…continuedParty with the Stars
OK, so you’ve picked an event to attend, and you’re looking forward to going. Don’t worry about whether your telescope is “good enough.” Everybody has to start somewhere, and that person scanning the skies with her giant reflector probably started out with a small department-store scope. What if you don’t have a telescope of any kind? Again, don’t worry. If you have a pair of binoculars, bring them, but all you really need are your eyes.
Since you’ll probably be able to see lots more stars than you can from home, a star party offers an excellent opportunity to start or continue learning the constellations. So you’ll want to have some kind of star chart. You’ll also need a red-filtered flashlight to read your charts while preserving your night vision and that of your fellow astronomers. And it’s nice to have a small table — a folding tray table perhaps — close at hand for eyepieces and star charts.
What can you expect when you arrive? If it’s a local club meet, things are simple. Say “Hi” to your star-mates, plunk your scope down, observe for as long as you want, and then pack up and leave. It’d be a good idea to arrive while there’s still enough light to set up your gear.
Up All Night
Once darkness falls you’re going to be mightily impressed by what you see overhead. So figure on spending some time just staring open-mouthed at the sky before you do anything with a telescope. Having skies that are so much darker than what you left back home is both good and bad. Incredibly dark skies will allow your telescope and your eyes to perform to the limits of their potential. But some people find that all the extra stars seen in pristine skies make even the most familiar constellations look different and confusing.
If you’re like most new star-party attendees, it will be hard for you to get into an all-night observing groove. But try to take full advantage of those superb skies by pulling at least one all-nighter. If you can stick with it into the wee hours, the heavens will roll on, bringing exciting “new” constellations into view. One way to keep going until dawn is to take frequent breaks. Have some coffee and a snack. Stroll around the field. Check out the views in some other scopes. Who knows? You may find yourself climbing a ladder to reach the eyepiece of an immense scope!
Viewing the night sky is wonderful anytime. But being able to experience it with friends and loved ones under perfectly dark skies is an especially thrilling and literally eye-opening experience for any stargazer, old or new.
An engineer by profession, Rod Mollise teaches astronomy labs at the University of South Alabama in Mobile.