Star Party Etiquette

Time to remind everyone of the common rules for star party etiquette. As few simple considerations for your fellow star party participants help make the event more enjoyable for everyone.

Obsession at Kaʻohe
The 20″ Obsession telescope awaiting full dark at Kaʻohe, on the side of Mauna Kea

Not to say these are hard rules, they will get broken. Try not do break these rules… It is simply a matter of courtesy to other star party participants. Be polite and you will be far more welcomed to share the experience under a dark sky.

The points of etiquette below apply to any star party you might attend, with a few added bits particular to our West Hawaii Astronomy Club events.

Arrival

Please plan to arrive before sunset. This allows daylight for finding the observing site and finding a good setup spot on the observing field without bothering other participants. There is plenty of light for unpacking your gear and assembling your telescope without using artificial light.

Star Party Sunset
Participants in a star party silhouetted against the sunset

One of my most pleasurable parts to a star party is sitting beside the telescope watching the sunset, relaxing and watching the sky grow dark. Twilight is also great time to walk about and meet folks while you can still see faces and check out the gear.

Keep your speed down and drive very slowly for safety and to avoid stirring up dust around the telescopes.

Departure

Most Big Island star parties are casual affairs, with many folks leaving around midnight and few making it to dawn. Think about your departure when parking. Park so you can pull out without reverse lights and have a clear shot at the exit with no other vehicles or telescopes to weave around.

Obsession at Kaʻohe
The 20″ Obsession telescope being set up at Kaʻohe, on the side of Mauna Kea

There are times safety trumps etiquette. If it is safer to use the headlights to leave the star party then do so. Better ruined night vision or an exposure than a destroyed telescope run over in the dark. Or worse… A call to 911.

If you are not bringing a telescope consider parking away from the observing field or near the entrance so you can simply walk a short ways back to your vehicle and make a quick escape.

Lights

Using red lights on the observing field will help preserve everyone’s night vision. With the availability of cheap red LED lights these are simple to have in your observing kit.

Observing Table
The observing table during visual observing, all the necessities… charts, guides, binoculars, observing notebook and something to drink.

Red lights can still be annoyingly bright, particularly for serious visual observers. Shine lights down at your feet and do not sweep the light about at the telescopes and observers.

If you need to use a computer screen arrange your observing table so the screen is not visible to others. Simply turn the screen away from others or arrange a cover for the screen. A screen cover can be as simple as a cut up cardboard box making the computer visible only to you when sitting at the keyboard.

Most vehicles will illuminate the interior lights when a door is opened. This feature can usually be disabled if you check the vehicle manual. Many dome lights have a switch beside each light. On my Ford the interior lights are disabled if you turn the dash dimming knob all the way to one end of the adjustment.

Equipment

Most amateurs welcome visitors at their telescopes. Sharing the sky is a big part of a star party. A few simple things to remember… Do not be an eyepiece hog and monopolize someone elses equipment. Ask before adjusting anything like telescope focus or position.

Pets

Pets are usually not an issue if kept controlled and on leash, but this may be subject to the rules of the observing site. Most recently our club has been using state land for our events. Part of our DLNR permit conditions rules out pets as “No animals” is specifically spelled out.

Fires and Smoking

Another condition of our DLNR permit states no fires, so leave the BBQ grill at home. Due to fire danger on the grasslands it is best to smoke only inside a vehicle and dispose of your butts properly.

Other Stuff…

Come prepared! It gets cold, even here in Hawaii when high on the mauna. Some cold weather clothing will make the event far more enjoyable. Some munchies and water should also be on your required equipment list.

Mauna Kea Observing
A pair of telescopes set up high in the side of Mauna Kea

Sweep your area when leaving and make sure you leave the site as you found it. My standard procedure is to check about to insure I leave no trash behind as the last thing I do before driving off. Checking twice is a good way to find that lens cap or expensive eyepiece I dropped in the dark.

Do not leave anyone alone without checking. A dead car battery or other issues in the night can be a lot easier to deal with if you have help.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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