Star Party Etiquette

These rules are intended to help maintain access and use of the San Antonio Astronomical Association’s observing sites for as many members and their guests as possible, while preserving the conditions that have brought us out to enjoy the sky. By following these rules, everyone will be able to pursue the study and enjoyment of astronomy to the fullest satisfaction.

If you are new to the Association, or it has been a while since you have been to a star party, please take a few minutes to review these basic rules. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if anything is unclear.

  • Members are responsible for their guests
    • All non-members are considered “Invited Guests” and must observe these rules.
  • Alcoholic beverages are prohibited
    • Be aware that alcohol may adversely affect your night vision, body temperature and ability to drive home
  • No open fires
    • The smoke from the fire not only poses a potential wild fire problem, but the smoke can damage the delicate optics and can cause sensative individuals to suffer alergic reactions.
  • No littering
    • Everyone shall be responsible for their litter. If you pack it in, then pack out when you leave. Access to the observing site depends upon each member complying with this rule.
  • No Smoking
    • Please refrain from smoking near the telescopes as smoke can damage the delicate optics and can cause sensitive individuals to suffer severe allergic reactions. Smoking 100 or 200 meters downwind of the telescopes is not an unreasonable distance.
  • Insect Repellant
    • Use a lotion or cream or if using a spray, please remember that the tiniest drop of insect repellent will instantly and irreparably destroy the delicate optics. Walking two or three hundred feet downwind before spraying is not overdoing it!
  • No White Lights after dusk.
    • White light ruins the dark adaptation your eyes develop after about 20 or 30 minutes in the dark. Astronomers depend on this dark adaptation to see very faint deep sky objects. When a white light is used after dark, it takes up to 30 minutes for everyone to regain their night eyes.Also, white light will destroy the very long and tedious photographic exposures astronomers commonly make. Needless to say, don’t EVER take a flash picture at a star party!In order to find their way in the dark without losing their dark adaptation, astronomers use deep red lights only. You can make such a light by placing a DEEP RED plastic film over a regular flashlight or you can purchase a ready-made deep red astronomy flashlight. Most companies that sell astronomy related equipment carry red flashlights which are pefect for this use.

      Hobby stores, such as Michael’s, carry a plastic film made by Highland Supply Corporation called Highlander® Clearphane Film®. A 30? x 25′ roll costs less than $5.00.

  • Park Based on your Observing Plan
    • You should park your vehicle facing towards the exit, to avoid having to backup using backup lights.
    • If you planning to leave early, park close to the exit.
    • If you come to a star party without a telescope park some distance away from the observing site to save room for those with heavy equipment to carry.
  • Vehicles on the observing field
    • Vehicles are not allowed on the observing field, except to load or unload equipment.
    • The maximum speed on the observing field is 5 MPH (8 KPH) to keep the sturred up dust to a minimum
  • Green Lasers
    • The SAAA has an official policy concerning the use of green laser pointers. Common sense and courtesy dictate what is acceptable. For sky tours early in the evening, the green laser pointer is certainly a valuable tool. Minimize its use, and no one will likely object to it. As the sky darkens, several hours after sunset, some star party attendees may be engaged in astrophotography or imaging. The use of the laser is not allowed after astronomical twilight ends. If you feel a need to use it, and there is only a small group at the site, it is recommended that you get an “OK” from the group before using the laser.Do NOT use your laser pointer to point at an object below 20°Never, ever, point a laser of any color or class at your eyes, another person, an animal, or any aircraft.
  • Avoid loud and boisterous behavior
    • Star-gazing is a quiet, peaceful activity. So keep noise to a minimum. No loud radios, tape players, CBs, CDs, MP3 players, horns, yelling, etc… Please, no singing to your music either. You may believe that you sing like an angel, when others think you sing like Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, Lee Marvin, or Clint Eastwood. We also request that you turn off your mobile phone ringer.
  • Headlights
    • When you arrive at an observing site after dark, you should dim your headlights BEFORE entering the parking lot. You should also make sure your non-red courtesy lights do not turn on when the door or trunk is opened. This applies when you are leaving too.
  • Flash Photography
    • The bright strobe of a camera flash can destroy everyone’s night vision for 45 minutes to an hour. Photographs taken under dark conditions, even with a flash, generally do not turn out well, anyway, unless you’re using special film and camera settings.

