By Senior Science Writer
updated 12/24/2003 10:07:36 PM ET 2003-12-25T03:07:36

Seldom does astronomy enjoy a year with such avid and widespread amateur participation, from first-timers watching compelling sky events and photographing them, to a kid who stumped the experts with one remarkable picture that enthralled the media and the public around the world.

The "Summer of Mars," when the Red Planet was closer than it had been in nearly 60,000 years, engaged even the most casual skywatchers around the world. Telescope supplies were depleted. Bars in Arizona threw Mars observing parties. While astronomers captured the moment with big observatories, regular folks held digital cameras up to telescope eyepieces to create their own personal Martian photo albums.

Later, in November, the second total lunar eclipse of the year — and one of the most colorful in memory — caused another round of excitement in the amateur ranks. The digital pictures, taken from back yards and balconies, were as remarkable as they were plentiful.

Among the standout amateur images (No. 8 on this list) was a photo of a strange object in the sky that had astronomers wholly intrigued but left them utterly mystified.

All the while, professional observatories around the world (and beyond) continued mapping the heavens, allowing the inhabitants of this world see the universe in unimaginable ways (especially true of No. 4).

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