What to Expect at an SJAA Star Party

Morris Jones

This note is for you. Yes you! You picked up this copy of The Ephemeris at a local telescope store, The Tech museum, or perhaps you found us on the world-wide web. Now you're intrigued to get looks through a variety of telescopes, or perhaps you'd like to bring your newly purchased instrument out with more seasoned observers and get some help finding things to see in the night sky.

You're certainly on the right track. The San Jose Astronomical Association includes some of the most knowledgable and friendly observers you'll find anywhere in the country. Our membership has been nationally recognized and frequently published. We observe with an enormous variety of telescopes, from monster Dobsonian reflectors to tiny refractors; sun scopes to Schmidt cameras.

Our list of activities on the front page lists several observing events at a variety of locations in and around San Jose. Each star party has its own character worth knowing about before you visit. Unlike other social events, star parties don't have a host or any kind of formal structure. Just bring your telescope or binoculars, your warm clothes and thermos, and find a place to settle and join the conversation under the night sky. Keep in mind also that star parties depend on having a clear sky - stars can't be seen through the clouds! If the weather looks cloudy, you may not find anyone at an announced star party.

Fremont Peak: Just south of San Juan Bautista at Fremont Peak State Park you'll find some of the darkest skies within 100 miles of San Jose. Finding the park down county road G1 could mean making a wrong turn if you're not careful at the bottom of the hill by the San Juan Inn, but once you've made your way to the top, you've arrived at the local mecca for amateur observing. On warm new moon weekends, it's not uncommon to find forty or fifty amateur telescopes set up at several locations. Up the well-marked observatory road, you'll frequently find SJAA members conducting official public viewing sessions on the 30-inch telescope. Over in the Southwest parking area, more SJAA members and astronomers from all over the area will be set up for nights of observing and sharing views. Wander around the park, and don't be shy to ask "What are you looking at?" Shoulder surfing is a favorite activity for public and astronomers alike.

Henry Coe State Park: This location has good dark skies and sometimes better weather than Fremont Peak, but is much less frequently visited these days by SJAA observers. The observing area is on a grassy knoll behind a gate near the visitor center. Come before sunset if you can, and you may find some observers setting up their gear. They'll be happy to escort you behind the gate and share views through the telescopes. However if weather is good at Fremont Peak, it's not uncommon for Henry Coe to be abandoned in favor of the darker skies and larger community at the Peak.

Houge Park: The Houge Park star parties, near Campbell and Los Gatos, always draw a good variety of astronomers and telescopes. These events are as much social as they are astronomical - geared to giving the public interesting views through a variety of telescopes, and providing our members with a time to gather and socialize. For a friendly casual introduction to SJAA and astronomy, this party is your best bet. Here at Houge Park, SJAA members will be happy to introduce you to our club, as well as share great views through the telescope. The skies are better than you would expect for a mid-city location. The Houge Park events are usually scheduled to have some excellent views of the moon available, as opposed to the moonless nights planned for our dark sky locations.

Morris Jones; last updated: October 03, 2007 Prev Next