Bringing a Telescope to a School Star Party

 Advice to someone bringing a telescope to a school star party

Hi, new-to-school-star-party person:

One to two weeks before the school event, I’ll send out a detailed description and driving directions to the school. The same material will also be placed on the Current Events web page. Follow the directions on a map, then decide your own best way to get there. My starting points are intended to be a large road that you’ll know. Depending on where you live, you may find a better route. Since most schools are in the middle of residential areas, the routes are seldom simple.

GPS receivers are useful to get to the school. The given address is usually the front of the school, but we commonly enter by a side or rear gate. If your unit can utilize longitude and latitude, ask me for the co-ordinates of the gate and setup area.

On the day of the event, I’ll contact the teacher at about noon, for a final readiness check and to discuss the weather. If we must cancel, this gives her time to make an announcement at the school.

In any case, by 1 pm I will post to the list with the decision, and will also change the top line on the Current Events web page. If you don’t have e-mail access during the day, let me know and I’ll phone you. In any case, you may call me here at home to check on status. Please do not come to the school without checking! We can have cancellations on perfectly clear days.

Plan to arrive early enough to be set up by the specified starting time. If you don’t see the setup area, walk around to the back and look for my white VW Vanagon with the black roof-rack. Look for the basketball courts, or other open paved areas.

Other than seeing that everybody isn’t on the same object, I don’t dictate what object each person should show. Typically, we’ll use the driven scopes on planets, where high power is needed, and the undriven ones on low-power objects.

The first person to show up has choice of target, the next one has second choice, etc. That’s not entirely true, as we consider what a particular scope is best at, and decide among us who shows what. We are careful that we have covered the obvious show objects, such as the moon, bright planets, prominent clusters, etc.

If arriving after we are busy with students, look around as to who is showing what, then pick out something, considering your scope and interests. Remember that the kids have little or no observing skill, so faint objects are not appropriate.

Our official guideline is that kids should be 2nd grade and up, but at most events, we’ll have a number of younger ones — parents bring the older ones, but the younger ones can’t be left behind. They might get something out of it, so we don’t discourage them. Some are pretty sharp!

Even with older students, you should bring a stepladder. A ladder is far better than a short stool, as it provides something for the lookers to hang onto. Kids (and adults!) are rather wobbly standing on a box or stool, especially in the dark! And adults might need something to lean on to get down to the eyepiece (myself, for instance).

In some cases, our star party is part of a larger event such as a science night. In some of these cases, even when the weather is near-hopeless, a few of us will go to the school anyway, and set up a demonstration. This will be indicated in the Noon Note.

Are you familiar with our regular public star party series at Houge Park? We set up on Fridays about every 2 weeks (alternating moon and non-moon). I’m sure you’d enjoy doing those, too. Unlike the school events, we get mostly older kids and adults there, and they are spread out over a few hours instead of concentrated into 90 minutes. You may like to come to Houge to learn what it’s like, before committing to a school event.

Clear Skies! Jim.