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Camp Under the Firmament at Michiana Star Party

Get out under a vast canopy of stars May 3-5 at the 2024 Michiana Star Party, where amateur astronomers set up their telescopes, observe through the night, and revel in the majesty of a dark night sky. Whether you bring a scope or not, come out to see a unique perspective on nature in which human impact on the nightscape is briefly sidestepped.


Register now for this 14th annual event (dubbed MSP-14) in Vandalia, MI, coordinated by Michiana Astronomical Society Inc., which celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2024. A fascinating astronomy speakers series on Saturday complements the nighttime stargazing.

Night sky with stars
Morning stars rising over the observing field give a preview of summer constellations.

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For two nights, astronomy enthusiasts casually deploy optics ranging from 3-inch refractors to 20-plus-inch reflectors in a field at Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park, which is designated an International Dark Sky Park-Bronze by the International Dark-Sky Association. The gathering is nothing pretentious or intimidating, though some of the views can be glorious. This group of like-minded folks find cause and time alike to celebrate celestial marvels that are accessible in the night.


star party field

Here's how your Michiana Star Party weekend could unfold...

Friday Arrival

On Friday after 3:00 p.m., the scope owners start to arrive just west of the main park entrance (enter here), eager to stretch after driving in from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. They find a preferred camping spot where their telescope can be conveniently set up adjacent to their tent, camper, car, or motor home.


Out come scopes, chart tables, flashlights, and chairs. Some attendees bring a high step ladder just to reach the elevated eyepiece of their bigger scopes when aimed skyward. For some, it's the first outing in springtime under dark skies, while other more intrepid observers have been observing year-round.

The atmosphere is casual as star party participants wander the field meeting old acquaintances or making new ones. There is admittedly a slight geek factor as they compare new eyepieces they've acquired or scopes they've modified. Anticipation runs high, for a mostly clear night is a fine reward for someone who has been preparing a list of targets to view that first night.



Newcomers to amateur astronomy are eagerly welcomed. If you've got a telescope, register (for a fee) and set up alongside the big scopes. Ask others for insight on how to get the most of your own gear, and expect to spend hours drifting from scope to scope as you compare the starfields or note new tips from each observer. Learn from the veterans. Embrace the opportunity to get more discovery in your own ensuing outings. Or just enjoy the moment.


Twilight campsites with planets and contrail in the sky.
Planets appear in the western twilight.

As darkness settles in on Friday evening, May 3, MAS member Jim Hopkins will introduce attendees to observational astronomy. See how the constellations have been organized around milenia of storytelling, with deep sky marvels within the patterns awaiting discovery tonight. Jim's tour of the evening sky sets the stage for a night of star-hopping.


Of course, the public who are not camping overnight are welcome to stroll the field with a $10 visitor pass. Pay in advance or at the gate. If you are going to exit the area during darkness, please park in the Early Bird parking lot to the south (map) with headlights aimed away from the field. Come solo, if you wish, or with a group; e.g., Ron King brought a group of youths from the Success Club in 2023.

Kids around a telescope.
Ron King (white shirt) and students from Success Club look through telescopes at twilight.

Scopes Up

Twilight segues into night. Tubes of all sizes are aimed in different directions. Perhaps a cluster of people have gathered around one random scope. Other observers may be stationed at their own equipment, diligently hopping from target to target in an observer's marathon. Some amateur astronomers who specialize in celestial imaging are set up along the edge of the field (map), so be extra cautious there with any lights.


Let the fun begin! Step right up and ask telescope owners if you can take a peek. From my experience, anyone who's got significant aperture to gather the light of distant celestial highlights is usually willing to share the goodness (unless they're trying to resolve some technical issue). I thank the corps of amateur astronomers who attend the Michiana Star Party and share the observing experience with others.

In May 2024 the planets are not positioned for best viewing, so targets will be crazy deep space objects like star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. You'll soon delight in the immensity and diversity of the universe. From the safe, quiet comfort of a dark field in Michiana, you are witnessing mega-worlds and tumultuous denizens of galactic proportions, separated by unfathomable distances. Yet it is all brought to light by astronomy's great tool, the telescope. All in one pair of nights, May 3-5, 2024.


