A ‘Star Party’ is a chance for the students to experience the nighttime sky – a chance to learn about the stars and constellations that brighten the night. Typically, the students meet at a dark location, but during the winter months Vernon often relies on the Planetarium at Texas Tech University, as it is often too cold or cloudy.
Vernon uses the star party as a bonus grade offered to all his classes – Earth Space Science, Physics, and Astronomy – since not every student can attend a night class. The group will arrange to meet at the TTU Preston Gott Observatory or link up with the Lubbock Astronomy Club with their telescopes, but mostly they meet out in the country to get away from the Lubbock light dome.
As the sun sets, they begin with a “Satellite Hunt” while they wait for the sky to darken. Sometimes the Hubble Space Telescope or the ISS will orbit overhead, but mostly they spot leftover space debris from the Cold War – any number of Soyuz Spy satellites or boosters.
Once it is dark enough, Vernon breaks out his 1100-milliwatt LASER with a 12-mile beam to point out the stars and constellations. Depending on the time of the year and the age of the students, the ‘Star Party’ can take 30 minutes to all night.
Vernon has been doing these ‘Star Parties’ for 33 years, in locations scattered across the globe, from Texas to England to Bosnia.
The attendees of these ‘Star Parties’ range from students looking for the extra credit to astronomy enthusiasts eager to learn more about the universe. Regardless, everyone in attendance will have an illuminating evening as astronomy brings out mankind’s largest and most perplexing questions.