Northern Utah’s Tributes to Space
BY NATHANIEL LOOMIS
“Space, the final frontier.” That’s how the old line from Star Trek goes. Truthfully, we don’t know that for certain. We don’t even really know everything that goes on in space, let alone the boundaries of it. But it remains the next step in our pioneering adventure as humans. Plans are currently underway at NASA to form a moon base in the future, and in 2025 they intend to have astronaut boots on our lunar surface once more. So, in the spirit of science and all things outer space, I present some of the awesome space-themed activities and adventures we have right here in Northern Utah.
Stansbury Park Observatory
I remember my first telescope. It was this little plastic thing my mom got for me as a Christmas present that was falling apart almost as soon as we took it out of the box, but I loved it. We lived on the edge of a military base where the man-made light was dimmest, and I’d take it out every summer and fall evening to see what I could find. I imagined locating a new star, one they’d have to name after me, or a comet on a collision course with earth since Armageddon had just come out and space-rocks were on my mind. I never found much with that little telescope; I could barely keep the moon in focus. But a love for stargazing never disappears, it can only be enhanced. Located at Sagers Memorial Park, just west of Salt Lake City, lies the Stansbury Park Observatory. What makes this place so interesting is that they house four of the largest telescopes in Utah, and frequently host viewing parties where all are welcome to join. Have you ever wondered what the colors of Saturn look like with the naked eye? Would you want to watch solar flares or sunspots form and disappear like fiery mist in the great cosmos? Saturday morning on August 5th the Observatory will be hosting a Sun Viewing Party, and every Saturday evening thereafter will be hosting Star Viewing Parties, so grab your kids or your SO and head on over to see the stars closer than ever! To view their public schedule, you can check out stansburypark.org/observatory
Douglas Space and Science Foundation
I grew up watching a lot of 80’s movies with my aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and one thing a summer movie with kids or teens always seemed to boast was a camp. Kids would go off on magical adventures away from their parents to be with other kids, getting up to all sorts of hijinks and learning a bit more about the world and themselves along the way. I’d always thought those camps were movie magic because I’d never heard of any actually existing. Granted, I grew up a military brat, so we were never in one place for long, but still. summers existed, I was a kid, I wanted a camp experience I never got.
Aside from Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, which I didn’t learn was actually real until I was almost 20, there is a local option available. I spoke with the Douglas Space and Science Foundation Director Annika Jensen who now runs the S.T.A.R. (Science, Technology, Achievement, and Research) Camp programs, space and science themed camps, lectures, and events designed to make science more accessible in every sense of the word.
Her program was made to get people thinking along the lines of what science experiments they can do at home using the items they already have on hand, versus locking it behind some astronomically expensive piece of cool tech.
Sleepaway camps occur for students in the summer months while they shift to classroom presentations during the school year, but they are holding a free, large community event during the first week of October for World Space Week. Registration for summer 2024 camps begin in October. To learn more about the summer camps, events visit douglassciencecenter.org
One activity I was always trying to knock off my bucket list at an early age was visiting a planetarium. In my mind it was more than just a light show, it was my ticket to the stars; everyone knows you meet all the NASA scientists recruiting young kids for impromptu trips to space at a planetarium, and as a very imaginative child, I truly believed that. That planetarium dream didn’t pan out until I was much older and much less naïve about the way NASA finds their astronauts, but the experience itself was still something magical.
The Ott Planetarium located in the main Weber State University campus is unique in that it is also a public observatory. While they hold regular shows at the planetarium itself, they have all types of fun gadgets and instruments designed to see beyond our atmosphere. They have nine sets of high-powered binoculars as well as nine medium-powered telescopes and include various sizes of eye pieces, solar filters, and laser pointers to help with star hunting, making this an easy date idea, or even a fun activity for you and the kids. To learn more or schedule a visit, check out weber.edu/ottplanetarium
Hike Across the Universe
When you really start to imagine the distance between astral bodies you might come across this mental wall. It’s far—we all know that. But what does that mean for a society who can drive just about anywhere? For example: a trip to the moon. Did you know it’s over 238 thousand miles from Earth? Imagine trying to take that in a car. It already takes two or three days to go to the east coast from Utah, and that’s only about 2,200 miles.
Jen Jones started the fundraising efforts for the 5.2-mile S.S.T.A.R.S. (Solar System Trail for Astronomical Research by Students) Trail, a scale-model walking, biking, or hiking trail designed by students. Starting at Tuscan Park on 2125 W. 3100 S. and ending at the Confluence Ogden River Parkway, each planet is represented with a 3D image as well as lesser-known factoids about them. While the walk isn’t a difficult one, Jen suggests taking a bike. For the more diehard hikers, there’s also a 13-mile trek beginning near the Compass Rose Lodge in Huntsville! For more information or a map of the shorter route, visit sites.google.com/questac.org/questunderthestars