Horizon view with sun, planets, and moon locations.
Sunrise and sunset on May 3, 2024

The Park


After a long night of observing, many people sleep in. There are alternatives. Dr. T.K. Lawless Park has much outdoor appeal, and it is connected to miles of trails for hiking, biking (helmets required), and running. Check out springtime flowers, or be the first to greet deer ambling in the woods. Or maybe just grab a cup of hot coffee from the shelter and recount with other morning stragglers what you saw the night before.


Quiet bench near a park pond.

Saturday Features


Saturday brings its own rewards. A highlight by day is the astronomy speaker series beginning Saturday, May 4, at 11:00 a.m. EDT. Enjoy informed speakers delivering leading edge astronomy news. Details are in the MSP-14 registration flyer.



In the speakers queue for 2024 are:

  • 11:00 am- 12 pm Melissa F Kaelin Chasing the Aurora in the Great Lakes Region

  • Noon: Lunch break

  • 1:00 - 2:00 pm Dr. Peter Garnavich The Attraction of Observing Magnetic Cataclysmic Variable Stars

  • 2:30 – 3:30 pm Dr. Shane Larson STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT Discovering the secret lives of the stars

  • 4:00 pm - Group Photo, then dinner break

  • 6:00 - 7:00 pm Kurt Eberhardt Asteroid Impact Structures of Indiana and Michigan & MAS Club History


50th anniversary logo with eclipse sequence
Michiana Astronomical Society celebrates 50 years in 2024.

Also during the day, don't miss opportunities to view the sun safely through solar filtered telescopes on Saturday. There will certainly be a lot of chatter about what everyone saw or did during the recent April 8 solar eclipse. The sun is near the peak of its 11-year cycle of solar activity, so sunspots and prominences will likely be visible by day.


Coronado solar telescope set up.
Solar scopes specifically target the sun.

Saturday night brings a second opportunity to take in the splendors of a dark sky. Weather permitting, it's a double-header. Sunset is around 8:45 p.m. EDT, with all eyes soon turning skyward to find the first telescopic targets. Astronomical twilight ends at 10:35 p.m., when full darkness ensues through 4:43 a.m. on Sunday morning.

High aerial view of field with vehicles and tents.
Morning at the observing field.

Your pre-registration is very much appreciated by the organizers of the event. A portion of the fees go to Cass County Parks for their generous allowance for our overnight activity. You can always pay full rate at the gate on either Friday or Saturday evening. As noted in the flyer, admission at gate for adults is $30, under 18 is $10, and camping fee is included. For guests with no intention of setting up equipment and who will be leaving by midnight, a guest fee of $10 per night is requested.


Star Party Courtesies

If you're new to attending a star party, here are some guidelines.

∗ Arrive after 3:00 p.m. Friday, set up before dusk

∗ Star party ends at 11:00 a.m. Sunday

∗ Parking in designated parking area

∗ No car movement on the field after dark

∗ Bring battery power for motorized mounts

Red flashlights only!

∗ Minors must be accompanied by an adult

∗ Dogs on leashes are allowed

∗ Vendors and swap tables welcome!

∗ Acoustical music instruments welcome!

∗ Inappropriate behavior will result in eviction

∗ Dress warmly

∗ Smoking permitted beyond telescope areas, downwind

∗ You are responsible for the security of your own belongings.

Basically, we ask that you not be offensive. From the perspective of astronomers, that includes driving into or out of an observing area with your headlights on. Please, you want to avoid that gaffe.

Aerial map of field
Star Party field layout includes area reserved for telescopic imagers and early departers.

I hope you have a memorable dark-sky experience May 3-5 in the Midwest, whether you are spending the weekend with us or just a few hours. Bring a child or friend with whom you can share the splendor, and see the universe in a new light (or dark).

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