Some Simple HAA Star Party Tips

Most HAA members live in a highly light-polluted environment and don’t have the opportunity to observe from pristine dark sky locations nearly as much as we would like.  The HAA Dark Sky Star Party is a great remedy for dark sky envy.  Where else can you disregard your normal routine, stay up all night, poke around the Universe, visit with some old friends, make some new friends, and then sleep till noon – for an entire weekend?!

But remember, not everybody has been to a star party before; for some of us this will be completely new experience so please be kind, patient and considerate of everybody at the party.  To help make sure that we all have the chance to make this a memorable weekend, we are asking everyone to consider a simple few tips.

1 Come Prepared

Channel your inner Girl/Boy Scout and be ready to have an adventure.

  • No matter what temperature you expect, prepare for weather that is at least 20 degrees colder than forecast.
  • Make and use a check list to see that you don’t leave home without something you need, such as your eyepiece case, or red flashlight.  If you bring a telescope, set up a small tool box containing extra batteries, lights, etc.  Ask other club members for suggestions and advice before departing.
  • Bring a cooler or thermos, and something for a late night snack.  Even better, bring along some goodies to share with your friends around you.
  • If at all possible, arrive early enough so that you don’t have to arrive and set up after dark, see #2 below.  FYI, sunset is at 7:19pm at Andromeda Meadows on September 23.
  • Just in case, be prepared for three days/nights of clouds and rain; a good book, a guitar and a deck of cards might be handy.
  • Bring things you think you may need bug spray, sun screen, medications, food, tables, chairs, drinking water, clothing, etc., etc., etc…  No, you can NOT borrow my toothbrush!
Not all problems can be fixed with a mallet!

2 Red Lights at Night

It can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to dark adapt but just a split second of non-red light can obliterate the physiological changes in your eyes causing your body to re-start the dark adaption process.  Also, that split-second of light will do the same to those around you — but there is hope.  Muted red light sources are not nearly as damaging to your dark adaption; so use red filters or film on any non-red light source.  This means:

  • No non-red lights after sundown – except if it is raining.
  • If you are on dangerous terrain and need a bright red light, point it straight down!  Even a red-filtered light can interrupt dark adaption if it is bright enough.
  • Please cover any exterior/interior vehicle, trailer or RV lights that might shine out of the vehicle with red film or be kind enough to remove the fuses or bulbs before sunset.  You can test your lighting set-up during civil twilight to make sure you have everything covered or disabled.
  • If you have to leave the party before dawn, park where your lights will not bother those who are staying.
  • If a bright light can’t be avoided, be sure to just yell “LIGHTS IN FIVE SECONDS” beforehand, to give everyone time to turn the other way. People will appreciate you warning them ahead of time.
Even some red lights can be too bright!

3 Participate Respectfully

Star Parties are the perfect place to learn more about observing, more about telescopes, and more about all the other accessories and equipment that go with the hobby.  There is no better way than to learn first-hand from other amateurs who have experience with the item you are thinking about.  Get the information you need and share the information you have by:

  • Walk around the observing field during the day as well as at night.  Chat with people you meet, they are really very interesting once you get to know them.
  • Always ask the equipment owners’ permission before you look.  You may be able to try that new eyepiece you have been considering or to see if a particular telescope design is right for you, but always ask ahead of time; it is possible that the scope owner might be in the middle of some careful set-up process or imaging run.
  • If you have one, bring your telescope, binoculars, etc and share your views with your neighbours!  You may have a model that someone else would like to see.  Be prepared to do your share of answering questions. In light of Covid, respect people’s choices regarding sharing telescope views and equipment.
  • Don’t impose, use common sense and keep your visit to a reasonable length of time.  Remember to be considerate!  Most amateur astronomers love to show off their equipment but they also have their own personal space, observing habits and observing objectives that may be different than yours.
  • Don’t be an eyepiece hog at someone else’s telescope.  However, you should never take just a two second peek at an interesting object; spend a moment or two to really understand what you are looking at.
  • The largest telescopes on the field are not public property.  Their owners may have their own observing programs to carry out.  If you would like to look through one, ask ahead of time if the scope will be open for public observing during the star party, find out when, then go during the proper time.
  • Be helpful and share your knowledge. A star party is a place for learning, and a place for teaching.  If you see a novice struggling to locate an object or use some gear, ask if you can provide any assistance.
  • Every once in a while take a break and walk around the observing field. You may just see some amazing sights!
  • Enjoy yourself, help others to enjoy themselves and participate in the HAA community!

4 Be Nice, Considerate and Helpful to Everyone

Star Parties are for fun.  Come to the party in a good mood and stay in one.  But also, expect that things will go wrong, especially with the equipment that amateur astronomers use. You will forget something or you may not be able to set up exactly how you would like.  Make the best of it; don’t get in a sour mood and spoil the party for yourself and anyone around you.  You never know, someone near you just might be able to help.

  • Early Risers – Loud talking or making loud noise is out of place before noon and often unappreciated by those observers who don’t retire till dawn.  Conversely, loud talking on the observing field at 4 or 5 AM is also unappreciated by early risers who may have to leave early in the morning or by families with small children.
  • Music Lovers – Music is a great relaxation, and for some, a great addition to an observing session but not everyone has the same taste so keep the volume very subdued and if asked, please turn your music off, unless you use ear buds or headphones in which case, blast away if you feel like it! 
  • Novice Campers – If this is your first “no services” camping trip, you might want to consider practicing somewhere close to home before you arrive at Andromeda Meadow.  Find a campsite with no electricity, no potable water, no sewer hook-up or dump station, no tables, no chairs, no nutin’ and only vault toilets to see how things go.  No services camping can be fun and inexpensive but it can also be a miserable ordeal, if you are not prepared. It is best to work out any kinks before you get all set-up and 3-plus hours away from home.
  • Smokers – Please be careful when lighting your cigarette on the observing field. The normally insignificant glow of a lighter or match will affect the dark adapted eyes of your friends.  So be careful to turn away and cup your hands around the flash, so the flare of your match won’t ruin anyone else’s eyes.  Also please collect your butts and take them home with you.
  • Volunteers – The people who run the star party are all volunteers.  If they need help jump in and lend a hand …it will be appreciated.

5 Be Careful with your Food and your Trash

  • The Bruce Peninsula is a core area of one of 18 UNESCO Biosphere Preserves in Canada with globally significant terrestrial and marine ecosystems, including globally imperiled “alvars”, one of the rarest ecosystems in North America.  And, the peninsula has the greatest concentrations of alvars on the continent, harbouring an exceptional variety of globally and provincially rare species.  Help minimize our impact on this area by taking away all the stuff you bring in.
  • Trash belongs in the trash can, not around your site.  You would be amazed at how many people think nothing of leaving it lay till “tomorrow,” but by morning it has blown away or worse, been taken away by critters.
  • Food, refuse and garbage can attract animals, particularly at night so be sure to stow things away properly in your vehicle.
  • HAA Members are guests at Andromeda Meadow and it is privilege to be able to be there.  Please do not let our hosts regret the decision to allow us access to their property.