Star Party Dos and Don'ts

No White Lights
White light ruins the dark adaptation that your eyes develop after about 20 or 30 minutes in the dark. You will need this dark adaptation to see faint, deep sky objects. When a white light is used after dark anywhere in the vicinity of the observing field (flashlights, car headlights, even a match) it takes up to 30 minutes for everyone to regain their night vision. Once your eyes adapt to the darkness, you will be able to find your way around and avoid obstructions without needing a flashlight.

How to Make an Astronomy Friendly Light
The best solution is to use a red filter or lens on flashlights, or to buy a special red LED light. However, it is very simple to adapt a regular white flashlight to make it friendly to your eyes. All you need to do is cover it with anything red. Applying several coats of red fingernail polish to the flashlight lens is an inexpensive way to make a permanent astronomy light. Temporary astronomy lights can be made by covering a regular flashlight with a thick layer of non-flammable red paper or plastic and securing it with a rubber band. Some materials that can be used are listed below:

  • Red plastic gift basket wrap
  • Red brake-light tape
  • Small patch of red cloth
  • Printed page of solid red on your inkjet printer

No Flash Photography
The bright strobe of a camera flash can destroy everyone's night vision for 45 minutes to an hour.

Walk and Drive Carefully
Avoid kicking up dust with your feet or your car. Dust and rocks are not friendly to telescope optics. Don't kick the dirt and avoid running (a bad idea in the dark, anyway).

Ask Before Touching
Some astronomers may be adjusting their equipment or the telescope may not be aimed at any object in particular. So, please ask before touching or moving a telescope or other equipment. But don't be afraid to ask. Never touch any glass optical surface.

Be Careful of Food and Drink
Don’t take food or drink around the telescopes. Food and drink can ruin an optical surface.

Observing At A Star Party
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. This kind of discussion and chitchat 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.

Likewise, don't be afraid to ask questions about what's in the sky, where different constellations are or anything else. Astronomers, particularly amateur astronomers, are used to questions like that and they typically enjoy explaining such things to other people.