Observing Field Etiquette

Dobsonian Telescopes West Kentucky Amateur Astronomers


You may find the list of observing field rules long and detailed, but largely these rules center around two things, preserving the dark adapted state of the observer and respect for the observing equipment on the field. Deep sky objects are very dim an the eye must be dark adapted in order to even see many of them. Dark adaptation takes approximately 30 minutes in the absence of light. One flash with a white flashlight can ruin the next 30 minutes of observing. Experienced observers understand this. Beginners or those newly interested in astronomy may not. We ask that you refrain from using a white light flashlight on the observing field. Low power red light flashlights are fine as long as they are directed downward and not flashed in the eyes of observers.

Telescopes on the observing field may range in price from several hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. These are precision observing instruments and have delicate parts. The scope owners have a right to have their equipment protected and respected. We ask that you do not touch or lean on any scope without the permission of the owner. Parents are resposible for their own children and are advised to supervise them closely as they may not appreciate the value of these instruments. Most amateurs are more than happy to share a view with you and guide you through the observing experience and only ask that you respect their equipment in return.

Bringing Telescopes

This is by no means a requirement, but bring a scope with you if you have one. Don't be embarrassed if you aren't familiar with it or think it may be to small. You will find help using it and may be surprised at what you can see with it. Binoculars are another great way to observe the night sky, so if you can't bring your scope, then bring your binoculars.

Car Lights

Lights are generally the biggest problem at star parties. Please do not shine your car lights on the observing field. Some newer vehicles have automatic headlights that come on when you start the vehicle and this could be a problem. Some vehicles have the ability to turn this feature off, others do not. Sometimes partially depressing the emergency brake (but not enough to actually engage it) will disable the automatic lights.

Please park your vehicle far from the observing field and in such a manner that your headlights are pointed away from the observing field. If you feel like lighting up the area is evitable (hey it happens), warn observers to cover their eyes before you shine light onto the observing field.


You will need to navigate your way around the observing field. Once you are dark adapted, you usually do not need a flashlight. In the event that you do, please do not use a bright white light flashlight. Bring a dimly lit red light flashlight. Avoid shining the light in an observer's eyes.


No flash photography, no exceptions. Bring a tripod and your big lens and do some really cool long exposure photography. You don't want to spoil everyone's dark adaptation.


It's not allowed, no exceptions. Smoke can be harmful to telescope optics and they are a bear to clean. Just don't smoke around telescopes.


Alcohol is strictly prohibited on the Visitors Center/Observatory and Pennyrile Forest premises.

Aerosol Sprays

No aerosol sprays on the observing field. One drop can permanently damage the delicate optics of a telescope or binoculars. If you apply insect repellant, carefully and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.


Don't spit on the field. Many times astronomers must be on their hands and knees around the telescopes. Nobody wants to encounter the end results of your chew. There have been instances where an inconsiderate person spit blindly into the dark and hit a box of very expensive eyepieces.


Some observers enjoy playing music while looking through their scopes. This is acceptable under certain circumstances. Please have respect and ask your neighbors before you turn on the music. If they agree to your playing the music, please keep the volume to a reasonably low level in your observing area. Not everyone enjoys music while observing. Also, please select music that is pleasing to most everyone. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is a good selection for backyard observing (one of my favorites! -jm), but others will probably frown if it's played at a star party. When in doubt, use headphones and a portable player of some sort.


The common sense rules apply here. If you make a mess, please clean it up. Bring trash bags to place your trash in. Help us keep the facility looking nice and presentable. LBL is run by the USDA Forest Service, Pennyrile is a Kentucky National Forest and ultimately we are all guests at the site. Let's don't wear out our welcome.

Quiet Mornings

Most observers come to a star party simply to observe from dusk till dawn. Often some will go to bed as the sun is rising. If you are an early riser, please have respect for those still in the sleeping bag. Please try to be as quiet as possible at least until the majority are up and around.


Children are the future of amateur astronomy and we encourage parents to bring them along to the party. A star party can be a very exciting time for most everyone, kids included.

Please, keep an eye on your children. There are literally thousands upon thousands of dollars in equipment out on the observing field. Most scope owners have saved for years to buy their dream scope, or have countless hours in building their own equipment. Children should be instructed not to run or play around the equipment on the observing field. They should also get the owners permission before touching any equipment.

A star party official will issue only one warning if your child or children are breaking the basic rules. After that, you will be asked to leave the premises. We are not trying to be overly strict on this subject, but we do not want any damaged equipment or telescopes. We want to provide optimal circumstances for observing and that means keeping equipment free from harm.

Touching Equipment

Do not touch a telescope unless the owner has given you permission. Never touch the optical glass of a telescope or eyepiece. The oils on your skin can ruin the coatings.

Big Scopes

Most telescopes are small enough that you can simply walk up and look in the eyepiece, or better yet, you can sit down and look through it. Then there are the "Big Dobs". These telescopes so large that you literally have to climb a ladder to look through them. Some only require a step or two and you are at the eyepiece. Others may require more. It is not uncommon to climb four, five, even six feet up a ladder just to look through the eyepiece. No big deal you say? They can be! Just remember, you are doing this in the dark. When you do go up a tall ladder, be sure to count your steps. If you forget that you are on a ladder and turn around to walk away, that first step could be a doozy! (Lulu) If in doubt, ask the owner to count you down. It's better to be safe than sorry. And whatever you do, DON'T TRY TO BREAK YOUR FALL ON THE TELESCOPE!

Scope owners will not be held responsible if you are injured climbing their ladders. But you will be held responsible for any damage you cause to a scope. By climbing the ladder, you assume the responsibility of getting up and down safely. If you don't think you can get up there and back down safely, don't go.


It's a lot of fun to walk around the observing field during daylight hours, checking out all of the beautiful scopes that are set up. You can easily see everything in detail. Now try to walk around the field in the dark. Things will look totally different. Use your red filtered flashlight when you walk about the field and keep it pointed toward the ground. Be on the lookout for power cords and tripod legs. Once your eyes become dark-adapted, it will be much easier to walk around the field.


Give some thought to this one! Check a weather report prior to an observing session. Astronomy is not much fun if you are not comfortable. Standing around in the night air can be quite cold, even in the summertime. Bring a long-sleeve shirt or a sweater.

Asking Questions

There is a saying that even holds true on the observing field. "There is no such thing as a stupid question. Only stupid people do not ask questions". Now we aren't implying that you are an idiot ;-). We are just trying to explain that no matter how dumb you may think the question is, go ahead and ask it. Most of us have probably asked the question ourselves when we were getting started in astronomy. A star party is the best classroom for learning about the hobby. You will learn more in two days by asking questions and listening to discussions than you will in a year out on your own.

Have Fun

The enjoyment of a star party is indescribable. Many new friends will be made, you will look through many different telescopes, both large and small, and a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment will be with you as you leave. Most are already looking forward to the next star party even before they leave the observing field.

Last Word

When in doubt, ask. We make every effort for you to enjoy the star party. If you have comments, questions, or concerns at the star party, by all means let one of the club members know. We will try our best to help out and make your visit an enjoyable one.