Star Party Etiquette
Newcomers often want to know what will happen, and what people actually do at a star party. The following information may help those who want to know, but may not know who or how to ask. These guidelines will tell you a little about the way our star parties work. We have no official rules about what you can and cannot do at a Star Party. But somehow, we get along quite well together. Some basic guidelines:
Our Star Parties are usually scheduled for Friday or Saturday nights preceding or closest to the new moon. Our parties usually end around 11:00 or so. However, if this time does not accommodate your plans, you are free to leave as necessary -- with proper consideration for the use of lights and safety. We encourage you to ask any member for assistance in departing after dark. We encourage you to arrive before dark. This is not always possible, and particularly not after a working day. Again, you may arrive whenever you can, but if you come after dark, you should be sensitive to keeping your lights off. When the sun goes down, we crank up the telescopes. Depending on one's stamina, activity can go on well past midnight.
Amateur astronomers know that almost any light (except dim red light) will hurt nighttime vision. For this reason, they are careful to bring a dim red flashlight for their nighttime use. After dark, and anywhere near the site, visitors should NOT use anything but a dim red flashlight. If there is an emergency or safety concern, please let us know immediately.It should also be noted that even red light will affect one's night vision and observing, particularly if it is bright or not well filtered. This can sometimes happen when a normal flashlight is covered with red cellophane. In general, it is best to keep all lights off (even dim lights), unless they are absolutely necessary for walking, or reading observing books and charts.
Automobile lights can be another problem. The time to learn how to control your vehicle's lights is before you come to the star party. It is very difficult to learn how to control the lights in the middle of a dark night. Look in the manual or talk to the dealer. Most cars have a dial or switch (usually connected to the panel light dimmer) that can shut off the interior lights even with the door open. Other drivers may have to locate the switch, fuse, or relay that controls these lights. Some cars have daytime headlights or automatic headlights that are always on. Sometimes these can be shut off by pulling up one or two notches on the parking brake. If they cannot be controlled this way, there may be a convenient override switch or easy-to-use fuse.
If not, the driver has a few choices. One could just forego driving at night (preferred). Or, one could tape some opaque (light proof) material over the lights. Another alternative is to park down the road. IF YOU MUST DRIVE WITHOUT LIGHTS and you are unfamiliar with the site, have someone help by walking along to guide you with a red flashlight.
Although we refrain from using lights after dark, we are also concerned about your safety and the safety of others. Lights should be controlled on the entire site during a star party.
Children should be monitored, and no one should be running on the property, especially at night. Members and guests typically wait patiently for their turn to look through a telescope. Attendees with telescopes are expected to allow others to look through their scope (unless they are involved in a specific observing or astrophotography program). Often, children will point a flashlight at people's faces. This is a natural reflex. Please remind your young ones to always point the light towards the ground, and use it for walking only. You do not need to have a light on if you're standing still or waiting to view through a telescope. Better yet... control the flashlight for your children.
Green Lasers -- Common sense and courtesy dictates what is acceptable. For sky tours early in the evening, the green laser pointer is certainly a valuable tool. Be considerate of those engaged in astrophotography and imaging.
Pets should be under control. Whether they should be on the telescope field at night depends on how well they behave, but they would probably be happier someplace else.
The reason to have a star party is to do observing. We observe at a party is so that we can do it together.
If you wish to bring your own equipment, feel free to do so. If you want help setting up, just ask--you will find some volunteers. If you do not have your own equipment, feel free to visit with any person on the field and ask what they are doing or what they are looking at. In very rare instances you may run into somebody who simply is working too hard at something to take time to visit with you. This is true for some astrophotography or other specialized observing that takes a lot of concentration. However, most people on the field would love to have you look through their scope; just be friendly. You never need equipment of our own to attend a Star Party.
If you are new to this, be aware that equipment should be handled with the same care you would give any delicate instrument, like a fine camera or good crystal. Generally, telescopes are not fragile like glass, and won't break when touched. However, since the optics magnify so much, a simple touch can disturb the view, and may even move the scope so that you cannot see the object. So, do everything gently.
Temperatures can range from very cold to very hot. When the sun goes down at a winter star party, the temperature can fall rapidly. It is important to bring plenty of layers of warm clothes.
If you've never been to a Star Party before, or are visiting for extra credit in class, or want to know what kind of telescope to buy, or whatever--just ask. Just as with any other group, we have some quiet and stick-to-themselves folks. However, most members are more than willing to share with you whatever they know. They will probably provide you with more information than you asked for.
“The San Angelo Astronomy Association is dedicated to the popularizing of Amateur Astronomy and the sharing of our enthusiasm, experience & knowledge about the many facets of the celestial universe with our club members, educational institutions, social and civic organizations and the public at large.”
--- We have difficulties doing that if you don't ask. First timers especially should attach themselves to somebody and simply spend the evening around them. If you would like such a mentor, just look around. The best candidates will already have a few people standing around looking through their scopes.
Just join in and have fun.
If you enjoyed your night at our star party, or plan on attending one, donations are always welcome.