      If you must use a camera flash to illuminate the foreground, warn everyone who is on-site, prior to setting up the shot, and announce it before setting off the flash.

  • Children
    • Children are always welcome at all of our star parties.However, we ask that you do not allow your younger children to run around unattended. Most of our observing sites are in wooded areas and it would be very easy for anyone to get lost at night. Also, there are cables of every kind around the oberving area, and a child could get hurt.
  • Ask Before Touching
    • Some astronomers may be adjusting their equipment or doing delicate astrophotography, or the telescope may not be aimed at any object in particular, so please ask before touching or moving a telescope or other equipment.
  • Clothing
    • Clothing is not optional
    • Do bring warm clothes — warmer than you think you might need. Most people are not used to being outside late at night and you may find it is a lot colder than you expected. Dress for temperatures about 10 degrees colder than forecast.
  • Never be the Next to the Last to Leave
    • Don’t leave someone alone at the observing site without first checking with them. Dead car batteries, vandals…
  • Observing Site Guidelines — These guidelines apply to observing sites in general, not just the SAAA’s.
    • Avoid loud and boisterous behavior. Star-gazing is a quiet, peaceful activity.
    • Don’t litter.
    • Don’t set up too close to another observer. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to ask, “Is it OK if I set up here?”
    • If you’re a visitor or a newbie, try not to monopolize another person’s time. The astronomers are there to enjoy the sky, not to give lessons. (Except, of course, when the party is specifically organized to help the public and/or newbies.)
    • Don’t just look once After we show the first group of objects, we’ll move the scopes to additional objects. So, after making the rounds of the telescopes, go back again, as we may have something new. We also take requests.
    • Be sure that there is nothing in your hands. Some of the telescopes will have open frames where the mirror is exposed. Set down anything you are holding before trying to look into the scope. One slip could damage an expensive mirror!
    • Unfiltered Laptops are a No No – Laptops, even those with a “Night Mode”, can be bright enough to cast shadows. Use a plastic filter and an enclosure to eliminate glare and stray light.
    • Bring your binoculars. It’s amazing how much you can see with them if you know where to look.
    • Bring a folding chair of chaise lounge. It’s nice to sit under the stars, listening the quiet sound of voices in the night.
    • Watch your step (but don’t use a flashlight). Be especially careful of wires on the ground. Some scopes require power and some folks use their car’s battery. If your scope requires power try to make the wires as safe as possible.
    • Pets — some places ban pets, some allow them. If you bring your pet make sure it is firmly under control.
    • Music — some places ban music altogether, some are less strict. Just remember that music that you love may be extremely irritating to others. When in doubt use a headset. At our events, we do not ban music, but we ask that you use headphones.
    • Alcohol — some ban it; some almost require it. If you do drink (at a party that allows it) make sure you don’t violate the “loud and boisterous” rule. And be aware that alcohol may adversely affect your night vision, body temperature and ability to drive home. The SAAA does not allow the consumption of alcohol at our events.
    • Flame throwers and fifty-caliber stray light eliminators should be equipped with glare shields.
    • Owners of GoTo telescopes and telescopes that have motorized slewing must offer coffee to passers-by who mistake the noise of their slewing motors for that of an espresso machine.
    • Bears, coyote, pumas, and skunks have right of first refusal on anyone’s night lunch, except when the observer is very hungry.
  • Most of all, enjoy the night sky and the company.
    • While they are not loud and festive, star parties are very enjoyable social affairs that are also quite educational.