Oh Yes Ladies and Gentlemen the time is upon us already. The season of star fests, star parties, even a star stare is in full force and surging. What is that you say? You have never been to a star party? This is your lucky day then . You have the duty to your love of Astronomy to go to one. You will not regret it(weather permitting), but I got to tell you I had a wonderful time at the Smokey Mountain Star Gaze in 2008, which was a one and done affair. It Rained the entire week. Copious amounts of rain but I got to sit around and talk to a very great group of guys that all share the same love of our hobby. I did take my son into Cherokee North Carolina to sample the local fare and hit a museum. Not all was lost. Between the spectacular views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the local flavor we drank in, my son and I had a great time despite the deluge.
Like just about anything in life, you need to have a plan or at least a rough idea on how things should go, how things do go and last but not least, how things could go and believe me those three things are never the same. How things should go means getting the schedule from the star event of your choosing.From there you need to build this great escape. Really there are three parts to the plan .The first part of the plan begins with a list of what to pack that means doing the homework, like see what kind of temps occurs where you are going. You venture up the hill 8'000 feet and you will find it is not the same by a long shot temperature wise. There are many lists out there of what to take along, almost every website for a star fest has one already sitting there for you to use. They all are pretty much the same, you just need to be tuned into what might be star fest site specific. OK you have the list and and all is packed or will be soon enough.Tip!!! Supervise the packing yourself or just do it all yourself because when you delegate this out you go missing stuff. Having kids help with the packing has taught me this ugly lesson.The next step is the route to get there. Now believe me when I tell you the route your GPS tells you to go is not always the best route nor is Map quest. I believe that the GPS knows that you have a 3000 dollar scope in the back so it picks the roughest goat path it can find just to mess with you.With that in mind, take a moment and check the chosen route and determine if it a wise one. When choosing when to leave keep in mind arriving at dusk or dark to set up your tent and getting situated will definitely make you the topic of conversation. Make sure you arrive with plenty of daylight left to setup and meet your neighbors You will be way ahead of the game. Something I always bring in addition to my tent is a pop up canopy. It keeps you cool in the day and somewhat protected in the night plus it is a great place to keep your scope during the day, it keeps the heat off of it and if it starts to rain (forbid the thought) you have a nice place for folks to gather and talk about the evils of goto or the best eyepiece ever made (I have three go to scopes. I guess I am evil).
The second part: Great we are there !!! This is when the event schedule kicks in. Take a look at who is speaking and what the subject is. Sounds like something you want to do? Then do it. Now if it is about "Quantum physics, the mathmatic side" taught by someone like Ben Stein, then maybe not. This is the very funny man with the dryest monotone deliveries on the planet. It might be a great time to take a stroll around the scope orchard, take a day trip to somewhere interesting in that part of the country. You will have several oportunities to do your own thing. Make sure you get back before dusk with that car or you will make everybodies list again. Usually there will be a parking lot for late arrivals, just check and follow the site specific rules when it comes to white light.Speaking of white light, it is a No No. Red LED lights are the best with white flashlights with a red film over them, an acceptable but not preferred solution.Concerning red LEDs try and find one that dims. I have been dark adapt blinded for 45 minutes by the triple red LED light with no dimming feature. Basiclly just use common sense here. No light is good light if it is dark sky heaven then you will be able to get around by the starlight. I don't always keep my light on. I use it just when I need it. Be prepared to stay up late and be wowed at the dark sky and what can offer you. If you thought you knew what the Omega(Swan) nebula looked like from home, you will have the opportunity to see a completely "new" Omega nebula from the dark site. Just keep it quiet say after 12 midnight till noonish there will be rules on times to make noise. This gives all people a chance to sleep some. This will turn into a sleep deprivation experiment if you let it albeit a satifying one.
Step three, what could happen> that means in Layman's terms what is your plan "B" When it rains or wind or what ever, what will you do? Research the area find something to do just to keep in your hip pocket for just such a day. There is nothing more boring than to sit in your tent or motel room waiting for it to stop raining. Find a conversation find a museum find a card game. There are sites that have wireless Internet your kids and some of you will be in heaven for sure I can get a blog out if I have to. Life is good. You can work on your next nights observing plan, say the Hershel 400 in one night on a Dob. That might be pushing it a tad but you get the picture. You will have a great time if you put the effort into the party. Chances are friends will be made that will last a lifetime. and memories to share with all that will listen. Make sure you continue to go to star parties as we do not want to hear the same story from you every time we see you! So Get out there and see what you have been missing. Life is too short to miss out on great opportunities to share astronomy with others
Clear skies and great seeing too