What exactly is a "star party"? Is it some
kind of gathering of people where food and drink abound, as is the case at
other social parties? Well, not exactly. A star party is most easily
defined as a gathering of amateur astronomers at a preferably dark sky
location for the purpose of observing the heavens through their
telescopes. Of course it is true that companionship, fellowship, and
camaraderie exist at these functions, as everyone has a great time. And
most people bring some sort of snack or beverage to see them through the
long, often cold, nights. But the primary purpose of these gatherings is
to enjoy looking at the many wonders of the universe and comparing notes
on these observations, rather than discussing last week's current events.
Having defined the term, you now need a
little more information. Where do we hold these functions? Well, in a
variety of locations. During the prime observing season of March through
October, we attempt to schedule one or two star parties per month as close to the
new moon as possible in order to afford us the darkest skies.
The primary purpose of these parties is to
observe, observe, and observe! Dark skies afford us beautiful views of
planets and dark sky objects consisting of numerous galaxies, nebula, and
star clusters. It is also possible to clearly define constellations that
are washed out in the Portland area by light pollution, and to be afforded
breathtaking views of spectacular meteor showers. Because many of the
objects we like to view are faint, we attempt to schedule our functions
during new moon.
For those desiring even darker skies, we
also travel out of town, usually to central or eastern Oregon, for
overnight functions. These are great fun and enable us to combine many
family activities such as sight-seeing, camping, and stargazing into
one weekend. In the past few years, we have made annual visits to Kah-Nee-Ta,
Sunriver near Bend, Table Mountain in Washington, the Ochoco Mountains in
central Oregon and the Steens Mountains in southeastern Oregon. These
overnighters are great opportunities to get to know fellow members of the
club and to really experience what dark, light pollution-free skies are
You do not need a telescope to attend a
star party and have a good time. Other RCA members are only too happy to
share the views through their scopes. In fact, this is a good way to test
out a number of different types of telescopes before you decide what to
buy. So, don't let the absence of your own equipment deter you from
attending a star party.
The schedule of the current
year's star parties also includes detailed directions to each one of the
scheduled sites. Our functions have gotten bigger and better each year,
and we cannot encourage you strongly enough to come out and get some
hands-on experience doing what our club does best - observe!
Also check out the Resources Information section of our website.