This may sound like a silly question for many reading this, but amateur astronomy, hopefully, is gaining new members all the time and there are some "star party virgins" out there so I thought I would write something to give them a bit more of an idea about what a star party is all about.
Others may feel free to add more to this as appropriate.
So What is a Star Party?
So what is a star party? Like any other party a star party is the gathering of people for the purpose of having a good time. Specifically though a star party is geared toward having that good time under the stars and during the daytime having that good time under one particular star, our Sun.
A few star parties had existed for years (Stellafane – 1926 and Riverside – 1969) but star parties did not become common until the 1980’s with the beginnings of the Texas Star Party in the early 80’s and the Winter Star Party in 1984 and Okie-Tex in 1984. Several others like the Deep South Star Gaze started in 1983 (known early on as the Deep South Regional Star Gaze) were a bit smaller, but grew thru the years. In the 90’s star parties really exploded in number as attendees at star parties like the few listed above patterned additional star parties closer to home using what they learned at these early star parties to do something similar. The Deep South Star Gaze can be credited as the “Father” of 3 different star parties as Deep South attendees decided to start their own star parties closer to home; these other events were the Peach State Star Gaze, the Mid South Star Gaze and the Kisatchie Star Party.
Strictly speaking a star party can be as short as one afternoon and one evening under the stars but the larger organized events which are planned literally months or even years in advance take it to a whole other level. Some of these have had attendances well beyond 100 or so for years. Some have approached attendances close to or even beyond 1000 at one time or another. These larger star parties are also held over multiple days and nights with lengths of 5 or more days and nights being common.
So what can a newbie (first time star party attendee) expect? He or she can expect to have a good time, hopefully under clear and dark skies. He or she can hope to take their knowledge of the night sky and their ability to use their own observing equipment be it telescope, binoculars or their own eyes to the next level and often beyond. With or without their own equipment an attendee has the opportunity to see what the night sky looks like thru a variety of instruments. A star party is a great opportunity to kick the tires, to see what others like to use and why. He or she can expect to be awed by the night sky, especially if all they know is the mostly light polluted sky common to any large community today. It is truly fun to listen to those “Night Sky Virgins” wax poetic about all these new wonders of the night sky that they are seeing for the first time in their life.
So use of a telescope under a dark sky is a big, big part of a star party, but that is not all. For the old timers, myself included, just sitting around on a pleasant day under the shade of a canopy talking to friends is in many ways as much fun as observing at night. The talk may be about astronomy but many subjects are visited and the time seems to just race by, particularly if the weather is good. Some attendees may uncover their telescopes to observe the Sun or perhaps a planet that they were able to hunt down during daylight. Others may be fine tuning their mount or telescope in some way. Some may have a table set up to display astronomy items that they brought for sale. A star party is a great place to check out equipment that you are thinking about purchasing and to actually purchase some things at good prices that you have been lucky enough to find.
For others the appeal of certain star parties may be because of the area where it is being held. There could be people, places and things in the area to go visit. There could be a day hike, an antique store or a special lunch nearby to help pass a day. Others may just want to relax.
At many star parties there are programs scheduled as a way for the attendees to learn more about a particular subject with programs being given by local members or nationally recognized speakers.
For many, one of the highlights of a star party is the door prize drawings. A star party can often be a good way to win valuable prizes. It might be just a book or a poster or it could be a telescope or good pair of binoculars.
Many who attend star parties will go back to the same one each and every year. Many who do this will also attend other star parties in other parts of the country. For these, the Star Party Bug has really hit them.
Hopefully I have swayed some into giving a star party some consideration. For those who are now excited about the prospect – the Deep South Spring Scrimmage begins on Tuesday May 4th and runs to Sunday morning, May 9th of this year. There is no mandate to attend for all days and nights, one nice day and clear night should be enough to bring you back year after year.
Edited by BarrySimon615, 11 April 2021 - 04:05 PM.