A star party is what we call events where members gather to look at the stars together. Typically a dozen or more telescopes will be available to look through. Some members attach cameras to their telescopes allowing computer displays for group viewing. Other telescopes need the observer to look through an eyepiece.
Usually the telescopes are set up in rows beside cars in a parking lot, and typically members arrive a hour or more before dark to setup, so it will be easy to tell if you have arrived at the right location.
Try to arrive while it is light and if you will need to leave early, as is often the case with small children, try to park near the exit to avoid headlights shining on the group. Arriving early while it is still light, lets you walk around to see the various telescopes, and ask questions.
Our Harrison Bay State Park is a free location, while the Cloudland Canyon State Park has a $5/car exact change parking fee either at the park entrance booth (before 5PM) or in a deposit box at the Disc Golf parking area after 5PM.
Night can get cool even in summer so bring a sweater or jacket. In the spring, fall, and winter, you’ll want hats, mittens, and extra warm coats.
Even before dusk, the moon is bright enough to be visible, and offers good viewing through a telescope. As darkness settles, the moon becomes blindingly bright, and members will move on to looking at other astronomical objects. One of the members may also offer a tour of the sky, pointing out constellations using a green laser pointer. The night sky changes each month as the earth progresses around the sun and the dark side points to a different part of our galaxy, so each star party will have different constellations visible.
There is enough star light, that once your eyes have adapted to the darkness, you’ll be able to walk around to the various telescopes to look through them. Best to walk slowly so as to not trip over unseen objects on the ground.
Members will have telescopes pointed to different stars, galaxies, nebulea, or other targets, so be sure to walk around and get a look through the different telescopes.
When looking through the telescope, care should be taken not to bump it, since this will move it away from the galaxy. There will be a focus knob that can be used to sharpen the image for your eye; only small adjustments are needed. It is best to ask to locate the focus knob before looking into the telescope. Those of us with glasses, usually remove them to look through the eyepiece.
Some telescopes automatically track what they are pointed at as the earth turns, others need to be manually adjusted every few minutes to continue pointing at the galaxy. This is called re-centering. Jumping or running around the telescopes is frowned upon, but don’t worry about the slight bumps that require re-centering, as this is expected. Be sure to ask if it appears the object isn’t visible anymore and the member will be happy to re-center it.
If you are lucky, you will get to see the bright fast moving reflection of light off of a satellite or the international space station as they orbit the earth, or even a comet.