Host A Star Party!
January 2, 2014
When we go to star parties, we never tire of seeing people’s faces light up—often literally!—when they see the craters on the Moon in sharp detail, or that audible gasp of amazement when they first glimpse the rings of Saturn or the belts of Jupiter. It’s sharing that sense of discovery and wonder that keeps us travelling around the country, but you don’t have to wait for us to drop by your area to experience it for yourself. If you have a telescope—or even better, friends with telescopes—why not host your own star party?
A star party doesn’t have to be a huge event, and the logistics of putting it together are pretty straightforward. The first thing you need to do is determine the date and location. Friday and Saturday nights are best due to most people’s availability, and you want to make sure you pick a night when crowd-pleasing objects will be visible through your setup: Jupiter and Saturn are always popular, as are spiral galaxies, distinctive nebulae, and bright binary stars. And, of course, everyone loves the Moon!
As for where to host it: a remote dark sky site may be your ideal choice for observing, but if you want to draw a crowd of first-timers, a more urban location such as a public park is your best bet. Schools work well, too. Just get in touch with a local elementary or high school and see if they would be open to you hosting a star party, and you’ll have a built-in audience of intellectually curious students, parents, and teachers all clamoring to look through the eyepiece.
To get bodies to your party to see celestial bodies, you’ll need some publicity. Start a couple weeks out to build some buzz. Whether you’re solo, part of an astronomy club, or just an informal group of enthusiasts, use your social media channels to get the word out. Create colorful flyers and pin them up on community boards in coffee shops and local restaurants. Reach out to schools to see if any teachers would be interested in bringing their classes. Contact your local newspaper to see if it will list your star party in an upcoming events calendar. Use as many community resources as possible.
When the day of your star party arrives and you’ve got a bunch of excited aspiring astronomers coming, the fun really begins. We asked our Facebook friends for their star party essentials, and here’s our must-have checklist for a great night:
- Eyepieces and telescope accessories: bring multiple eyepieces, Barlow lenses, and filters to enhance the night’s most stunning objects. And don’t forget other important tools, too, like a lens cleaning cloth, a dew shield, solar filter (if your star party kicks off when the Sun’s still up), and a fully-charged power supply.
- Beach towel: spread a large towel under your tripod to provide a soft landing place in case something falls. It’ll be a lot easier to find, too.
- Stepladder: if you’ve got kids coming, a small ladder or stool is crucial so they can enjoy peeking through the eyepiece, especially if you have a larger telescope setup. The parents will also thank you for not having to lift their little ones up!
- Headlamp: keep your hands free with this convenient light. Many camping headlamps switch between red and white light, so you can use red during observing time and white afterward to help with cleanup.
- Smartphone app: there are so many great planetarium apps on the market that we don’t have enough room to list them all! Load up your favorite on your smartphone or tablet and let guests explore the sky.
- Binoculars: if you have a limited number of telescopes or you’re just worried about people getting bored, bring large-aperture binoculars (our SkyMaster and Cometron models are huge crowd pleasers) and let your guests pass them around.
- Handouts: we always run out of copies of How to Buy Your First Telescope at star parties, which proves that everyone loves to learn more about astronomy. Print out some sky maps and informational material that guests can take home to stay engaged with the hobby.
- Laser pointer: if your community allows it, a green laser pointer is an eye-catching tool to help point out celestial objects.
- Tripod lights: attach small lights to your tripod legs so guests don’t trip over them. We like using snap-and-shake glow necklaces or bracelets looped around the legs.
- Drinks and snacks: if your party’s going to run late, setting out bottles of water and simple snacks like granola bars will keep everyone energized.
- Camera: don’t forget to take pictures, and be sure to share them with us on our Celestron Facebook page!
That should keep you covered for a night full of fun, camaraderie, and learning. Good luck with your star party—clear skies!