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Project ASTRO How-To Manual: STAR PARTY IDEAS

Project ASTRO How-To ManualWhile by no means required for a successful and rich partnership, an evening observing session, or "star party," is a fun and engaging addition to any Project ASTRO program where the expertise and equipment is available. Star parties can be done with naked eye observing, or with telescopes, as long as your site is reasonably dark enough (or can be darkened). Star parties give students the opportunity to put their observational skills to work, and to directly experience astronomy. Most students (not to mention their parents) have never looked through a telescope before, and they will enjoy learning to identify some of the constellations. Just getting students to look at and notice the sky can help them to expand their understanding and delight in astronomy.

As mentioned earlier, star parties are also great opportunities to involve families, the school, and the community. Astronomers (professional and amateur) often ask local astronomy clubs to help out so that there are enough telescopes. Some Project ASTRO star parties have drawn up to 300 people! Be sure you have enough assistance and telescopes if you are expecting a crowd (see the tips on finding an amateur club in Section 4).

Doing a Project ASTRO star party will require some advance planning. It's important to hold the star party at a convenient time in an accessible area, and to notify parents, the school, and all involved well in advance of the star party. In some cases, the school will be a good site for evening observing; in other cases, the school is not a good site due to inaccessibility or safety issues at night. If the star party is not held at school, transportation may be a problem. It's also very important to have a back-up plan-make an alternate date ahead of time in case of rain or clouds, or arrange another astronomy activity to do instead (such as a planetarium visit or an indoor hands-on project).

And remember, you can also do observing activities during the day. For example, students can observe the Moon and its phases, look at the Sun and sunspots through a safe solar filter, observe the position and colors of sunrise and sunset, and measure shadows.

Be Prepared for Your Star Party

Some Factors to Consider

Management and Enhancement Tips

Address Telescope Etiquette with Students

Tap into the Parents as Resources

Extra Fun Stuff

Fun Star Party Ideas

Project ASTRO partners have come up with a range of ideas to make their star parties special and fun. Here are a few ideas you might want to try.

Do the star party as scavenger hunt. For example, ask student to find a red and a blue star, a planet, and a star cluster. Have students make star finders and tell them which objects to find before the star party.

Include food: Have a "star-b-que" around the campfire, a pizza party, or serve "spacy" food

Have a meteor shower party. (Meteor showers come at the same time each year. Lists of the best ones can be found in many astronomy text or guide books.)

Do naked eye observing (a good set of guidelines for this can be found in The Universe at Your Fingertips).

Include indoors and outside astronomy activity stations along with the telescope observing.

Give students "ASTRO Boxes" containing activities or tasks to do during the star party. Have each student decorate a shoe or shirt box and take it to the star party. Place several activities inside (for example, have students create a constellation, count the number of stars they see, or record the phase of the moon). Students do the activities with a partner or family member during the star party.

Camp out or have a sleep-over at the school.

Tell constellation myths from different cultures around a campfire. Have students create plays about the constellation myths and act them out for families or other students.

Hold the star party at a high school or community college. Invite older students to help.

Do several smaller parties throughout the year at school, or in front lawns around the neighborhood.

Take the students to a very dark site, away from city lights. For some students, this will be the first time they've seen real darkness.