It's easy to throw an observing party! Here's a checklist for the materials you'll need, what you should do before the event, and tips for running a successful star party:

Link to Star Party Documents

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Planning a Star Party?

Prior to the day of the event:
  • Practice questioning your friends and relations for their observations and ideas.
  • Check the timing of sunset and set your schedule accordingly (most objects are not visible until a half hour or later after the sun sets).
  • Be sure to distribute the flyers early and often!
  • Practice looking up and seeing things. Also work with any materials (sky maps, etc.) you will be using, so you are comfortable with them.
  • Make sure you have engaged more than enough support staff for your anticipated crowd! You will need people to host activities and direct guests in addition to helping assemble/use telescopes.
  • Begin tracking the weather forecast three days before the big event.
  • Consider what you’ll do if the weather doesn’t cooperate – can you still have an astronomy event with the audience? Should you schedule a rain date?
  • Anticipate the crowd flow … Plan where to position your materials, way-finding signs, astronomer and support staff.
  • Make sure you prepare the needed materials in advance. Print way-finding signs, copy any materials that you need, cut the red film into flashlight-sized squares, etc.
  • Will you need any additional illumination for walking paths or near the materials table?
  • Look around the best location to position the telescopes and for all to see the sky well.
  • Can you offer food or beverages? This can really add to the experience and attract attendees.
  • Alert those who work in the facility so that they are aware a crowd will be coming. Be aware of basic building functions:
  • Do you know how to turn on/off the lights?
  • Do you know who has a key to the facility?
  • Do you know how to unlock the bathrooms?
  • Locate the closest electrical outlet, just in case the astronomer needs one.
  • Locate the tables and chairs that you will need, and maybe a few large rocks to prevent papers from flying away.

Materials to have on hand:

We gave you:
  • Star Wheel
  • Galileoscopes
  • Sunspotter
  • Positioning Card to help participants locate and identify Jupiter this spring and summer
  • Handout for making astronomical measurements using your hand for scale
  • Moon image (if you want to use it)
  • 20 small red flashlights
  • 365 Starry Nights by Chet Raymo which gives you a picture of the sky for every night of the year.
  • Discover the Stars by Richard Berry which gives you an introduction and guide to star gazing.

You might also want to have:
  • Flashlights (with red film)
  • Tape or Rubber Bands to hold red film on participants' flashlights
  • Materials to do any other activities in your plan
  • Red film to cover flashlights brought by participants.
  • A map of this month's sky.

On the day of the Star Party:
  • Prepare for participants' arrival.
  • Check the weather forecast! Activate your contingency plan for poor weather, if needed.
  • Get there early—at least an hour before participants will arrive.
  • Unlock the facility.
  • Prepare the staff for their roles.
  • Put out any way-finding signs you think the participants will need (bathrooms, parking, etc.).
  • Make sure bathrooms are unlocked, that water is turned on and ready for use.
  • Set up any tables, chairs, trash receptacles, additional illumination.
  • Set up materials for distribution (prevent them from flying away).
  • Remind yourself of some of your favorite questions with which to facilitate.
  • Go on out there and engage some people in looking up.
  • Oh yes, have fun!

What can you see in the sky tonight? Unsure how to navigate the night sky? These resources can help:

Tonight's Sky
Find out what is bright in the sky tonight from EarthSky.

This Week's Sky At a Glance
Sky & Telescope helps you look ahead and plan observations for the entire week.

Night Sky Network

Use the "Night Sky Planner" link to plan a successful star party.

Naval Observatory
Find out the moon phase on any given night

Event Activities guide