If you've never been to a star party, what are you waiting for? Star parties are ideal settings for amateur astronomers, especially beginners. Such gatherings offer several advantages.
First, attending a star party places you in a group of like-minded individuals who either can answer your questions or help you figure out where to get them answered. Astronomy clubs host most star parties, and club members generally love to share information about their chosen hobby.
Another advantage to a star party is its location. Usually, the chosen site offers the area's best (meaning darkest) observing. The only exception is Astronomy Day (a designated Saturday in April or May). Then, you're more likely to find astronomy clubs hosting observing sessions at brightly lit mall parking lots, because they want to expose the greatest number of people to the hobby.
Need more convincing? Well, if you're in the market to purchase a telescope, eyepiece, camera, or other astronomical item, star-party attendees probably have it. One of the most profitable activities for beginning observers is to wander back and forth across a star party's telescope field. At an average event, you can view through a dozen scopes. Large star parties can offer hundreds of options. Going to just one star party probably will provide you with a list of "favorite" telescopes - even before you own one!
In addition to helping you sort out purchase options, star-party regulars also can teach you how to set up and use your equipment. If you got a telescope for Christmas or as a birthday present, for example, there's no better place to learn how to use it than at a star party.
Finally, star parties offer relaxed settings from which to view astronomical events. Maybe you've heard of a good meteor shower or lunar eclipse visible in your area. At a star party, you'll find knowledgeable people with high-quality equipment at an ideal location. What could be better?
In this column's next installment, I'll go over some star-party etiquette. So, tune in next week for part 1 of my "Star party do's and don'ts."