Star Party Notes
You do not need to be a member or have a telescope to attend the West Valley Astronomy Club star parties. We recommend you obtain a Land Use Permit because our dark sky site is located on Arizona State Trust Land and have it with you. Depending on the weather and the time of year it may be advisable to bring some warm clothing and something hot to drink. Try to arrive before sunset.
What to Bring
Consider bringing the following items:
- Binoculars, if you have them.
- Your telescope, if you have a portable one. We will show you how to use it.
- Something to sit on, like a folding chair.
- A Planisphere, if you have one. See information below.
- A hand-held electronic device with an astronomy application if you have one.
- Warm clothing for use at night, depending on weather and time of year
- An Arizona State Recreation Permit.
- A dim red flashlight for reading charts in the dark.
- Something to eat and drink. A thermos with a hot liquid is a good idea.
Astronomy or Planetarium applications are available for iPhones, iPads, Androids, and other handheld devices. Many of these ‘apps’ are free or inexpensive. Most use the GPS and motion sensor built into these devices. Once you have the planetarium application installed you can just point the device at a region of the sky and it shows you what you are looking at. It couldn’t be easier.
Only one word of caution: the brightness of the screen of some of these devices may be a concern when using them at a star party. See the Star Party Etiquette by clicking link. Here is a link to one of many products just as an example: GoSkyWatch Planetarium
One of the useful things you can learn is how to recognize the constellations in the night sky. A handy aid for this is a “Planisphere” which shows the sky (north and south views) and constellations for a given latitude at any hour or date. Planispheres vary in price from $7.50 to $40. Sizes available vary from 5 to 16 inches. Planispheres are optimized for use at a particular latitude. Some products specify the latitude their product is optimized for but others only specify a range of latitudes. If the specifications only give you a range of latitudes, you can estimate the optimal latitude by adding the lower and higher ends of the range and dividing the result by 2. You will be very lucky if you can get a good planisphere for your particular latitude but a planisphere is still useful for several degrees higher or lower than the optimal latitude. Since the latitude in the Phoenix area is approximately 34 degrees N. latitude, a planisphere designed for 30 to 40 degrees N. latitude would be fine.
An often recommended attribute for a planisphere is that it should be resistant to moisture. Plastic is a good material for this purpose. Laminated or coated cardboard is not so good because when the cardboard is accidentally creased, the disc becomes difficult or impossible to rotate. The moisture and dew problem may not be so important in the very dry Phoenix climate.
When you buy a planisphere, bigger is better! For use at a star party where your eyes have become adjusted to the darkness without losing your night vision, a small planisphere (less than 10 inches) is usually unsatisfactory. You will need a fairly bright light to read a small one but if you do this then you will temporarily lose your night vision. A large planisphere will be readable with a dim red flashlight so you will not lose your night vision or annoy other star party viewers. In other situations, the small planispheres can be useful.
Bring it to the star parties and use it at home inside or outside under a dark sky. There are a number of different ones available. Descriptions and photos of 4 representative and popular ones can be seen at the following site: Skymaps.com. Search the internet for “planisphere” and you will get a lot of useful hits and links.