Be Prepared - Star Party Supplies
Star parties are a fun way to get out, view the heavens, and further your experiences with other enthusiastic amateur astronomers. Your enjoyment at these functions can be enhanced by preparing ahead of time to be comfortable and equipped. Following are some suggestions to help you set the stage for an enjoyable evening of viewing.
- Warm clothes: Good dark sky sites are often at high elevations. Once the sun goes down, the temperatures drop, and chilling becomes a factor, even in the summertime. Warm dress is a must and don’t forget a hat. Dressing in layers is an easy way to prepare for a variety of conditions. You might consider: insulated underwear, a couple of shirts, jacket or windbreaker, head covering, scarf, earmuffs, heavier socks, boots or other warm footwear, and gloves. You can peel off or add layers as temperatures vary. Some people even bring a sleeping bag to wrap up in if it gets particularly cold. One way to keep your hands and feet warm in really cold weather is to keep a supply of the “air-activated” hand warmers. Slip one in each glove and you can keep track of your fingers!
- Red filtered flashlights: Once eyes are dark adapted, any white, blue or yellow light can hamper night vision. Red filtered light, however, does not damage night vision and so ALL lights used at the observing site should be covered by red filters. You can easily modify a standard flashlight by covering the lens with red construction paper, red fabric, red cellophane (thick layers), or red tail-light tape.
- If possible turn off the interior lights of your vehicle, or cover the lights with red tape or plastic covering BEFORE you arrive. If arriving before dark, back into your parking space so that you won't be using the backup lights to get out to go home. If arriving after dark please park on the edge of the viewing area so as to least disturb those already viewing. Please use parking lights and not the headlights when arriving or leaving after dark (on some of the newer cars you can't turn off the lights, but you might try clicking on the emergency brake ONE click and see if that works. It's not enough to engage the brakes but enough to get you out of the parking area and then release the brake). Sometimes people make a dark red covering for their headlights and attach it temporarily with the blue painters tape just to get in and out of the parking area.
- Warm clothes: we can't emphasize this one enough, it will be cold after dark.
- Folding chair, camp chair, or lawn chair. Some use their tail gate as a table.
- Star charts, eyepieces, extra equipment and batteries.
- Bring your binoculars. It's amazing how much you can see with them if you know where to look. Sometimes you just want to take a break and sit back and look up.
- Pen or pencil (be careful about water-soluble ink - it smears in the night dew) and a notebook. Keep in mind, red ink will not show up in the red light (experience is talking here).
- We are banning green lasers, except with the approval of the event coordinator. Many of our members are doing astrophotography and you can inadvertently ruin someone's once-in-a-lifetime 30-minute exposure at the 27-minute mark! Also there has been a problem with non-astronomers shining the green lasers at airplanes and not only is that a federal offense, it gives astronomers an unearned bad rap.
- Map to the area and driving directions (see the RCA website for directions and maps).
- Anything YOU think would make you more comfortable during your observing sessions!
- A good idea is to keep a bag ready in your car or home that contains some star party supplies so you are already half ready to go if an impromptu party is called.
- Warm clothes: it will be cold after the sun sets. Even star parties at high elevations in August have had below freezing temperatures.
- Some snacks and warm beverage might be nice if you're viewing more than a couple of hours. Hot chocolate, coffee, or ever hot cider and warm your insides while you add another layer of clothing (you did bring multiple layers, right?). Alcohol and night viewing and/or driving home do NOT mix at all.
- Develop your own permanent check-off list of star party supplies. It is pretty shaky to rely on memory - forgetting your eyepieces 100 miles from town puts a damper on your observing session.
- All of our organized star party sites have restrooms or outhouse/portapotty facilities. But for the more remote outhouses and porta-potties, you may want to bring a small roll of toilet paper and some sanitizing wipes or Purell. There are a few impromptu sites that have no facilities, so plan accordingly.