As astronomers, we tend to spend a certain amount of time observing, so it's no surprise that we like to people-watch. This little habit has led us to discover a humorous phenomenon at one of our favourite astro events.
Star parties are one of the social highlights of amateur astronomy. Most states are bound to have a star party close by, and some people even cross state lines to attend the biggest and the best in their country. They’re great for both beginners and veterans, and are a favourite event for most.
Each star party is unique depending on factors such as location and the time of the year - but there’s a certain set of people that are always present. Throughout our attendance at various parties, we’ve come to see the same people over and over. There are six types of people that we consistently meet again and again and they’ve become quite easy for us to identify. Perhaps you’ve seen and met them too? Or are you one of them?
This person has brought their RV with a house-sized tent attached to it. They’ve set up shop and come armed with a mini fridge, barbeque, and several camp chairs. Each morning they sit in one of those chairs, enjoying a well-cooked breakfast and reading a book. They’re the comfiest people at the star party, no doubt about it.
Our inner petty side enjoys watching them take on the gargantuan task of packing up at the end of the party, because the several hours it takes for them to clean up makes it worth sleeping in a cramped tent without a heater. We’ll gladly trade comfort for reduced cleaning time - at least whilst we’re still young.
A week-long - or two-week-long - star party has at least one person who’s staying the entire time. They’ve taken time off work to attend this star party and they’re not leaving until the end. It doesn’t matter that the weekday portion of the star party is sparsely attended either - they’re here through thick and thin. They’ll often regale others with stories from the week before and smugly tell everyone that they missed the best parts of the party.
You know this guy! Or you’ve heard of him. Or you’ve been him (though, who hasn’t at one point or another?). He’s forgotten something important - possibly even his telescope. He’ll go around to a few people asking if they have a spare this or that, and he’ll borrow from someone new every night. You better hope you’ve brought spares because you’ll be one of the people they ask. He might spend a day or two lamenting his lapse in memory in the hopes that someone will lend him a scope out of pity.
They’ve brought the spouse, the kids, and even the family pet. Perhaps a toddler. The younger kids will hang out around the camp site and they’ll watch (loud) movies in the tent, or just generally annoy others. They’re keen on astronomy for a hot second but get bored early on in the night.
The oldest of the set will usually want to be there and they’ll be the ones with their own telescope. They've been raised on astronomy by their keen parents, so they’ll roll their eyes at their younger siblings and pretend not to be related.
Did you see him pull up? the camp gossips will whisper. This is the owner of the biggest telescope at the party, the one who needs a trailer for his scope and a full-sized ladder to use it. A long queue forms around his scope each night as astronomers clamour to get a look through it.
This guy is The Guy. He bought that scope for a few specific reasons - he loves the popularity and the bragging rights. He’ll take the scope out once a year because it’s just not worth carting it around every time he observes. But he always makes sure to bring it to a star party.
Usually there's more than one of these massive telescopes and you can practically feel the tension crackling in the night as their owners vie to win the popularity contest.
Hugs and back-claps all around as these people see each other again. They’ve been friends for years, or even decades, as they attend the same star parties annually. They claim their own table in the dining hall and they’re one step away from cordoning off their viewing site. This is usually the only chance for them to see each other so they want to make the best of it.
They look a bit intimidating to approach since they’re always together. It can be hard to join in but once you introduce yourself they’ll be happy to let you chill with them for a night.