What Are Star Parties? - dummies

By Stephen P. Maran

Star parties are outdoor conventions for amateur astronomers. They set up their telescopes (some homemade and some not) in a field, and people take turns skywatching. (Be prepared to hear plenty of “Oohs” and “Ahs.”)

Judges choose the best homemade telescopes and equipment, earning their owners esteem and sometimes even a prize. If rain falls in the evening, partygoers may watch slide shows in a nearby hall or a big tent. Arrangements vary, but often some attendees camp in the field; others rent inexpensive cabins or commute from nearby motels.

Star parties may last for a night or two, or sometimes as long as a week. They attract a few hundred to a few thousand (yes, thousand!) telescope makers and amateur astronomers. And the larger star parties have websites with photos of previous events and details on coming attractions. Some resemble the AstroFests, with exhibitors and distinguished speakers as well as stargazing.

The leading star parties in the United States include

  • Stellafane: This Vermont star party has been going strong since 1926.
  • Texas Star Party: Commune with the stars on the mile-high Prude Ranch in the Lone Star State.
  • RTMC Astronomy Expo: This worthy event takes place at Camp Oakes near Big Bear City at 7,600 feet in California’s San Bernardino Mountains.
  • Enchanted Skies Star Party: Head to the desert for dark sky observing near Magdalena, New Mexico, and fine speakers.
  • Nebraska Star Party: This party boasts “a fantastic light pollution–free sweep of the summer night sky.”

Here are some of the leading star parties in the United Kingdom:

  • The LAS Equinox Sky Camp: Held at Kelling Heath, Norfolk, this party bills itself as “the largest star party in the U.K.”
  • Kielder Star Camp: This twice-yearly event in the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park occurs in a forest thought to be “the darkest venue for any English star party.”

If you live in or plan to visit the Southern Hemisphere, check out these star parties:

In the long run, visit at least one of these star parties, but in the meantime, you can ask at a local astronomy club meeting about a similar, although perhaps smaller, event that may be planned in your own area.