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Star Party Etiquette
Star Party Answers

Star Party Advice


Part I:  Observing Checklist

Pre-Observing Checklist of website information

With 5-10 minutes of internet browsing, and maximize your observing experience.  Try out these links.

First I check the weather at my observing site by clicking on:

Clear Sky Clock

Then I check for bright satellite passes, Iridium flashes, or space station passes at:

Heavens Above

Then I consider the phase of the moon and rise/set times:

And I look at NIght Sky Notes:

Night Sky Notes

And if I'm serious about logging in specific objects, I start up Starry Night Pro and plan my evening's objects to any level of detail that I need.

Starry Night Software



Part II:  Star Party Comfort

These are intended to be lessons learned.  You may assume that these are listed because at one point I didn't know any of this and did something really dumb and learned my lesson. 

The Boy Scout Motto is "Be Prepared."  ...Sage advice for any amateur astronomer.

Staying Warm

bulletBring warm clothes, boots and a hat.  It gets cold, even in the summer in most places - especially on mountain tops where we like to hang out.  (OK it's not exactly cold in the Mojave National Preserve in July :-)  It is said that you lose up to 80% of your body heat through your head.  "If your feet are cold, put on a hat," the saying goes.  I cheat a bit when it comes to dressing warmly.  I bring a couple of heat packs that you can get at most sporting goods shops.  These small packets heat up to about 150 degrees F and work by oxidation.  They are completely safe and although are advertised to stay warm for 6 hours, I have often had them last for double that amount.  Put one in the pocket of your shirt under your jacket and you'll be toasty.  The packets cost about $1 each and are worth every penny.  They also come in Toe Warmer size.
bulletYour feet are an important part of your observing experience.  Get a very warm pair of boots.  In my area, the prime observing location is from a parking lot on top of a mountain.  The heat flows right out of your feet and into the pavement if your boots are not insulated well.  Get the boots a bit oversize for extra socks (and the toe warmer heat packs).  You're not hiking in these things, you're pretty much standing in one place.
bulletBring an old large blanket or drop cloth to put under your scope.  The first advantage to doing this is that it will keep the dust down around your scope and you'll have a lot less cleaning to do the next day.  Another is that you'll be able to find that black lens cap you accidentally dropped much more easily.  It's also a lot easier on your knees if your eyepiece is low to the ground and you have to kneel.  I always seem to find the weeds with the stickers to kneel on.
bulletOne of my fellow club members, Steve Trotta, found a great company that sells cold weather gear for workmen at a fraction of what you'd pay through a sporting goods shop.  I just bought a pair of Thinsulate coveralls with a hood  rated to -30 degrees F (!) from this company, WearGuard, http://www.wearguard.com, 1-800-870-6539, for just $150 (note:  these are usually on sale at the end of the winter for $99).  I'm impressed with the quality of all of their products and their fast delivery.  They sell jackets, insulated shirts, parkas and pants.  You can even get a logo or your name on them if you want.  The products are sized for adults, but a teenage boy can find a -20 degrees F Thinsulate winter jacket for $60 that looks really good.  Check them out.   *See additional review at the bottom of this page


bulletBring extra batteries and charge your Power Pack before you go out.  If you have a Telrad, a LED flashlight, map light, or if your scope is a battery powered GOTO scope, it's only a matter of time until you've hauled everything out on a nice dark evening, you're set up and ready to observe only to find out that something's out of juice.  If it's not you, you can be the person who saves your observing buddy's evening by giving them a battery or two.


bulletConsider bringing out a table to put your charts and eyepieces on.  Sturdy is good.  I've tried one of those roll-up camping tables and had poor luck with them.  I started out with a half card table from Target for about $20.  It worked OK, but I found that I liked something just a bit bigger like a folding table, so I got a molded plastic one at COSTCO for $29 and it's been a real workhorse.
bulletThe fold up camping chairs that are sold now are great for relaxing before it really gets dark.  They're also good for stretching out in the sleeping bag to watch meteor showers.  I recommend the ones with a footrest and at least one drink holder.  You can get these inexpensively at Target, Walmart, etc. in the Spring.


The fact is that we go to great lengths to find the remotest, darkest skies, away from lots of people.  But there are still the RARE issues with animals, and even possible unexpected medical problems.  By taking a couple of responsible steps these are of little concern.
bulletObserve with a partner or a group.  There's more safety in numbers.
bulletLet someone know where you'll be observing from, and when you expect to call it an evening and head home. 
bulletIf you're observing from a State Park, or National Park, drop by the Ranger Station and let them know that you'll be out and where you're setting up.  Usually they'll keep their eyes open for you - and on many occasions, one or two rangers have stopped by and had some hot coffee while looking through the telescope for a bit.
bulletTake a cell phone with you.  You can also use it to call up your observing buddies and tell them all about the fabulous viewing they're missing at that moment. :-)
bulletPut your car keys in a zippered jacket pocket or attach them to your tripod.  Seeing them safely locked in your car is not necessarily a happy feeling...at three a.m.
bulletThis should have been the first thing in this listing, but it's too embarrassing... Always look up exactly where the Star Party is going to be and get there before the Sun goes down.  My club just held a big star party event and I showed up in a daze to an empty campground 35 miles away.  By the way, when you're the ONLY person who went to the wrong spot, you can be pretty darn sure it was YOU that made the mistake!! :-)  I ran into some other campers so I wasn't out there alone.  I was scatter-brained, but not stupid enough to be out at an empty campground with many $K of optics!  The night turned out fine and I got in some good observations and made a few new astronomy converts.



Introduction to the Night Sky - Part I

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Introduction to the Night Sky - Part IV

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