Top 10 Rules for Star Party Etiquette

Summer has peaked and the days are slowly getting shorter, and the nights longer. Cool weather, and long nights on the horizon means star party season for me, and in fact I’m heading up to a Star Party in West Virginia later this month. I love star parties, I’ve helped organized a few smaller ones, and I’ve traveled all over the country attending them out of desire, as a speaker, and as part of my job representing Software Bisque.

Red lights galore under a dark sky can only be one thing… a Star Party!

I’ve seen some trends that are universal, and I thought a “light hearted” post about Star Party Etiquette for imagers might be fun. Some rules should not have to be written down, but alas… let’s face it, the longer we go without sleep, the more impaired our judgement becomes. I know most people don’t mean to be rude, and before I get started, I want to be very clear that I am indeed being a bit… tongue in cheek. I myself have violated every single one of these rules, so don’t take this as a gripe session, but rather as a gentle reminder to myself, as well as to anyone else who needs it. We’ve all been the victim here, and we’ve all been the perpetrator if we are honest with ourselves.

Rule #1

You got there at 5 a.m. and waited in line for a good spot. Congrats. When someone else gets there at 5 p.m. and is trying to get setup, leave them alone. Oh, it’s an old friend? Fine, say hi, and ask if they want help. No? Okay, now go away and come back later to catch up. There is almost nothing worse than trying to setup a complex imaging system while someone is talking to you. Except maybe trying to do this in the dark while someone is talking to you.

Setting up at a star party can be a good amount of work.

I once flew into a star party, traffic was horrible getting out of the city and the Sun was setting by the time I arrived. “Here Richard, we have a spot saved for you”… followed by “Hey Richard made it! (the crowd goes wild…) Let’s all leave him alone until he’s setup, okay”. God bless you man, and you know who you are<g>. If you’re all setup, bored, and looking for someone to talk to, go find someone staring at the sky assessing the weather.

Rule #2

Imaging is not nearly as social as visual observing at a star party. Imagers do enjoy talking about what they are imaging, and they enjoy talking about their gear. If they are staring intently at their computer screens, if they are using a dim red light to examine cables in the dark. Leave them alone. Don’t. Even. Say. Hi.

Rule #3

Really… red light is still light, and there is a surprising amount of it moving around at a star party.

A bright red light is still a bright light. I honestly don’t know why imagers bother with red light actually, except in an environment where others are doing visual astronomy, but I won’t get on that soap box. Cameras are sensitive to this light. Don’t shine a bright red light into someone’s telescope, or anywhere near the aperture, or the front of their camera lenses.

Rule #4

It amazes me that 300 people will show up for a star party, and we’ll have the most pristine night I’ve seen in ages. Yet only about 20 or so people will stay up past 11 o’clock. A surprising number of people go to bed early, and I don’t fault them for that, but come the early a.m. don’t assume everyone had a good nights rest, and keep the noise and voices down.

Rule #5

Related, this one is for star party organizers. No swap meets at 8 am. It’s just rude. You do know what the purpose of a star party is, right?!?!? Star parties that don’t bother serving breakfast automatically get two extra stars in my reviews. The people there are my kind of people.

Vendors do have a grand time at Star Parties, but we actually ARE there to work. Some of these rules do not apply to us.

Rule #6

When sitting in the dark, it is easy to start to feel isolated. Your voice carries much further than you think. I’ve heard things in the dark at star parties that would make a tabloid reporter blush. Once I even heard a fellow vendor trash talking themselves! Loudly.

Rule #7

Big Dobs rule at star parties. I’ve never met a big dob owner who did not want to show off and share the views.

Bring extra cables. Install all your software updates at home, fire up your gear and make sure it’s working before you leave. It’s frustrating as heck to get there and be in the dark, and then find you can’t get your system going. The only thing worse, is when you’re trying to get started for the night and a neighbor can’t. I just got this thing, and only just took it out of the box here… Yikes. Yes, let me stop with everything and fix your problem until midnight or so. A lot of people use a star party as a learning opportunity. They want friends who can help them get going. This is great, and this is what your local astronomy club is for. But, don’t show up at a star party and expect everyone around you to be excited to tutor you with equipment and software they are not familiar with.

A proviso about rule #7. I am a vendor. Vendors are paid to come to these events and to help customers and potential customers. You are not bothering us, we are not on vacation, and we are there to help. When a vendor sends someone to a star party, if we are doing imaging, it’s to demonstrate our products. If you can’t image, we actually ARE there to help you. What I’m saying is… most of the other people around you are on vacation just like you. Bear that in mind.

Rule #8

It’s time to go home. You’ve been meaning to talk to someone all weekend, and now the opportunity is slipping through your fingers. Say hello, say goodbye, and ask if they want help packing up. If they say no, it’s not an invitation to sit down and talk to them while they are trying to get organized for the trip home. Don’t procrastinate to the very end.

Rule #9

It’s soooo coool, I just want to touch it…. NO.

Visual people generally love to share their scope. You can walk up to anyone with a big dob and ask for a look. 99.999% of them love to show off their babies. Do not assume you can though, and equipment “abandoned” while someone takes a bathroom or coffee break is not yours to use.

Rule #10

Put some reflective tape and or small dim blinky red lights around your setup. I even have reflective tape on one of my cameras so the black body floating in air cannot be easily bumped into. It’s surprising how many people will sneak a peek at their smart phones under their jackets, and then wander around blinded for a few minutes… perhaps right into your counterweight shaft.

Rule #11

Have fun 😉

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