Astronomers from far and wide gather in remote locations, under clear, dark skies to look at heavenly bodies. This is called a star party. Some astronomers gather in the sand, under clear, bright skies to look at heavenly bodies. This is called a beach party.
If you go to a star party, there are several items you will want to bring with you. Etiquette at star parties is important, after all you are not alone at these star parties. Etiquette at beach parties is somewhat less restrictive.
In February, during the new moon, deep in the heart of the Conch Republic, near Key West, Florida, USA, winter weary astronomers gather for the Winter Star Party. The event is unique in that it occurs mid-winter during the height of the Florida Keys tourist season. The warm weather, coupled with dark skies, and possibly the steadiest skies in North America attracts attendees from all over the frozen United States, Canada, and Europe giving the event an international flavor. The amateur astronomical “get-to-together”allows participants to meet and share observing ideas, astro-imaging techniques, as well as find out what’s new in the hobby. WSP offers a stellar daily line-up of speakers who are experts in their particular field. WSP is held under the auspices of the Southern Cross Astronomical Society of Miami. This not -for-profit organization funnels proceeds from this event toward public education projects, scholarship programs, humanitarian needs and Girl Scout Camp improvements.
Every April or May during the new moon astronomers from around the world gather in West Texas at the Prude Ranch for the Texas Star Party, started by Deborah Byrd, members of the Austin Astronomical Society, and McDonald Observatory in August 1979. Activities include dark sky observing and imaging, an astrophotography contest, guest speakers, tours of McDonald Observatory, commercial vendors, and the opportunity to view numerous home built telescopes and gadgets. TSP is well known for its very dark skies and has strongly supported efforts to reduce light pollution. Two annual awards have traditionally been presented at TSP: The Lone Star Gazer Award (for personal achievement, accomplishment, and expertise) and The Omega Centauri Award (for public awareness and/or promotion of astronomy). Complete lists of all past award winners as well as past guest speakers may be found on the TSP History page listed below. The TSP’s observing fields at the Prude Ranch are the central field, the upper field, the upper-upper field, and the lower field. The TSP holds binocular programs of varying levels, telescope programs, a novice program, and an advanced observing program. The programs require the participant to observe a certain number of specified objects, and completion of a program will be awarded by a pin and in some cases another award. The binocular programs are usually a regular binocular program, an advanced binocular program, and a binocular program “from hell”.
The Riverside Telescope Makers Conference (RTMC) was founded in 1969 by Clifford W. Holmes for amateur telescope makers to share their craft. In 1975, the RTMC moved to its current home at Camp Oakes, a YMCA camp near Big Bear City. In 2000, the official name of the conference was changed to the “RTMC
Astronomy Expo.” Located 50 miles northeast of Riverside in the San Bernardino mountains, the site offers space for camping, several dormitories and 18 three-sided shelters, a meeting/dining hall, and the Charles Walker Observatory. The camp is located at an elevation of 7,200 feet. Click on the following link to view a labeled aerial photograph of Camp Oakes.
RTMC now serves all aspects of amateur astronomy, from our BeginnersCorner to advanced topics, and from telescope making to “armchair” astronomy. RTMC also includes events for the whole family with swimming, canoeing, rock wall climbing, hiking, a zipline, and activities for spouses and young kids.
Amateur astronomers attend RTMC because they can rub shoulders with many people who really know telescopes and love talking about them. Here, you can see and look through a great variety of telescopes, from small to very large, under some pretty dark skies at high altitude. You can also attend talks by professional and amateur astronomers on many different aspects of telescope use and construction, and on astronomy in general.
For over two decades, astronomers from across the U.S. and around the world have been gathering each summer in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. What draws them here each year? Dark skies. Not just dark skies, but dark skies with amazing transparency. These gazers of the stars are enjoying Rocky Mountain Star Stare!
Held in June or early July, RMSS is one of this nation’s premier star parties. Hosted by The Colorado Springs Astronomical Society on their own private land just north of Gardner, CO RMSS’s average attendance is usually 300 astronomers.
The Enchanted Skies Star Party, held in Socorro, New Mexico, offers a unique Southwestern Astronomy experience with many exciting features. We continue our decade-long tradition of presenting outstanding lectures by leading professional and amateur astronomers, observing at 10,600ft atop Socorro County’s South Baldy, part of the Magdalena Ridge and home to the new Magdalena Ridge Observatory. It is a prime astrophotography and observing location.
Participants will also have access to an insider’s tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array. The VLA is currently undergoing a transformation into a new research instrument: the Expanded Very Large Array. Completed in 2012, the new state-of-the-art electronics and software will have completely transformed the VLA into a much more capable research tool with more than ten times the VLA’s current sensitivity. This transformation will ensure that the VLA/EVLA will remain one of the best radio telescopes in the world.
The Stellafane Convention is a gathering of amateur telescope makers. The Convention was started in 1926 to give amateur telescope makers an opportunity to gather to show off their creations and teach each other telescope making and mirror-grinding techniques. All telescopes, commercial and homemade, are welcome. If you have made your own telescope, we strongly encourage you to display it in the telescope fields near the Stellafane Clubhouse. If you wish, you can enter your homemade telescope in the mechanical and/or optical competition. There are also mirror-grinding and telescope-making demonstrations, technical lectures on telescope making and the presentation of awards for telescope design and craftsmanship.
Near the new moon, at the end of September or beginning of October astronomers flock to the Okie-Tex Star Party, hosted by the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club, at Camp Billy Joe, near Kenton, Oklahoma. Boasting some of the darkest skies in the United States, the Okie-Tex Star Party has grown from its humble beginnings in 1983 to draw in some 500 astronomers every year from all over the United States, Canada, and from as far away as New South Wales, Australia and France.
The Eldorado Star Party, started in 2003 just for amateur astronomers who want dark skies and a protected environment. It is held at the 7,100 acre X-Bar Ranch near Sonora Texas. Sponsored by the Austin Astronomical Society, San Antonio Astronomical Association, and Hill Country Astronomers (Fredericksburg) with the support of the Texas Star Party, and volunteers from area clubs including Dallas and Houston, this event promises to bring dark skies closer to the amateur astronomer. The central location (46 miles west of Fort McKavett) is within easy driving distance of many Texas cities and enjoys the dry climate of west Texas.
To find out more about star parties or to volunteer to help out at the Eldorado Star Party or the Texas Star Party contact contact our Star Party Coordinator, Mark Jurena.