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Introduction to Star Parties

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 all about.

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.

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