Star Parties with MIfA

Star party


Explore the sky with astronomers from the Bell and the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics. Our FREE telescope observing nights take place every month (weather permitting). Star Parties are very informal and family-friendly, and you can arrive and leave at any time.

Each evening will start with a special science presentation by MIfA graduate students in the Bell Museum's Auditorium. After the talk, the party will continue with telescope observing in the courtyard. We provide the telescopes and will guide you through observations of the same celestial objects that have inspired sky-gazers throughout history!

Stay tuned for upcoming Star Party dates. This summer, join us for a Solar Picnic & Pre-Eclipse Block Party!

Pro Tips

Binoculars for Beginners
If you have a pair of binoculars, start with those as you are trying out observing for the first time—or if you're waiting in line for a telescope at your local star party. You can see a good number of objects and details, like impact craters on the Moon, with just a pair of binoculars.

Use a red flashlight instead of a white light or your cellphone
When observing it can take the eye up to 15 minutes to become adapted to the dark enough to clearly see celestial objects. White light from flashlights, or cellphones, destroys yours and others’ dark adaptation. Use a red flashlight (example), or a red filter such as red plastic over your cell phone, to maintain your dark adaptation and allow you to read star maps and tweet about how cool star parties are.

Red filters for cellphone screens
Cut up and reuse red-tinted cellophane bags or download red filter apps on your mobile device (Android: Twilight or Sunset; iPhone screen tint)

Observe when the Moon is not full
We all know that star gazing in the cities is limited due to light pollution. But did you know that the full Moon is among the largest sources of light pollution making it hard to see faint objects like nebulas? The Moon is something not to be missed through the lens of a telescope, but time your observing for the first or third quarter Moon to see some fantastic lunar details along the terminator, without so much light pollution.

Star Maps
Learn to read star maps and navigate the sky with any of the multitude of apps you can download to your smart device, like Night Sky Tools or Heavens Above (Android).

Dress for the weather
The good thing about being in Minnesota is that the skies are clearest when it’s cold outside, and we have long stretches of cold weather. To make your time more enjoyable, and give you more time at the telescope, dress warm and bring a few extra items such as gloves, scarfs, and hats. You can alway take them off if you get too warm. It’s hard to enjoy sights like the rings of Saturn for longer periods of time if you’re shivering.

Weather

The science talks will go on rain or shine, and last roughly 30 minutes. In the case of inclement weather (precipitation, overcast skies), there will be a flat screen planetarium show held in the auditorium.

If it is mostly clear, with only a few clouds (<50% cover), observing will likely occur with some interruptions. Observing may not occur for other reasons like cold temperatures, threat of impending storms, high humidity, or the dominant cloud type (i.e. cirrus, cumulus, etc.). Conditions may also change quickly as the night goes on.