Southwest Astronomy Festival: Star Parties

Two men looking through a telescope at the night skies.
Looking through a telescope at Unity Park.

Why A Star Party?

Why have a star party when you could just go out into the middle of nowhere by yourself and see the stars? Because it’s a party! A lot of people come out to star parties, including telescope operators and astronomers that are extremely knowledgeable. A really nice telescope is expensive, but if you come to a star party, you can use one for free to see very faint objects up close and personal. At star parties there are usually a variety of telescopes and staff to make sure everyone gets the chance to see distant astronomical objects.

What Can You See At a Star Party?

From Southwest Utah (our primary locations) in early September in 2018, you will be able to see:

  • The Ring Nebula: This dead star looks remarkably like a cheerio or a round puff of smoke.
  • Hercules Great Cluster: One of the most spectacular “globular clusters” we can see, these clusters of stars are home to the galaxy’s oldest stars – some almost as old as the universe itself.
  • Andromeda Galaxy: The Milky Way (our galaxy) has many closer tiny galaxies around us, but Andromeda is one of our biggest galactic neighbors. Still, it’s out there. At 2.5 million light years away, it’s the most distant object you can see with the naked eye – and it looks even better in a telescope.
  • Albireo: Binary stars are a dime a dozen in our galaxy, but this binary star system (two stars going around each other) are very different. One is a bright hot blue star, and the other is even more yellow than our own yellow Sun.
  • Lagoon Nebula: This nebula is an enormous cloud in space. Many times larger than our Solar System, and forming brand new baby stars.
  • Mars: The red planet takes a break from us every other year, but fortunately 2018 is a great time to see it. If you missed Mars looking spectacular in 2016, don’t worry – he’ll be back to bright up the night sky again in 2018.
  • Saturn: Saturn is one of the best things to see in a telescope, and it will be visible during the Southwest Astronomy Festival, 2018. You don’t want to miss this planet!
  • Many other stars, galaxies, and nebulae!

Star Party Etiquette

Star parties are one of the most popular events at the Southwest Astronomy Festival. One star party last year had over 250 attendees. With that kind of crowd, it’s important to be aware of some etiquette:

Protect Your ‘Night Eyes’

Humans’ eyes can adjust to see in the dark quite well (for example, you can see your shadow under only the light of the moon), but it takes time. This ‘dark adaptation’ is crucial for enjoying a star party. It takes anywhere from 20-40 minutes for the human eye to become fully dark-adapted, and almost any amount of light can destroy your dark adaptation – including the light from a cell phone. The light from phones, tablets, flashlights, flash photography, and other electronics won’t just destroy your dark adaptation – they will affect other people’s dark adaptation as well.

Please do not use:

  • Cell phones

  • Tablets

  • Flashlights

  • Flash photography

  • Anything that puts out light

If you need a light to see the ground, please ask one of the people staffing the star party to help you. Astronomers use special red lights that, though still damaging to dark adaptation, are much better than normal flashlights.

Try to Touch the Telescope Minimally, if At All

A telescope focuses on a truly tiny portion of the night sky, so touching the scope, even minimally, can move it off the object it’s locked onto. Telescopes are powerful instruments, but they are also sensitive instruments. Try not to touch the telescopes. It’s time consuming to readjust the telescope between every viewing.

Leave Pets At Home

There are several reasons to leave pets at home during star parties:

  1. In the dark, pets can easily trip people.

  2. Pets can get wrapped up with tripods, and very large expensive scopes on tripods can fall over and hurt pets or other people.

  3. Pets are a distraction. Out of respect to star party hosts and other visitors, please leave pets at home.

Last updated: August 9, 2018

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Mailing Address:

Cedar Breaks National Monument: Administrative Office
2390 West Highway 56
Suite #11

Cedar City, UT 84720


(435) 586-9451 x4420

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