Auburn Astronomical Society

Host's Stargaze Guidelines

If you decide to invite us for your group, here are a few suggestions to help make the most of your AAS stargaze. 
  • When is the best time to schedule a stargaze?
If you have some latitude in selecting a date, late September, all of October, and early November are the best months.  The weather is usually fairly predictable, the air is clear and dry (except for an occasional hurricane), and the evening temperatures are comfortable for viewing.  A second choice would be March,  April and early May.  Late November through Febuary are great if they're clear, but less desirable as an option because of the higher percentage of cloudy nights.  Try to avoid scheduling during the summer months.   During June, July, and August when the air is hot, the atmosphere holds a high percentage of moisture that results in dimming and bluring of  intended celestial targets -- not to mention the discomfort of our volunteers and your guests.  Also, because sunset is so late near the summer solstice, start time will be near 9:00PM. 

If, however, you're locked in on a date beyond your control, we'll try to work with you.  Since most of our members are doing this after they leave their day jobs, it's best to try to schedule on a Saturday night. Here's a calendar with Moon phases.

  • What can you expect to see?
Most groups that ask us to do a stargaze, have selected a place located within the glare of city lights.  For this reason, we try to schedule an evening when the Moon is at or near first quarter.  The Moon shows the most detail during this phase and it is well placed in the sky at sunset.  If any evening planets are also up, the city lights have little effect on viewing.  If, on the other hand, you have access to a dark-sky location, we can schedule a visit third quarter or New Moon, and see star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. We'll point out any satellite passes that may coincide with our visit, trace out constellations, and demonstrate how to find the Big Dipper and North Star. 
  • What are the  site requirements?
We'll will need a fairly large open area -- roughly the size of a school ball field.  Parking lots should be avoided because heat build up from the day causes thermal currents at night that distort the images through the telescope.  And, since most of our telescopes are quite heavy, we also need to be able to access the location with our vehicles.  Check to see if local security lights can be covered or switched off.

We also need to know approxiamtely how may people you expect to attend.  We like to have a viewer to telescope ratio of less than 10:1 to keep the lines to a minimum.

  • Observing tips
For many of those in your group, this may be their first time viewing through a telescope. Here are a few suggestions designed to help beginners: 

Different telescope designs have eyepieces at different locations.  The AAS owner/attendant at the telescope will direct the viewer to the correct eye placement.  The telescopes are equipped with small "finder scopes" that have a wide field of view for locating celestial objects.  It's OK to have a look through this one to see what the object would look like through a pair of binoculars.  The best view will be at the telescopes main eyepiece.  It's a good idea to begin looking with your eye about one-half inch back from the eyepiece surface.  If you don't see anything, try making slow spiral circles with your head until the exit pupil from the telescope is lined up with your eye.  If you still don't see anything, ask the telescope owner/attendant to verify that the object is actually in the field of view. 

In the case of the Moon, you can help place a child's eye where the Moon's bright image is projected on their face. 

Holding the eyepiece may seem like a good idea to help steady your eye, but it actually shakes the telescope unnecessarily. Try not to touch.

Some of the telescopes may have power cords on the ground.  Be careful and watch your step.  If you need a flashlight to get around at night, turn it off when not in use and keep it pointed only at the ground.

The sky is not dark enough for observing anything dimmer than the Moon and planets until about 45 minutes after sunset.

If you have questions about anything mentioned above, or want to ask about something not addressed, contact Allen Screws.