Observing Etiquette

Before attending an observing event, you should become familiar with "observing 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 AAC activities.

Most AAC events are informal. Rule infractions are met with warnings, typically moans and scowls. However, as representatives of the AAC, please apply these more strictly when attending observing events hosted by other organizations (such as Chiefland or the Winter Star Party!)

You do not need to know anything about astronomy to attend an observing event, nor are you required to bring a telescope! A general knowledge of observing etiquette will ensure you'll be invited back again. Snacks to share may also ensure this.

Arriving and Departing
  • Arrive, Drop-off and Park: Drop off your equipment and then drive your vehicle to the designated parking area. Don't leave the vehicle next to the observing area.
  • Arrive Before Dark: Most astronomers prefer to arrive well before dark to set-up their equipment. This is particularly true when visiting an event 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 AAC events 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 event 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.
  • 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.
  • Astrophotography: Many AAC 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, AAC star parties do not emphasize astrophotography unless announced.)
  • Lasers: Lasers are conditionally permitted at AAC events, provided they are Category IIIa (<5mW) or less. Only AAC members may use lasers at AAC events. Non-members and guests are not permitted to operate lasers. A member intending to use a laser must sign an acknowledgement of the AAC laser policy at each AAC event. Visit this page for full details of the AAC laser policy. (Member sign-in is required.)
  • 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. If your laptop has a lighted emblem, like an Apple MacBook, cover the emblem so that the light does not interfere with your neighbors.
  • Sharing: It is a certainty that most telescope owners at AAC events 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 AAC 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 observing event.
  • 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: At public AAC events, alcohol is not allowed. Alcohol use is permissible at some private star party locations.
  • Pets: Approved service animals are allowed. Leave other pets at home, please.
  • 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!) For the NSP, no smoking within 100 ft. of any building or pad.
  • Bathroom Use: Please use public restrooms. Don't go behind buildings or bushes.
  • Music: Music at AAC observing events is generally permitted at low volumes. Playing your own instrument is always encouraged!

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 else's.
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.
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