The Visitor's Guidebook for Public Stargazing

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The RASC Ottawa Centre hosts public stargazing sessions, also called star parties, during the spring, summer and fall (see schedule here) and for special astronomy events. Volunteer Ottawa Centre members bring their telescopes to the star parties. Our volunteers are eager to show you the Sun or objects in the night sky. Feel free to ask questions—that's why we're there.

Here are a few guidelines to help keep our star parties safe and fun for everybody:

Vehicles – Please arrive early, if possible. Arriving after it is dark interferes with the observing of others because of your vehicle's lights. Please park your vehicle away from the observing area and point your headlights away from the telescopes. You may be directed by a star party volunteer to park your vehicle in a designated area. Please comply. Your safety is paramount. When you leave, try not to point your car lights at the telescopes.

Please turn off or shield interior lights in your car in advance. If you leave early you can usually disable the daytime running lights by engaging the parking brake one click before starting the car. Drive slowly and carefully when approaching the parking lot and when leaving it.

Flashlights – Please do not use white flashlights or headlamps. Instead, we recommend using red or amber flashlights turned down as dim as possible and held at waist level. This helps your eyes adapt to the darkness and see fainter objects in the sky. You might be surprised at how quickly your eyes can adapt and how well you will be able to see in the dark. Even so, aim your flashlight towards the ground, and please don't point it in someone’s face.

Astronomy Apps – Don’t hesitate to bring a mobile device with an astronomy app. There are many excellent ones that show the location of objects in the sky. Make sure to turn on the night feature to avoid bright light coming from the screen.

Binoculars – We encourage visitors to bring their binoculars. You will be surprised how much you can see in the night sky with them.

Cameras – We encourage visitors to bring a camera and try to take a photograph through a telescope eyepiece. Make sure you turn off the flash.

Dress warmly – You will be surprised how cool it is, even on a warm summer night. We suggest you wear layers or bring a sweater or light jacket.

Telescopes – Feel free to approach any volunteer with a telescope and ask to look through it.That’s why we are here. Please be patient if we tell you that it is not yet set up and ready for observing. It takes time. When viewing, please do not touch any part of the telescope. Just bring your eye to the eyepiece. The only exception is if the volunteer shows you how to adjust the focus. Be careful not to kick a tripod leg. Feel free to wander among the many telescopes, as many of them will be looking at different objects. Don’t hesitate to ask to see a specific object in the sky.

Children – We encourage you to bring children but please prevent them from touching the telescope or playing around them. Children are often quick to grab the eyepiece with their hands and it can cause the telescope to lose its alignment. If they are not tall enough to reach the eyepiece, the volunteer may lower the eyepiece for them, or offer a step stool. If you want, you can lift them to the eyepiece but it will not give them a good steady view.

General – We ask that you not smoke, bring alcohol or play music out loud. Do not spray insect repellant near the telescopes, as it damages the optics. You may wish to bring a light jacket to provide protection against the mosquitos. Please do not bring pets.