Before attending a star party, you should become familiar with "star party etiquette." Please note, however, these rules will vary between locations, activities and more than likely, between clubs. The etiquette described here is best suited for ASPB activities. 

This article written by Mike Toomey,, edited and reprinted by permission.

Arriving and Departing

Arrive Before Dark: Most astronomers prefer to arrive well before dark to set-up their equipment. This is particularly true when visiting a star party site for the first time. Even if you are not bringing a telescope, arriving before dark will permit time to familiarize yourself with the equipment and other astronomers. If you plan on departing early, now is the time to plan your departure.

Arrive After Dark, If You Must: If you must arrive after nightfall, know what to expect. Will there be warning signs prohibiting headlights? Will you run over someone/something if you cannot see? It may be necessary to stop your vehicle before reaching the observing field, then walk in and examine the situation.

Leaving Early: Sooner or later, someone will have to leave unless there is a lock-in (no ASPB star parties have lock-ins). If you are leaving before midnight (or before dawn at overnight star parties), you should assume that others will still be observing. Therefore, plan ahead. Situate your equipment and vehicle in such a manner as to permit a safe exit without the use of headlights, or headlights directed well away from the telescope area. Do not park in a manner that will require you to back up (it's dangerous on the observing field, and white backing lights are bright!).

Pack Your Trash: Most star party hosts will not protest picking up an odd or end after a star party. Please, however, take a moment to pick up any litter you notice before leaving.

Leave Together: If you are among the last to depart, please check with others that their vehicles will start reliably, and that they haven't any "issues" to contend with before leaving. Note: at private residences, this is generally not a concern.


Use of Personal Lighting, Part I: Lighting for the use of star charts and the like is a personal choice. While red lights are vogue, other colors will not harm night vision if used in very low wattage. Even red LED lights can spoil night vision if turned all the way up! Keep your lights directed down, on low power, and well shielded. You can be assured that Mag lights and Coleman lanterns do not fit this description.

Use of Personal Lighting, Part II: It is prudent to pack a full spectrum white flashlight to any outdoor activity. For star parties, these may be useful to find the restroom or pick up garbage before departing. However, just because you're done stargazing doesn't mean everyone else is! If you must use a white light, call out, "Bright light in 5 seconds!" This will give everyone a moment to avert their eyes and preserve their night vision. This also applies to opening a car door or tailgate that will activate an interior dome or courtesy light. 

Car Light, Car Bright, First Car That Hits Me Tonight...

 ... will probably be the last. Most of us would rather sacrifice our night-vision for a few minutes than a telescope beneath a car. If you are unsure where you are going, STOP!

The best strategy for reducing car lights on an observing field is to plan ahead. Remember, reverse lights, and even brake lights are as hideous to night vision as bright beams. Park your car away from the observing site, or orientate your vehicle in the best manner possible. Do not turn any lights on, or even start your vehicle until your are 100% ready to depart (smog from mufflers do little to enhance viewing either).

Interior Dome Lights

 It takes but a few moments to determine how dome and courtesy lights in your vehicle activate, and to determine a simple method or two to prevent them from turning on at all. You may try taping the switch to the off position, removing the light bulb or isolating and removing the appropriate fuse. Some stargazers will replace their dome bulbs with low watt red bulbs. All these methods make a huge difference.

In any instance, if a bright light is to be used, including dome lights, braking lights, etc., warn everyone! If astrophotographers are present, ask first! You may have to wait.

Remember, these rules help enhance your own viewing experience as well as everyone elses.

Daytime Running Lamps/Lights 

You can usually disable daytime running lights. Before you turn on the ignition, pull the parking brake up (or push down, depending on design) a single click. Then start your car. Once your are safely away from the observing field, disengage the brake.

Of Bats and Owls 

Some folks just don't see well at night - period. This can cause quite a bit ofunwelcome light on the observing field, particularly during break down. Those folks are well-advised to let others know why they are using "excess" lighting before using it. You'll probably end up with extra hands to expedite the task. 

Astrophotography: Many ASPB members enjoy astrophotography, and all those attending star parties should be sensitive to that fact. A poorly aimed flashlight, even at lowest power, can ruin an exposure. Furthermore, tampering with a telescope, even by walking too near, can cause vibrations and ruin an exposure. Be aware of your surroundings, and what others are doing. (Generally, ASPB star parties do not emphasize astrophotography unless announced.)

Green Lasers: Please note, we do NOT allow the use of green lasers at ANY of our Dark Sky Star Parties or events, including Venus, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, 9-Mile Grade, etc. These events are used by our members for Astro-Imaging and deep sky observing. Green laser pointers will be permitted at most ASPB Public viewing events such as Library sessions, JD Park, etc unless we have members that are conducting Astro-Imaging at the time and have requested that people do not use their laser pointers for the evening. Please use your green laser with caution and best intentions, or we'll need to ban them from the Public viewing sessions as well. Keep them aimed up!!! A laser in the eye can cause serious or even permanent eye damage!

Laptop Screens: Be certain that your laptop screen is not lighting up the observing field. Most are too bright even with the brightness set down. Add a thick layer of cellophane or other light reduction material, and isolate the direction in which it shines.


Sharing: It is a certainty that most telescope owners at ASPB star parties will want to share their telescopes with others. However, please keep these points in mind. Some operators may be running through a program or checklist; let them be, or do not disturb them for long. The same applies to astrophotographers. Also, it's fine to come to ASPB star parties without a telescope, but if you do own one, it's always a good idea to bring it no matter what it is. Others will recognize your effort and be more willing to share so long as you are not the "aperture leech" at every star party.

Don't Touch? Do not touch others equipment without permission. However, if you have never been to a star party, you can anticipate many invitations to look through telescopes. In some instances, telescope owners will even instruct you on how to operate them.

Chutes & Ladders: It is generally not appropriate to pick children up by the collar to look through a telescope. At star parties in which children may be present, a sturdy step stool or ladder should be standard equipment for many telescopes, including equatorial mounts and most Dobsonians.


Alcohol: Rules for the consumption of alcohol on star party premises will vary, but assume that those on public grounds (such as state parks and the like) will prohibit alcohol. Alcohol impairs vision and is therefore discouraged at most star parties. (Caffeine does, too! Drink water!)

Smokers: Step away. While you may be outdoors, and the smoke is probably not going to bother many, or the optics of a telescope, stay away from telescopes nonetheless. Light shrouds on Dobsonians will surely get a few holes in them with smokers at the eyepiece. Be extra careful to shield your lighters/matches when lighting up - blind yourself, not everyone else. Don't discard your butts on the ground. (Submitted by a smoker, so no protests!)

Note: The Kitty Hawke star party requires smokers to use the "porch." Aviation fuel is somewhat volatile.

Music Music at ASPB star parties is generally permitted at low volumes. Playing your own instrument is always encouraged!

Mike Toomey