Educator Features

Host a Star Party
A group of people watching the sky
Clear winter skies bring great opportunities for sky watching. The longer winter nights allow for an early start at viewing celestial events.

Image to left: Star parties can be a fun way to view celestial events. Credit: NASA

The Geminid meteor shower is especially nice this year. Besides the constellation Gemini, in which the radiant point of the Geminid shower is found, other constellations such as Orion and Cassiopeia are visible. There will also be another opportunity to view all five naked-eye planets--Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn--at the end of December and the beginning of January. This winter is also an ideal time to host a star party.

Star Parties have been an important part of the amateur astronomy scene for some time. These events attract hundreds, even thousands, of enthusiasts, offering the chance to see planets, seasonal constellations, deep-sky objects and the Moon. They usually cater to the entire family and often feature activities for kids. Many events are held every year all across the nation. Initially, astronomy clubs intended to have their own local or regional stargazing sessions, but now some of these have reached such popularity that they attract crowds from across the country and abroad.

You don't have to wait for a major Star Party in your area to view the wonders of the night sky. Throw your own Star Party! And why not plan it on a night that the International Space Station is passing over your city?

The Space Station can be seen with the unaided eye or through binoculars, if the weather conditions are right. It will appear as a steady white pinpoint of light moving across the sky. You will only need telescopes at your party to view other celestial objects in the sky.

NASA SkyWatch shows first-time users when and where to look to see the Space Station. For help with sightings opportunities go to the Quick Start Guide.

When to plan your Star Party

An evening with nice weather, few clouds and a Space Station sighting opportunity is best. Read Science@NASA's astronomy page and subscribe to an e-mail alert to stay apprised of celestial events.

Where to plan your Star Party

A local museum or observatory, a park or an open field, or even your own backyard are good places to throw a party. Have a facility available to go inside, and enough activities to entertain the kids if the weather turns bad. You can always go back outside when the weather clears. You may also want to check weather-related Web sites for forecasts of your area.

Adapted from:
ISS Sightings - What is a Star Party
The Geminid Meteor Shower
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