Star Party Etiquette

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How can I attend a star party?

Join the MHAA Meet Up Group! All of our activities and star parties are set up through that site. To be accounted for during star parties your vehicle make, model, and license plate is required upon RSVP. This is required because we have to let the park authorities know who will be in the park after closing time.

What is it like to attend a star party?

It is best to arrive before sunset to the designated location. This allows time for safe parking, people to set up their telescopes, and everyone to get situated.

You are not required to bring a telescope, but if you have one, or ordinary binoculars, bring them. Someone will probably be willing to help you set up
your telescope if you are a first-timer.

If you are new, introduce yourself, and ask if there are club officers or someone in charge. They can probably arrange for a sky tour to orient you to the night sky. Amateur astronomers are a friendly lot and most are eager to share their knowledge, help you with your equipment, and have you look through their telescope. No need to be shy!!!!

Park based on your observing plan!

If you are unable to get to the location before dark, it is important you are considerate of others with your headlights.

  • Turn off your headlights and interior lights. You should park your vehicle facing towards the exit, to avoid having to backup using backup lights.
  • If you plan on leaving early, you should park close to the exit.
  • If you come to a star party without a telescope, park some distance away from the observing site to save room for those with equipment to carry.

Once it is dark enough there is extreme viewing taking place!!! This is when some rules come into play…

  1. No white lights after dusk (red flashlights are ok)

    It can take about 30 minutes for the eye to truly become dark adapted and that it can be destroyed by a single flash of light.

    One can use nail polish or automobile taillight repair tape (several layers) to make a suitable red light.

    Be especially careful, with even dim red light around astrophotographers. You do not want to ruin a photograph that may take hours to make. You can usual identify them by

    1. massive tripods
    2. attached laptop computers
    3. enough wiring attached to their telescopes and equipment to consume the entire yearly copper output of Bolivia.

    No flash photography. Even a cell phone may use a white light for focus/range finding.

  2. Never touch equipment without permission

    This kind of discussion and chit-chat is expected at star parties, particularly from visitors; don't feel that you are imposing on them. Most star party attendees will "make the rounds" at least once during the night to see what others are looking at and what kind of equipment they brought; feel free to join in.

    A few folk may be involved with intensive or time-critical observations, and may indicate they do not wish to be bothered. Please be respectful of their wishes. Once the observing is underway, feel free to go from scope to scope and talk with everyone.

    They'll be more than happy to let you look through their scopes, and will also be glad to talk about the telescope, what they're looking at, and anything else that interests you.

  3. Be safe when moving around the party

    We don't want our guests or our gear getting damaged. It gets pretty dark during a new moon out in the middle of nowhere ad little if anything around the parking lot will be lit up. Sometimes it can be hard to see the gear just feet in front of you, especially if you haven't gotten your night vision yet.

    Keep pets on short leads and away from the equipment. Even the best trained pet can become distracted and accidentally knock over equipment. Best to leave your pets at home.

  4. Keep the noise to a minimum. Star-gazing is a quiet, peaceful activity.

    Although many people like to have music while they observe, many do not, or their tastes may be different from yours. You may be asked to turn music off if it annoys others.

  5. Dress properly!

    Plan on it being 20 degrees colder than indicated as it will cool down later at night, especially in the winter. Also bring warm beverages and snacks for yourself. Alcoholic beverages are not recommended, as they interfere with your ability to observe.

  6. Be responsible - for equipment, guests, and your behavior

    We welcome young people to star parties. A star party may be just the sort of event the ignites a young person’s interest in astronomy and science. Children below third grade usually cannot see anything through a telescope due to a number of factors, and will often get cranky past their bedtime. You may want to bring a sleeping bag so they can sleep in the car. Children should be strictly supervised at all times.

    If you need to smoke then please do so downwind and away from the viewing equipment and others. Just because you're outdoors doesn’t mean your smoke isn’t annoying. Remember, smoke sticks to glass.

Finally, lest you think we're all a bunch of lawyers, here are a few more:

  • Flame throwers and fifty-caliber stray light eliminators should be equipped with glare shields.
  • Owners of LX-200s must offer coffee to passers-by who mistake the noise of their slewing motors for that of an espresso machine.
  • Hack saws should be checked at the door. (If you cannot find the door, please remain outside of it.)
  • Bears have right of first refusal on anyone's night lunch, except when the observer is very hungry.
  • Abandoned cookies should not be presumed up for grabs, unless nobody is looking.
  • Refrain from pointing out the failings of your neighbor's telescope until your own optics are safely covered.
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