A couple weeks ago I volunteered to put together a "New Member's Guidebook" for the Black River Astronomical Society. I'd been thinking of making a packet like this for quite a while...in truth, the idea began the morning after I high-beamed a group of SLAS members who'd gone up the canyon for a special members-only new-moon-weekend star party.
I was a brand new member of the club and excited to get involved, so when I saw the outing advertised on the SLAS calendar, I resolved to make the trip. These private observing sessions are held around the new moon so that club members can take advantage of the darkest skies for personal observations...a special treat after all the other public events. It had been a while since I'd seen high mountain skies so far from city lights, and I was eager to experience what was possible through a telescope in such conditions. Not owning a scope myself, and wanting to be as unobtrusive as possible, I decided to go up a little after dark (fashionably late...of course) and then only stay a short while.
I had a harder time than anticipated finding the site and ended up creeping up a long gravel road, scanning the blackness ahead with headlights blaring. I came upon the observing site a little unexpectedly, and realized my mistake only after seeing the whole collection of scopes and operators bathed in glare. Angrily embarrassed at my faux pas, I parked the car at the side of the road a little ways down from from the gathering and spent the next few minutes trying to guess if anyone had recognized me. I ended up just heading back home and hoping that no one had been able to identify me or my car. "Maybe they would think a random person was lost and had just come up the wrong road..." I thought.
That I had ruined everyone's night vision was certain, but I prayed hard that no one had been imaging at the time. My naive mistake could have made the very worst of first impressions. I worried about all the other unique little customs and courtesies I might not know about, and wished someone could give me a rule book or manual to prevent me from ruining another night of otherwise clear skies. So when the topic of observing etiquette came up in a discussion of some white-light issues at a recent BRAS gathering, I volunteered to assemble such a guide.
The final document is still in process, but I got a big chunk of the first draft done today. A couple of board members provided me with relevant material they'd previously written, and I've been editing that and combining it with a few of my own ideas, while livening things up with a cartoon here and there. Here are two I added today along with bits of accompanying text that I wrote (I'll leave out other's stuff just to be on the safe side permission wise)...
How does an amateur astronomer get started? This question is one of the most commonly asked amongst our new members. Almost everyone has experienced enjoyment of the night sky at some point in their life. Whether counting shooting stars as a kid, taking a romantic stroll in the moonlight, or getting caught up in the excitement surrounding an eclipse or close conjunction of planets, celestial objects and events have captured our imaginations for as long as we've had them. But when considering taking this enjoyment to a deeper level and pursuing astronomy as a hobby, its easy to get distracted by all the fancy lingo and gadgetry, and assume that you need to both spend a lot of money and be a technical genius in order to participate. Nothing could be further from the truth!
...and the document goes on to describe easy and affordable ways to begin discovering the night sky.
Observing etiquette is covered in a later section (primarily written by another member), and I made this little cartoon to illustrate his admonition to keep white lights (including flashlights and cell phones) from interfering with everyone's night vision...
The cartoons are a little rough...I'm no professional to be sure...but hopefully they'll add some personality, get a laugh or two from seasoned club members, and help to better initiate a few innocent newbies.