OGDEN -- One thing that has kept the Ogden Astronomical Club going for 40 years is the Wow factor.
"When we go to star parties and have someone look through the telescope and say, 'Oh wow,' that's one of the things that keeps you going," said Doug Say, longtime club member and treasurer. "A lot of people in the club have that same feeling. Not only that, but it's the wonder of it all."
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the club that began with just a handful of star gazers. Today the club has nearly 50 members.
"I was attending classes at Weber State at the time and heard about the club forming through friends at the physics department," said Bob Tillotson, another longtime member. "I have been interested in astronomy since I was a small child. My father had a friend who made his own telescopes and I remember seeing the rings of Saturn through his telescope in the 1950s. I was hooked."
Tillotson took astronomy from club organizer Dr. David Tripp, a physics professor at the Weber State. Today he owns two telescopes and continues to watch the science of astronomy and astrophysics evolve.
"Bill has been in the club since it was organized," said former club president Dustin Klein. "During our 40th year celebration, we made him an honorary lifetime member of the club. It's pretty funny because it was a surprise, but he pretty much took all of the planning of the party on himself. He bought the food, bought food for the dinner, planned it all to have in his backyard. So basically he threw himself his own party without knowing about it."
The club was organized during the spring and summer of 1970 by Tripp, who was also the first director of the Layton P. Ott Planetarium at WSU's science center. He worked with some prominent local men who helped organize the club and write the by-laws, said Tillotson. The first meeting was held at the Ott Planetarium.
The club holds meetings on the second Thursday of the month at the planetarium on campus. A series of star parties are also held throughout the year between May and October. The meetings and parties are free and open to the public.
"The club also provides telescopes," Tillotson said. "The members also operate them for local school science events and church events when requested. We also make time for club-member-only star parties."
Tillotson said a favorite place for clear dark skies is the Monte Cristo campground on Highway 39. These events are usually multi-night and members camp in the campgrounds, have pot luck dinners, astronomy discussions during the day and stay up all night taking in the deep star fields that are available only in dark locales.
"Probably the single most fascinating thing I have witnessed by being an OAS member was taking the group tour to La Paz, Mexico in July 1991 for the total solar eclipse," Tillotson said. "Over five minutes of totality, one of the longest that century, was an indescribable phenomenon to witness. Any solar or lunar eclipse is fascinating to see."
Say, who took an old Salt Lake City astronomy club telescope and rebuilt it, said some of his favorite things to gaze at have been star clusters, where half a million stars are in one spot like a pile of diamonds. Certain nebulae also have been interesting to watch through a telescope. He said the telescopes today are much more powerful than when he first joined the club.
"The telescope we rebuilt has an 18-!1/2 inch in diameter by nine foot mirror. It has electronic and digital settings that can take you anywhere in the sky you want to look," Say said. "You can see colors that you can't see with the naked eye."
Klein said while telescopes are incredible to watch the night time sky, a good set of binoculars is sometimes just as good if not better.
"A lot of people don't join the club because they are scared of what the cost might be, but with a good pair of binoculars you can see certain planets within reason," he said. "You can see Saturn and its rings and Jupiter and its four orbiting moons. You can learn the sky and its constellations."
Tillotson said in order to appreciate astronomy, people simply need to look up more often.
"It starts at home. I remember my father standing with me in our Ogden home backyard in the mid-1950s and looking at a comet that was in the sky at that time," he said. "The fascination of science will reach out to the child if children have the opportunity to be exposed to it. Show the kids the science stacks at the local library. Get them started and they will get the bug."
To learn more about the club, visit www.ogdenastronomy.com. If interested in joining, call Klein at 801 309-1233.