Star Party Introduction
Leaving the Visitors Center
Cafe & Gift Shop access during the Star Party
Cloudy/Partly Cloudy conditions
Reschedules & Refunds
Introduction: The Star Party hosts welcomes our guests and provides a short introduction in the outdoor Amphitheater at the Visitors Center. They explain the flow of the program, highlight objects we'll view through telescopes, and provide important information about restricting various sources of lights during the program. White-light flashlights, camera screens and flash, phone screens, and shoes with bright flashes are all discouraged as they interfere with your and other’s vision adjustment and enjoyment of the night sky. The introduction is ~15 minutes.
Constellation Tour: Visitor Center staff point out brighter stars and constellations, relating some of the practical uses of the stars, the mythology of some constellations, and the scientific understanding of various patterns and objects in the night sky. These constellation tours serve as an orientation to the night sky and add meaning to the telescope viewing to follow. Guests may skip the constellation tour and move directly to telescope viewing following the introduction. The constellation tours is ~ 25-35 minutes.
Telescope Viewing: Guests rotate among 5-10 (occasionally more) telescopes, viewing different objects with guidance from staff and volunteers. Our telescopes range in size from various 8" telescopes, 12" telescopes, a 16" RC, an 18" accessible telescope, two 22" telescopes, and a 24" RC. On nights with larger crowds and ample telescopes, we may double up telescopes on one or more of the objects to help speed things along. Visitors Center staff and volunteers assist with views and answer questions. After about 90 minutes things wind down as guests take their last views through the telescopes.
Leaving the Visitors Center: To ensure all guests can enjoy their views through the telescopes, we ask that you please exit the Visitors Center's parking lot to the west. By following the path shown in the image linked above, you'll minimize any errant headlights shining on to our telescope park where your fellow visitors may still be discovering the night sky!
Cafe & Gift Shop Access during the Star Party: The Visitors Center, exhibit gallery, café, gift shop and restrooms remain open during the Star Party. The Gift Shop and StarDate Cafe close 20 minutes prior to the end of the program.
Cloudy/Partly Cloudy conditions: Unfortunately, not every night is clear. Occasionally a clear evening clouds over, a cloudy evening clears off, or the evening alternates between clear and cloudy conditions. We make every effort to appropriately plan based on the best available satellite and weather radar information. We will take every reasonable opportunity to do telescope viewing with guests. Program refunds or free, open-ended rescheduling is offered when conditions do not look promising. Your program host will explain the options for that evening at the start of the Star Party program.
When conditions don't allow for telescope viewing, we offer various indoor talks and demos: virtual sky tours with sky simulation software, video/animations, and images from ground-based and space-based telescopes, demonstrations of principles of spectroscopy as it applies to research conducted at McDonald Observatory, and others. Many of our visitors who have joined both clear-night and cloudy-night programs tell us that they learned as much about astronomy and more about how astronomers know so much about the Universe during a cloudy-night Star Party.
Reschedules & Refund: Of course, we realize that some guests may not want to participate in these alternate, cloudy-night programs so, on such nights, reschedules are offered to those wishing to attend a future program instead and refunds (minus a $3 processing fee) are offered to those who prefer that option. Participants wishing to claim a reschedule trade in their Star Party passes for a reschedule for that number of passes. Reschedules and refunds may only be claimed on the night of the program at the Information Desk. Except for weather emergencies (flooding, snow, ice, etc), no-shows will not be rescheduled or refunded.
On occasion, conditions may be such that we will offer some sort of hybrid program of telescope viewing of a few brighter objects that may be visible through thin cloud-cover as well as indoor talks.
Other conditions may prompt us to alter the order of constellation tour and telescope viewing as most visitors prefer to do telescope viewing if it appears that there may be a chance that one or the other may be clouded out depending on timing. Crowd size may also enter into our decisions about how to organize the program. No matter the night's offerings and organization, the Center's staff will do our best to let guests know what to expect.
*The Observatory reserves the right to ask unruly visitors (regardless of age) to leave the program venue if their behavior becomes disruptive.