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. For star parties, your vehicle make, model, and license plate are required upon RSVP. We have to provide this info to the park authorities to be allowed in the park after closing time.

What is it like to attend a star party?

It is best to arrive before sunset. This allows time for safe parking, telescope set up, and everyone to get situated.

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!!!!

Do I need to bring a telescope?

No. But we love it when you do! Especially if you’re new to the hobby, bringing your new telescope is a great idea. You can probably find someone at the party who owns similar equipment and can offer you advice on how best to set it up and use it.

Plan your arrival and parking to minimize disturbance to others!

Headlights shining on the party ruin people’s night vision, which is critical for their enjoyment of the night sky. Park so that you minimize your car’s light pollution: arrive during daylight if possible, and plan for your departure by noting your exit route and parking with your car facing the exit.

Turn off your headlights and interior lights when moving your car after dark, as much as is safely possible. If you need help being guided to the exit in the dark, just ask.

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.

Rules for when it's dark

  1. No white lights after dusk

    • It takes ~30 minutes to maximize your eye's night vision, but a single flash of light can destroy it
    • If you arrive when it's dark or leave early, always turn and direct your headlights away from the people and scopes. If you know you're leaving early, park near and facing the exit.
    • Red/Orange lights are ok, but should be pointed down and turned off when not in use. Be especially careful using light around astrophotographers; their cameras are super sensitive!
      You can usually identify them as the scopes:
      1. on massive tripods
      2. with attached computers
      3. and a rats nest of wiring
    • Photography - Be careful of your settings if you try to take a night photo. Even cell phones often flash white light for focus and range finding when in daytime camera modes.
  2. Leave the lasers to us

    • Some members carry powerful lasers to make it easy to point things out when doing Sky Walks with guests etc. However, please leave yours at home if you are new to astronomy and star parties.
    • They can be very dangerous to human eyes especially when our night vision is engaged.
    • They can be illegal if used improperly, such as pointing them at airplanes.
    • They can anger the astrophotographers who are taking extended exposure frames that often need to be discarded if a laser is flashed through the field of view of their image.
  3. Never touch equipment without permission, but feel free to ask

    • Most scope operators will be happy to talk about the gear and show you everything, including letting you look through it. But even light touches can push the target out of view or cause vibration and ruin an image if it's actively engaged in recording for astrophotography.
    • Never touch the glass optical surfaces. They can be damaged by dirt and oil on your fingers in addition to creating smudges that mar the image of your target.
  4. Be safe when moving around the party

    • We don't want our guests or our gear getting damaged
    • Use a red light pointed down if needed, while moving
    • Generally it's best to leave your pets at home. If they must come, keep them on short leads and away from equipment.
  5. Keep the noise to a minimum. Star-gazing is a quiet, peaceful activity.

    • Discussion and chit-chat are expected at star parties, particularly from visitors, and you'll often hear operators talking about what they brought and what they are observing. Most members are happy to share this information with you and let you look through their scopes, so feel free to join in.
    • Some members may be involved with intense or time-critical observations and may indicate they do not wish to be bothered. Please respect their wishes.
  6. 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.

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.

DIY Red Light

You can usually turn any flash light into a red light flash light by painting the lens it shines through with red nail polish or applying several layers of automobile tail light repair tape.

Keep in mind that you want it to be a pretty dim light when you're done; it only needs to illuminate your way on a dark night, not a sunny day. Avoid the super high-powered flashlights even if they use red LEDs; even red light can be too bright.

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