Some 400 years ago, Galileo first peered into outer space aided by a telescope. You might say 1609 was a big year in astronomy. It was also the year Johannes Kepler published Astronomia nova, a work that featured his investigation of Mars' motion.
In honor of these two milestones, 2009 is being celebrated as the International Year of Astronomy.
Farmington Junior High science teachers Stan Martin, Greg Domgaard and Doug Sill are astronomy buffs who hope to pass along their love of outer space to their students during this historic year by hosting several "star parties."
Last week, a handful of students congregated behind the school after sunset and used Farmington Junior High's arsenal of high-quality telescopes, some as big as cannons, to look at distant planets and stars.
It's safe to say Galileo never had equipment like this.
Even if students had ulterior motives for attending the party -- extra credit was awarded to those willing to brave the cold -- the youths enjoyed seeing distant objects for the first time.
"It was just cool to know you were looking at another planet," said ninth-grader Ryan Stubbs, who glimpsed Saturn, its rings and a few of its moons. "I got to see some cool stuff."
For Domgaard, it's fun to point out deep-space objects to kids who have never seen them with anything other than the naked eye.
"I still remember the first time I saw M13," Domgaard said.
Seeing Messier 13, a globular cluster of solar masses, was an amazing, eye-opening experience for Domgaard. M13 remains the most remarkable object he has viewed through a telescope.
"It looked like a million suns balled up in a little beehive," Domgaard said.
Domgaard enjoys watching students have their own "M13 moments" when gazing at the sky.
Sometimes, students don't believe their eyes, said fellow teacher Sill.
"They'll think you actually painted Saturn onto your lens," Sill said.
At this particular star party, there was more huddling to keep warm than stargazing.
Domgaard and Martin are members of the Ogden Astronomical Society, a group of local star gazers that host public star parties. Martin can't get enough of star gazing.
"You never run out of things to see," Martin said. "Each star party, I challenge myself to learn one new thing."