WASHINGTON - In my story on Astronomy Day 2014 I provided information on astronomy related activities that people can enjoy. For me, the best astronomy activity someone can participate in is a "Star Party," and we are now entering prime time for them.
At a star party you can meet with people who have telescopes and are more than willing to let you take a look through the eyepiece. This is a great way to "test drive" the different types of telescopes if you are in the market to buy one. You can also learn a lot about the night sky from listening to conversations as well as seeing the sky from a dark location.
If you go to a star party please follow the No. 1 rule of etiquette - no white lights allowed. This is because when it is dark white light from a flashlight will ruin people's night vision as well as the view in a telescope if the light enters the tube. You can buy red filters to cover regular Streamlight-type flashlights or fashion your own red light filter out of red colored plastic or film and use duct tape to attach it. Just make sure you test it at night to make sure it is "red" enough and not too bright.
In the DMV, there are a number of organizations that provide weekend "Star Party" events. They are usually once a month at a state or local park where there are darker skies and better views of the whole sky (read: fewer trees and buildings).
You can see a monthly listing of DMV astronomy events at the Astronomy in D.C. Website. This is a very nifty way to keep up on astronomy related events in our area. The site also has a comprehensive listing of resources, including yours truly.
Rain or shine, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) will host their Astronomy Day event from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, May 31 at Sky Meadows State Park. Each year this has been a real crowd- pleaser as NOVAC goes all out with providing facilities, telescopes and speakers for the general public, especially families, to enjoy.
Another favorite star party of mine is held monthly by the good folks from the National Air and Space Museum's Einstein Planetarium.
These outings are a great family activity, and it always brings a smile to my face to see a young child's first glimpse into an eyepiece and the resulting reaction/non-reaction. Actually adults too are fun to watch and hear the ‘oohhs and ahhs" when they see the Moon or Saturn with its rings for the first time.
I hope you will make it out to one of these star parties this season. I think you will be glad you did and will be back again.
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