Many observations may be done right from your yard if you have a good open area.  Turn off all outside lights, and sit in shadow.  Use a good star map to locate constellations, major stars, and clusters.  Use a flashlight with a red filter to look at the map, since that will allow you to keep your dark adaptation, and your eyes won't have to readjust to the darkness every time you check your map.  Remember that everything rises in the East and sets in the West.  Eventually, everything will pass over your area.  A good open horizon will help observation, but if all you have is a clear area directly overhead, you can still enjoy astronomical observation and meteor showers.


Group Stargazing

If you've never been to an organized stargaze before, expect to see several people with various styles and sizes of telescopes, several pairs of binoculars (some may be so large that they have to be mounted on a camera tripod for stability), and some people will have no astronomical equipment at all.  Naked eye observations are fine, too. 
Wander around to meet those who have telescopes and binoculars.  They will let you look at whatever objects they are currently focusing on, and you can learn a lot from just listening to them. 

Telescope owners like to show off what their equipment can do, and they are more than willing to let you see how great the images are through their 'scopes.  The only hold-up that you will find will be the time that it takes them to adjust the settings from one object to another.   You may have to wait a bit while they find the object and get it centered and in focus.  If they don't have the 'scope on a "clock drive," they will have to break into the line and adjust the image and settings every few minutes, as the image will move out of the field of view due to the Earth's rotation.  Also, the higher the magnification used on an object, the more frequently these adjustments will have to be made.   A higher magnification not only magnifies the object, but it also magnifies the effects of the Earth's rotation, making the image rapidly sweep out of view.  A lower magnification gives you a clearer, sharper image that stays centered longer, but it is also a smaller image. 

Telescope operators will often go from lower magnification to higher, so there will be a wait while they have to change eyepieces and re-center the object--a task that is much harder when using high magnification.  With lower power, you get a wider field of view.  You can   easily find a particular stellar or planetary image when looking at a football field sized area.  When you are trying to scan an area the size of a dime, it is much harder to place an object in that small aperture. 


Stargaze Etiquette

If you arrive after dark, and the stargaze is already under way, please turn off your vehicle headlights as you approach the site.  This will keep the active astronomers from losing their dark adaptation, and anyone who is shooting astrophotos will appreciate not having to re-start the shoot due to light flare on the film.  If you are at a really dark site, you will want to disable or tape an opaque covering over your vehicle's interior lights.  They automatically come on as soon as you open your door, and they can do almost as much damage as headlights with sudden light flare.  If you leave while the stargaze is still in progress, do not turn on your vehicle lights.  You will be quite dark adapted by that time, and you can make your way away from the group before you have to switch on your fog lights or headlights.


If you plan to go to a remote dark site, always go with a group.  There is safety in numbers, not to mention the expertise that you can borrow from more experienced observers.

Be prepared for the season...bug spray, hot or cold drinks, snacks, blankets, outdoor lounge chairs....

If you don't have a telescope or binoculars, you can still see a lot.  Use a sky map for ID's.

For away trips, make sure that your vehicle has plenty of gas and that it is road-worthy...tire pressure, oil, road maps, etceteras.

If children are present, make sure that they take materials for personal entertainment.   If they want to look through binoculars or telescopes, however, show them how.   They are the next generation of amateur astronomers, and should not be discouraged from observing.

You learn by listening to seasoned amateur astronomers.  Ask questions.  Listen.

If this is your first stargaze, you may want to check supplies from the following checklist:

a flashlight with interchangeable color filters--use the red filter

an astronomical atlas, sky maps, or book with seasonal star maps (if you have them)

a telescope ( $1.00/month rental from the EAAA, if you don't have your own)

binoculars if you have them (for larger binocs, bring a camera tripod)

for astrophotography--SLR camera with a "Bulb" (B), or "T" setting or a digital camera or CCD , plus camera accessories (cable release, tripod, Haig mount...)

snacks/drinks, mosquito repellent, medications, disposable baby wipes, tissues, lens cleaners (if you are using a telescope or binoculars)....


If you don't have a flashlight with a red filter, you can use the lavender or pink Saran Wrap folded or layered to several thicknesses (avoid wrinkles).  Place it/them over the lens of the flashlight, and secure with a rubber band or masking tape.

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