Want to Have a Star Party?

Stargazing is a great family and group activity. Carolyn Collins Petersen

There's something that planetarium directors, science teachers, and youth group leaders have known for a long time — that an appreciation of the stars can spark someone's interest in all the sciences that astronomy touches. If you grew up stargazing, you probably remember how amazing the sky looks. If you didn't, think about taking it up as a hobby or a pastime. You might find yourself exploring places you never thought you'd see!

One of the best ways to learn stargazing is to go to a star party; even better, host your own! 

How to Have a Star Party

Star parties occur throughout the world, and everybody, it seems, likes to look at the stars. Want to host a star party? It's actually pretty easy, and it might garner you some points with your teachers (or your kids' teachers) and professors when it comes time for extra credit — although we can't promise that!

Here's a list of what you need for a star party:

  • A prime location away from city lights, one that's safe and accessible (and yes, you can     stargaze in the city!);
  • Good, clear skies;
  • If it's a kids star party, adults for supervision and to help the younger ones look through the scopes;
  • Star charts or digital apps that help you find things in the sky;
  • Binoculars or telescopes are nice to have, but not required;
  • Warm clothing (even in warm weather climates, it can get cold at night!

    That's it. Notice I didn't say it had to be in the summertime only. In fact, you can do star parties all year round, so don't assume it's a warm-weather activity. Stargazing in the colder months gives you some pretty spectacular skies, too. Just pick your times carefully, and find a good place to do it.

    A star party location is as close as your own yard or in a nearby park or open space. If you choose a public location, be sure and invite along a local law enforcement officer (and his/her kids). They would enjoy the star party, too, and help keep things safe. 

    If you can't host your own star party, find out where your local astronomy club meets and if they'll accept visitors for their star parties. Local planetariums and observatories often have star parties, too, so check out those possibilities.

    What to Look at in the Sky

    Okay, so you've got a star party planned. What do you look at?  The Moon is a fairly easy target (as long as it's up), and easily seen from anywhere on Earth, even in light-polluted environments. Depending on the time of year you go out, you might have a chance to glimpse some distant galaxies by naked eye (Andromeda in the Northern Hemisphere and the Magellanic Clouds in the Southern Hemisphere), star clusters, nebulae, double stars, and any available planets. Your star charts and digital apps will show you what's up the night of your star party.

    Do I Need a Telescope? 

    For many objects, you'll need a pair of binoculars or a small telescope to enhance the view. But, don't assume you MUST have those.

    Some pretty good stargazing can be done with just the naked eye. Also, don't assume you have to know everything about the sky before you stargaze. The whole point of checking out the sky is to learn as you go. That's the beauty of stargazing — it's an equal-opportunity activity that lets the beginners enjoy it right along with the more experienced observers you've invited along to share their knowledge of the sky.

    Get Out There and Stargaze! 

    How long your star party lasts, who attends, where it's held — these are all up to you. Plan for a couple of hours of stargazing, maybe followed up with some hot chocolate or other tasty beverages afterwards with your friends and family and talk about what you saw. The beauty of a star party is that it's free, flexible, and lets you roam the universe on your own schedule.

    As you do more stargazing, you'll get interested in what makes those stars and planets and galaxies what they are — and that leads you to some fascinating science explorations.