Star party do’s and don’ts (Part 2)

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Following up on last week's start, here are a few more suggestions I hope you'll consider before you attend a star party.

With regard to viewing through someone else's telescope — focus! I have suggested this to thousands of people, young and old, beginning and advanced, and I repeat it here. Our eyes are not all the same. Even a minute amount of focusing can reveal details within Saturn's rings that were invisible before. It's that critical. If you're unfamiliar with the telescope through which you're observing, simply ask, "Excuse me, how do I focus your telescope?"

Bring your children. Control your children. Star parties are family affairs and well-behaved children are welcome (even if they're not interested in the sky show). Make certain, however, they stay with you at all times. Many children become cranky if they stay up too late (some adults, too!), but are happy to sleep in the car. Always remember that their safety and comfort should be your first concerns.

If you must have music, you may be in the wrong place. Realize that individual taste in music is so widely variant that I can guarantee somebody nearby doesn't like what you're listening to. If you're still not convinced, use headphones.

Regarding driving (or even walking) in the area, try to minimize the amount of dust you send into the air. Many star parties, especially in drier climates, are held at heavily used sites with little nearby vegetation.

Unless you have a motor home, leave your pets at home. Amateur astronomers seem to have a strong distaste for stepping in — or setting a case or piece of equipment in — excrement.

Have your favorite binoculars nearby. Even experienced observers do this. Binoculars can be useful to pin down a star field or to check if the object you're observing through the telescope is visible with less magnification. They are also handy to have in case of a "wide-angle" event, such as the appearance of a bright meteor that leaves a smoke trail. If your binoculars are higher power (more than 7x), placing them on a tripod or binocular mount can provide some stunning views of the larger deep-sky objects (the Andromeda Galaxy [M31], the Orion Nebula [M42], the Pleiades [M45], etc.) throughout the night.

Bring a chair to sit in. Other observers may have an extra chair, but don't count on it. If you're attending an observing session or evening gaze, bring liquid (water is best, but I cannot abide the stuff) and a light snack. If you're attending a several-night star party, you may want to bring a lot more. In warmer seasons, insect repellant may be necessary. Be sure to bring your own.

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