When Jackie Danko asked her eighth grade science students if they had seen the sky through a telescope, she was surprised at how many had not.
Her discovery led to Night with the Stars, a Wednesday evening astronomy event to let York Middle School students and parents see the stars and planets through a telescope.
Danko brought her own telescope to the school’s football field and recruited some other stargazers to bring theirs, too.
The participants included the Museum of York County’s Carolina SkyGazers astronomy group, as well as some Winthrop University astronomy professors.
About 60 students, parents and school staff members spent two hours looking at stars, constellations and planets from the football field with the help of volunteer astronomers and large telescopes.
Eighth-grader Keyurshia Johnson, 14, was among many students and adults who said they had never been stargazing with a telescope.
Keyurshia saw a comet called Lovejoy and the Orion Nebula, situated in the Milky Way in the constellation of Orion.
A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases. The Orion Nebula is one of the brightest nebula and one of the most intensely studied.
Keyurshia said she was impressed “by how far it is, and how many years it’s been up there.”
Students also looked at the moon, the planet Venus, the planet Jupiter and four of its moons and the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest galaxy outside the Milky Way.
Brandon Adams, also 14, said before the stargazing event, students learned about many aspects of astronomy.
They included the phases of the moon, seasonal changes and the difference between stars and planets. They also learned about comets and meteorites, galaxies, the sun and the solar system.
“It’s pretty cool,” Brandon said. He was especially interested in how light is distributed from the sun to Earth “to make the moon how it is.”
Abby Palmer, 13, said she has used a telescope before, but she was not able to see other planets.
Abby said she enjoys seeing constellations like the Little Dipper, the Big Dipper and Orion. “It’s really unique,” she said.
Danko said she chose Wednesday for the stargazing event because the sky would be darker on the night of a new moon, enabling students to better see stars and planets.
She said she hopes students come away with “an appreciation that we really are kind of small compared to everything else that is out there.”