Saturday, July 5, 2008

Want to Test Drive a Telescope? Go to a Star Party!

A star party is an event where astronomers get together with their telescopes. Sometimes they are public events, where the astronomers are showing the sky off to anyone who comes by. At other times they are private events, either held for an organization to show off the sky to that organization's members, or it may be an "astronomers only" event.

Chances are that somewhere in your area there are star parties going on. The hard part is finding them. If there's a local astronomer's group you can start by contacting them. If not, find a local science center or museum. Local nature groups are a good place to ask as well. Most public star parties get some form of publicity. You can also ask at a shop that stocks telescopes, they probably have astronomers among their clientele.

Sometimes local events will have someone there. We will be out at our town's 4th of July celebration today (our town has a tradition of doing its 4th of July celebration a day or two away from the actual day. We're near other towns that have celebrations on the actual 4th, so we "extend" the celebration by having a fair and fireworks either just before or just after.)

You might also find that there are individuals who take their telescopes out for impromptu star parties. We enjoy just taking our telescopes along when we go places, then set up on a sidewalk somewhere and start accosting passers-by asking them if they'd like a look at whatever is in our telescope.

And then you can look on the internet, as well.

As to the private star parties, usually you can get an invite. Either an astronomer can bring you along as a guest, or if it's held for some group they may invite you as a prospective member or otherwise allow you to attend as a guest (sometimes there's a fee, particularly if food and drinks are being served as part of the event.)

Once you get to a star party, you've got access to a number of telescopes, and their users. It's not hard to get most astronomers to talk about their equipment. In some cases, they'll be busy with something, but usually the hard part will be getting them to stop talking!
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