Star Party Like A Rock Star
Astrophotography is a creative, fun, intellectual art that allows us to capture the beauty of the cosmos. If you're planning to attend a star party, it's important to be prepared and considerate of fellow astronomers. To ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience under the starry night sky, we've compiled a list of tips to help you become a Star Party Superstar.
Be a Considerate Star Party Citizen:
Did you know that even your car can disrupt the delicate balance of a star party? The modern car's vibrant lights, triggered by a simple door opening or unlocking (or even just walking near your car can trigger lights), can jeopardize everyone's night vision. Avoid this astronomer's nightmare by reviewing your car's manual and disabling any lights that cannot be turned off. It's crucial to be aware of this before arriving at the star party to avoid any inadvertent light displays. A quick flash of light for you could cause serious viewing issues for others at the star party. However, in case of emergencies during the night, you should turn on the car lights to safely exit the event.
Dim Your Laptop's Glare:
Laptops emit a considerable amount of light that can disturb the tranquility of a star party. Native night vision features and adjustments are often insufficient to dim the screen adequately. We recommend covering your laptop's screen with a custom-cut red plastic sheet from TAP Plastics. This simple solution will allow you to use your laptop while maintaining the required low light levels. Apple iPad users can take advantage of a super-secret accessibility mode that reduces brightness to an acceptable level, surpassing the standard brightness adjustment. For Android instructions, look here.
Ensure Reliable Wireless Connectivity:
If your astrophotography system relies on wireless connectivity, it's essential to test it before venturing into the field. Verify whether your system can connect to a field Wi-Fi hotspot or operate via direct connection. This way, you can have seamless control over your equipment, enabling remote operations and adjustments as needed.
Power Up with Confidence:
Don't let power outages dampen your astrophotography experience. Calculate the power requirements for your entire system, including tablets or laptops, and estimate the number of hours you'll be using them. By ensuring an ample power supply, you'll be ready to capture stunning cosmic moments throughout the night.
Pro-tip: If you're using deep-cycle AGM lead-acid batteries, consider only half of their capacity in your calculations. On the other hand, lightweight lithium batteries can typically be utilized to their full capacity.
While astrophotography can be an engrossing endeavor, don't miss out on the social aspect of star parties. Take breaks from behind your laptop screen and explore the wonders through other telescopes. Engage with fellow astronomers and share the beauty of your captured images and to learn new tools, processes, and meet interesting people. Connecting with others will not only enhance your experience but also foster a sense of community within the astrophotography world.
Shield Your Scope:
When it comes to protecting your equipment, consider the environmental challenges of star parties. Open fields can subject telescopes to wind gusts and dust devils, posing a risk to delicate instruments. To safeguard your scope during daytime excursions or unexpected weather changes, anchor it (think cargo straps and heavy duty tent stakes) to the ground or remove the optical tube. While covers are great for keeping dust and grime away from your scope, they can sometimes act as sails and exacerbate wind-related issues. Prioritize the safety of your equipment to ensure its longevity.
Tech, Tech, Tech:
Make sure your computer won't attempt to shut down or update itself while you're out working. Since we astronomers rely on our computers the most during the majority of people's "inactive" hours, Windows updates always seem to occur at the worst possible times. The software update intervals can be changed or disabled entirely.
And Finally, Maintain a Positive Mindset:
Astrophotography, like any intricate craft, can present challenges. When faced with equipment malfunctions or troubleshooting woes, frustration may arise, especially without immediate internet access. In such moments, remember to stay calm and composed. If troubleshooting starts to get to you, consider throwing in the towel for the evening and just enjoy the stargazing and the people. Star parties are a lot of fun, even if you don't succeed at your imaging goals.