Shasta Astronomy Club
Welcome To Your
First Star Party!
You've seen that there is an upcoming Star Party coming up and you want to go....GREAT! What might you expect and how you can help make it as fun and exciting for yourself and others? Here's a selection of ideas, suggestions and a few rules for safety and comfort.
Let's get the rule out of the way -
Limit use of any white lights — Star parties are held in remote location for a reason – to escape light pollution. Pulling up to a star party late with your headlights on full power is a sure way to get off on the wrong foot. Use dim red flashlights at the site. Use no lights of any kind if you can stand it. Also, keep phone, tablet and laptop screens set as dim as possible.
Don’t litter – Pack out all trash. Permission to use these sites for star parties depends on how well attendees respect the surroundings.
Park politely – If you did not bring a telescope, park a bit further off so people unloading equipment can have better access to the site. You can walk to the instruments. Back into your parking spot so you don’t have to ruin someone’s viewing with your back-up lights when you leave. If you are late, turn off your headlights and have someone guide you to a parking place.
Bring what you will need – The sites are usually remote enough that there is no water. Plan ahead to pack in anything you might need. Remember, it can get cold quickly even during the summer. Layers are your friend!
Respect others – Do not touch other people’s equipment without permission. It is generally expensive and very much valued. Do not totally monopolize experts’ time. They love to share their knowledge but will also want to have time to take in the specific sights of that night’s sky.
What will I see through the eyepiece?
Why doesn't it look like pictures from the Hubble?
No matter if it's an amateur class telescope (like those at our Star Parties) or a professional research scope on a mountain top, we all have to deal with our planet's atmosphere. Temperature changes in the air column refract or bend the light coming to us from space. This is the reason stars appear to twinkle. As astronomers, we refer to this refraction as "Seeing" and the better the seeing, the calmer the air.
The human eye is a marvelous camera that excels at spotting movement but doesn't have the night vision capabilities of some other species. It can take us up to 30 minutes for our eyes to become fully dark adapted and a simple flash of white light (like from a flashlight or a car's headlights) will reset that clock and take another 30 minutes. We use red lights because the human eye is less sensitive to the particular wave length of red light (below 650 nanometers) and the damage to our dark adaption is significantly less. Here's a link to a site that goes into a lot more technical information.
So, we have a nice, clear night with good seeing and we've dark adapted our eyes so they're allowing the most photons possible to enter our eyes. Now what? Let's see what we can see. If we look at planets or the Moon, we can see some amazing detail plus color. The Moon shows us shades of gray, white and even some blue. Jupiter gives us reds, browns and whites. Mars IS the Red Planet. We find that color is only visible for those objects that are close too us in the sky. Stars, with a couple exceptions, are white pinpoints of light while other deep sky objects tend to appear a grayish green.
So why are all those pictures we see in magazines those beautiful colors? Well, it has to do with exposure. A camera can continue to capture photons over longs periods and much longer than our eyes can. The longer you look at something, the more detail you'll see. Be patient, looking through an eyepiece can be a challenge but, with practice, you'll be amazed at what you'll be able to see in the night sky!