Sunday, September 10, 2006
How Not to Spoil a Star Party
|Indian Springs State Park (Georgia Sky View star party).|
The key to behaving well at a star party? Remembering why you came. That's not what you think it is, or at least it's not just that. Sure, we go to star parties for dark skies, but that’s not the whole show. In fact, that’s not even the major part of it for many of us—most of the time, anyway. Yes, when you invest the family’s yearly vacation in something like the Texas Star Party, superb skies are perhaps a major part of the deal. But your average east-of-the-Mississippi event? I suspect most of us have a club dark site comparable in sky-quality to what you'll find at many of these venues. No, when we go to one of these star parties, we’re mostly going for the PEOPLE.
Yes, people. To hang out with our fellow amateurs, to renew acquaintances with the good folks you only see a time or two a year, and to hear what those more experienced than us have to say about our magnificent obsession. In short, a big reason for attending star parties is to have fun with friends old and new.
Here are a few random ruminations concerning the star party experience and how to maximize everybody's enjoyment of it...
Star Party Choices: Since you’re at most star parties for the experience of being with a group of like-minded folk, don’t turn your nose up at an event that’s got less than perfect skies. I’ve had a good time, for example, at the Peach State Star Gaze at above-pictured Indian Springs State Park. You’ve got the Atlanta light dome to the north, but you’d be surprised at what you can still see, and how much fun a weekend of astronomy can be even if you don't have desert skies.
People: Since people are such a large part of the star party experience, are you mindful of the way you treat your fellow partiers? When somebody pulls up on the field next to you and starts setting up, do you give ‘em a scowl that says, “I was saving that spot for a lawn chair,” or do you give ‘em a smile that says, “Howdy pardner, welcome! We’re gonna have a great time!”
Cabins: Along the same lines, do you treat the folks sharing a cabin with you with respect? Think back to the way you learned to live in a college dorm or military barracks. Feel hot? Ask your fellow residents before you open a window. Clean up after yourself, especially in the bathrooms; Uncle Rod ain’t your mama.
The Next Morning: Maybe you don't like to observe till dawn. Lots of us do. If you turn in early and thus awaken early, KEEP IT QUIET. Your friends are trying to sleep. Your offkey rendition of "Hippity-hop to the Barber Shop" ain't gonna help them do that.
Pets: Some star parties permit them, but even if you are allowed to bring him, leave Fido at home if possible. The observing field is no place for a dog. You know that no matter how carefully you watch him, Rover is going to leave a "surprise" somewhere on the field, start barking and keep on barking, and will inevitably frighten somebody or somebody's kid. I like dogs—I do not believe there is any innate bad in them—but plenty of folks, especially older folks, who comprise the majority of our ranks now, feel the opposite. Since I hate to generalize, I'll say some dogs (and at least one prairie dog of my acquaintance) are wonderful and well-behaved at star parties.
|Mealtime at DSRSG '94...|
Vendors: they usually travel a long way and invest a lot of their own money to be on-site at a star party. Do them and yourself a favor (if you want them back next year): BUY SOMETHING (do I really have to twist your arm on this?).
Speakers: Like the vendors, these folks, whether well-known authors and scientists or just your fellow club members with something to say, have come a long way and invested substantial time and resources to help YOU. Attend every presentation you can, and take a moment to thank the presenters. Above all, don't go up to a speaker and say, "Well, I really wanted to hear your talk, but decided to take a nap instead." That has actually happened to me.
Prizes: Yeah, everybody’s mouth waters over the raffle prizes. Remember the reason for ‘em, though. Their purpose is almost always to accrue money to help finance next year’s event. Look upon buying a ticket as "insurance" you’ll have another wonderful time next year. Don’t act poor-pitiful-me or bad mouth the star party staff if you don’t win that purty new SCT.
Weather: Everybody talks about it; nobody does anything about it. If star party weather turns bad, many folks will not show. For some folks, even the threat of less than excellent weather will make 'em stay home. That is understandable. But, as above, observing is only a small part of the experience. Your attendance, rain or shine, clouds or no clouds, shows your support for the star party and helps ensure its continued good health. In fact, one of the best times I’ve ever had was sitting out on the field at the Deep South Regional Star Gaze in the middle of a torrential downpour, drinking Rebel Yell, and talking over the state of the Great American Telescope (you know which telescope that is) with fellow members of the Yahoo SCT Users Group. That sure was a heck of a lot more fun than sitting home in front of the boob tube.
Finally, yeah, people sure can be annoying; especially at star parties. My cure for the little annoyances other people always seem to inflict on me? Recognize the same annoying behavior in myself and resolve to do better.
Now, get out there and party!