Little Bear," or Ursa Minor), and Grande Ourse ("Big Bear," or Ursa Major) is shown at right[*]. Discuss whether or not this illustration is plausible for an observer on a seasonally warm night in San Luis Obispo, CA. Defend your answer by clearly explaining how you used your starwheel to do this, along with any assumptions that you may have made.

[*] Original source unknown, from pinterest.com/pin/181903272422342959/.

Solution and grading rubric:
  • p:
    Correct. Discusses (1) how to manipulate starwheel such that constellations match view of (northeast) view of horizon, and (2) chooses a plausible time at night (to view stars) and (3) interprets matching month as either implausible (as this would occur in late fall to early winter), or plausible given high cold tolerance of boy, and/or temperate weather conditions of California's central coast. May instead discuss these points in reverse order.
  • r:
    Nearly correct (explanation weak, unclear or only nearly complete); includes extraneous/tangential information; or has minor errors.
  • t: Contains right ideas, but discussion is unclear/incomplete or contains major errors. Problems with diagram or discussion. May have inverted starwheel, resulting in the opposite season of year.
  • v:
    Limited relevant discussion of supporting evidence of at least some merit, but in an inconsistent or unclear manner.
  • x:
    Implementation/application of ideas, but credit given for effort rather than merit.
  • y:
    Irrelevant discussion/effectively blank.
  • z:
Grading distribution:
Section 30674
Exam code: midterm01n3vE
p: 13 students
r: 0 students
t: 13 students
v: 2 students
x: 0 students
y: 0 students
z: 1 student

Section 30676
Exam code: midterm01SuN7
p: 21 students
r: 2 students
t: 19 students
v: 3 students
x: 0 students
y: 0 students
z: 0 students

A sample "p" response (from student 9549):

A sample "t" response (from student 6493):

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