Star party do's and don’ts (Part 1)

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In my last blog, I talked about the many reasons to head out to a star party. I'm following up in this blog (and the next two) by outlining some tips that will keep you from incurring the wrath of fellow star-partiers.

First, follow all posted instructions. Many star parties provide a sheet of general nighttime rules. If you've not been to that particular star party, read and memorize the list.

Avoid using light. Please note I didn't say "avoid using white light." While it's true that white light is far more detrimental to dark-adapted eyes, it's also true that most red lights are too bright. And, in most cases, it's the brightness of the light, not its color, which un-adapts your eye. So if your star-party light is a big red spotlight, save it for Full Moon. And while we're on the subject of lights, before you go to a star party or observing session, deal with any vehicle lights, especially those activated by open doors or trunk lids. The easiest method? Simply pull the bulbs.

This next point is so important, I chose not to combine it with the one above. Also, it's for the slightly more advanced amateur astronomer. It involves light from the now ever-present laptop computers. Most (but not all) amateurs who use these devices are imaging and, apparently, are not attuned to the needs of visual observers. Yes, most imagers place red filters over their computer screens. However, nearly every laptop setup I've seen has still been too bright. When I walk across an observing field and can see someone sitting in a chair enveloped in a faint glow, I know the screen's light is excessive. The kinder, gentler laptop setups have a box (with at least the inside painted black) over them, with only the front side cut out.

Check with the organizers about restroom facilities before arriving at the site. You can save yourself a lot of misery, and probably a lot of unnecessary steps, if you know what to expect.

Clean up after yourself. Do not leave litter of any kind lying around where it can be blown about by the wind or encountered by someone else. If there is no designated trash receptacle, make one of your own. This is especially important when the group is a guest on public or private land. At the end of each observing session at our dark-sky site, we do a "white-light survey" to check for trash and other items which otherwise might be left behind.

Take your time when looking through someone else's telescope. Remember, you're not just looking, you're observing. A quick glance does you no good and, quite frankly, it doesn't leave the best impression on the telescope owner either. Questions are not only permitted, they're encouraged. A beginning amateur astronomer may ask, "Am I seeing two lines on Jupiter?" An amateur with some experience might query, "What is the true field of view of this eyepiece?" And an advanced amateur's question may be something like, "Do you know what time the snack bar closes?" Advanced observers are always one step ahead.

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