What is a Star Party?

A Star Party is an opportunity to get together with other individuals who share a fascination with space and the night sky. It is a gathering where both experts and newcomers meet under a dark sky away from city lights, pull out their telescopes or binoculars, and look at galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, planets, constellations, and anything else up there. If you own a telescope bring it along, otherwise just come to look through other telescopes that are present.

Experienced observers are typically more than willing to show newcomers the ropes and there is always plenty to look at. If you are thinking about buying a telescope we highly recommend first attending a star party to get an idea of what you’ll see with different aperture telescopes. If you have bought a scope but do not know how to use it, bring it. Generally there will be people there who can show you some tricks.

UVAC Star Parties are typically held on the weekends closest to the new moon to allow the darkest sky possible. Parties begin at dusk and go on until everyone decides to leave. Public Star Parties are open to the public. Private Star Parties are for members only and by invitation.

Are There Any Rules?

Yes. There are a few items of Star Party Etiquette that everyone should follow. Here they are:

1. Never touch a telescope or any of the equipment at the Star Party unless the owner gives you permission. It turns out telescopes are balanced and collimated and even slight bumps and jars can affect the image in the eyepiece. It is very natural to want to hold the eyepiece in your hand while looking through it. Don’t. Just use your eye.

2. Star Parties are for fun. So please have fun. They are not for the ruckus kind of fun, however. So no playing tag, chase, or other extracurricular activities for the kids. In fact, if you bring your kids (and we hope you do) they should be quiet, follow instructions, and be respectful. It turns out telescope equipment is also very expensive, and we don’t want any damage or accidents. If your clan cannot follow these common respect rules you will be asked to leave.

3. Don’t use flashlights or any kind of lights. That’s right. It will be dark. It is supposed to be. Telescope operators use red lights to see because red light does not dilate the eye as much and so it keeps your ability to look at distant objects normative. Turning on a bright white light in the dark at a star party is like holding up kryptonite to Superman. Just don’t do it.

4. Speaking of lights, if you bring a green laser pointer never point it at a person. A green laser can actually damage the eye. So please keep them pointing up. Again, this rule is enforced, and people who cannot keep it will be asked to leave.

5. Set your expectations. Lots of people come wanting to see gorgeous space panoramas through the little eyepiece of the telescope. Those wonderful Hubble Telescope pictures all over the internet are not what you see in a telescope eyepiece. Those pictures are taken using special filters, cameras, long exposures, and quite frankly are even photo shopped. The planets, sun and moon are fun to look at through a scope (if looking at the sun you must have a solar filter on your scope). However, deep sky objects like galaxies and nebula are very often trillions and trillions of miles away. What you see is a little gray smudge in the eyepiece. The image is not for the eye, it is for the mind. Very often what you are seeing in that smudge is an object so big and vast and far away that no one can really comprehend it. It is still fun to see.

6. At a telescope, be respectful. Follow the instructions of the telescope operator. Speak quietly. Do not linger if there is a line of people. Allow others to see what you are seeing.

7. Finally, have fun. Ask questions. Think big thoughts. Bring doughnuts. Ahh, actually, there is that last rule, no sticky hands near the scopes. No sticky food near the scopes. Darn it, just leave the doughnuts at home. If there are refreshments they will be away from the scopes. Eat accordingly.

That’s it. We suppose we could mention that if you are abducted by a space alien aboard their space ship during a Star Party you should keep calm and try not to be eaten, but this has only happened once or twice that we know of, so it really is no big worry.