Observing Session Etiquette
Observing sessions are unique to amateur astronomy. They are an opportunity for us to visit a dark site to share the wonders of the heavens. Good manners, courtesy, respect, and common sense will help to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.
PLAN AHEAD - To maximize the pleasure of the experience, plan ahead. Read the following hints and make a plan. Forgetting something - like insect repellent in the summer - can really be unfortunate.
BRING - clothing suitable for the weather. It gets much colder at night, even in summer, so bring plenty of warm clothing. Insect repellent, chairs or chaise lounges, and food & drink also make the experience more enjoyable. A blanket is nice as a cover when you are in the chair and sleeping bags are great for lying down to look for meteors or to study the sky. Remember that we have dew to deal with most nights. A waterproof cover for things that might be damaged or rendered unusable by becoming wet by the dew will help. Binoculars are quite useful. They can bring in a host of Messier objects and are great for sweeping the Milky Way. Bring your telescope if you have one, and remember to bring a planisphere, star charts, finder maps, your log book and other materials. Stay as long as you like; some of us will probably be there until dawn.
VEHICLES - If you arrive after dark, please use parking lights (or none) the last 100 yards or so. Someone will help guide you in if you ask. If you come without a telescope, please park away from the observing area to save room for those with heavy equipment. If you plan to leave before dawn, park near the exit and park headed out so that you can leave without using your lights. If you leave while others are observing, consider starting your vehicle in neutral, so that you don't have to pass through reverse gear and blind observers with your backup lights. Or bring some duct tape to put over them. Cover your dome-light with a red filter or remove the fuse or bulb, so that opening car doors doesn't spray observers with white light. If you have a vehicle that has automatically switched headlights, consider bringing a heavy blanket to drape over the headlights. A blanket can be used to cover those bright dash lights too. Please drive very slowly to avoid kicking up dust and hitting someone's equipment. (On GM's (and some other makes) with daytime running lights, if you keep the parking brake one or two notches down before starting the engine then the running lights will stay off until the parking brake is fully released.)
LIGHTS - One of the most fundamental rules at an observing session is to avoid all bright lights. To see the wonders of the night sky requires that one's eyes be dark-adapted. Avoid using white light (red light is OK) at the site, especially when photos are being taken. Red lights should be small and dim, and care should be exercised so that they are not pointed at an observer or a telescope. An errant light, red or white, can ruin an astrophoto in an instant. If you MUST use white light, please ask first, and SHOUT out a warning. If someone is photographing, please wait until they have finished the exposure.
With the advent of red and green lasers and efficient but bright LEDs (even if they are red), it is important to remember to shield the output appropriately. Use of green lasers, particular 'souped' up ones, should be limited to scheduled star tours that are announced by the event organizers. Using them simply as a 0-mag pointer/finder on your scope should be avoided as you might easily point the scope towards people (and into someone's eye).
NOISE - Avoid loud or boisterous behavior. Star-gazing is a quiet, peaceful time. You'll hear a variety of night sounds that you can't hear in a busy city. These sounds are part of the experience of being in a natural setting at night. Please use headphones if you want to listen to music while you are at an observing session.
FACILITIES - There are no restroom facilities or electrical power sources at our observing sites. Plan accordingly.
FIRE - Our observing sites are extremely vulnerable to the danger of fire. Please do not build a fire. If you smoke, be careful to see that your smoke does not offend anyone and that your fire is completely extinguished.
TRASH - Each person is responsible for his/her trash. There are no trash containers at the sites and our use of the sites is contingent upon our good treatment of the sites. As in camping, "pack it out."
FAMILIES - Observing sessions are wonderful family activities. We encourage parents to bring their children. However, parents should remember that amateur astronomers have a considerable investment in their equipment. Children should be supervised and should exercise care in moving about the site and looking through the telescopes.
OBSERVING - Don't hesitate to ask to look through anyone's scope, but please don't use or move a telescope without the owner's permission. Please don't touch any glass optical surface. Also, don't hesitate to ask questions; we were all novices once, and agree that there are no dumb questions in astronomy. We may not know the answer to the question but we'll be glad to share what we do know. However, if you're a visitor or a "newbie", try not to monopolize another person's time. Some observers have a plan that they are following for the night's observing. When moving about the site, be careful. Use your red flashlight to check the area you are traveling. The ground is uneven and some telescopes have power cords connecting them to a car, battery, or computer. Tripping over these may spoil your evening as well as damage someone's equipment.