Wide eyes turned toward the skies as darkness began to settle in on Antelope Island. Dim red lights and excited whispers scurried throughout the group as the first planet appeared.
“Mom! Come look through this telescope! It’s Saturn!” a young girl yelled.
The members of the Ogden Astronomical Society had been preparing for this event for weeks.
“We love being able to teach about the sky,” said Craig Browne, OAS president. “There are so many kids that get telescopes as gifts and they don’t know what to do with it. We want to help them know how to use them.”
According to Browne, many “star-party virgins” were on Antelope Island that night. There were even a few visitors from out of state, including National Guard sergeants Josh Oettiker and Steve Weyers.
“We’re down at Camp Williams for training,” Oettiker said. “We had the weekend free, heard about this event, and wanted to come and see it.”
Weyers said he is from Pennsylvania and had never heard of such a thing as a “star party.”
“The more we found out about it, the more exciting it became,” he said. “I admire anyone who can come out here even though it’s freezing and the bugs are biting and still want to talk about the stars. You can tell they just love it.”
OAS members each bring a unique talent that showcases their love of astronomy. Weber State University physics student and astrophotographer Jeremy Mathews is among them.
“The guys at OAS know a lot. I’ve been learning from them for as long as I can remember,” he said. “If Weber State offered an astronomy degree, I would do that in a heartbeat.”
Mathews said he often spends hours waiting for the perfect astrophotograph shot to align.
“You have to get a bigger telescope and cite it on a smaller telescope, then take the smaller telescope and attach a camera to it, and then cite it near a bright thing you want to photograph,” he said. “If the camera moves at all, it ruins the picture. You take a lot of crummy photos doing this.”
No matter how long it takes to locate something in the sky, OAS member Llonie Allen said it is all worth it.
“It’s like looking back in time,” he said. “You’re looking back at stars, nebulas and galaxies. They’re all right there, but they’re not anymore. That reason alone is why I’ve been a club member for 23 years.”
Starting in 1967 as an amateur astronomers club, the Ogden Astronomical Society has since grown to 40 active members. Once a month, members meet at WSU’s Ott Planetarium.
“We are really lucky Weber State lets us use the planetarium for the meeting,” Browne said. “We try and help them out in return whenever they let us.”
Doug Say, a Farmington Junior High School science teacher and OAS member, said WSU once expressed interest in expanding its astronomy program.
“Years ago, the university had reserved property to build an observatory,” he said. “We would’ve loved to have been able to help with that.”
According to Browne, the Summit Group recently approached WSU with an offer for the land.
“They wanted to do a land swap,” he said. “That would’ve been even better, because it would’ve been further away from light sources. But the powers that be at Weber State have said that ‘well, maybe we’ll just sell you this land instead.’ So it’s probably going to get sold.”
Browne and other OAS members said having an observatory in Ogden would benefit the entire community, but for now, they will continue to meet at Antelope Island.
“All of our events are free to the public,” Browne said. “We just want to teach people cool stuff. It doesn’t matter where we’re at. The sky is always there.”
As if hearing Browne’s words, the night sky suddenly opened up and blurred the lines between sky and earth.
“This is why I’m here,” Browne said. “This is where the real passion for astronomy starts.”
More information on OAS is available at www.ogdenastronomy.com.