FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  

You'll find questions about following topics answered in the text below:

 
 
 
NIGHT SKY TOURS
  
What is an evening observing program like?

They're all different, of course, but they typically begin with an overview of the stars and constellations visible overhead, followed by a tour of the telescope itself and instruction on its proper use. Then, armed with this knowledge, we will use the telescope to peer deep into our galaxy and far beyond.  After your cosmic adventure you will receive an e-mail that recaps all that you saw during the night and offers links for further learning.

 
How is a Night Sky Tour different from other public star parties and events?

Public "star parties" offered by amateur astronomy groups are excellent, but they do not offer a truly personalized experience.  Here, however, you will have that experience because group sizes are limited. In addition to seeing many more celestial objects, your personal interaction with astronomer Dennis Mammana will help you understand not only what you're seeing, but how it works and why it's important to scientists.  It is this context that makes your experience unique. And with a professional astronomer as your guide, you'll surely come away with a totally new perspective on the universe and your place in it.

 

Will I be able to see the Milky Way?

That depends on the season and whether or not there's moonlight. The Milky Way Galaxy in which we live forms a circular band around us and, therefore, can be seen only about half of the time. Its brightest part appears during the summer and early autumn; its fainter half appears during the winter and early spring. At the other times of the year we cannot see the band of the Milky Way during early evening hours, but this means that, at those times, we can see other galaxies far beyond our own.

 

Does moonlight affect what we can see?

It can.  If you want to see the starry heavens at their very best, you should schedule your Sky Tour when the moon does not appear during early evening hours.  Note that the Sky Tour Schedule is color-coded to help you determine which are the darkest dates.  If you're in town only when the moon is in the sky you will still have a remarkable experience; we will see all we normally see, though with a reduced contrast.  If you've got questions about choosing the darkest nights, please e-mail Dennis directly.  Be aware that there are only about two or three weeks during each month with moonless conditions, so ideal program dates are limited.

 
 
SKY TOUR SIZE
  
How many people are there on a Night Sky Tour?
Typically the maximum is 8; sometimes, depending on circumstances, there may be a few more or less.
  

Why do you limit the size of your audience?

Unlike most  public "star parties," the number of participants here is limited so that you will have the most enjoyable and educational experience possible.  In this way you will be encouraged to peer through the telescope, ask questions and open discussions with Dennis.

 

Is there a minimum number required for your tours?

Yes... and no.  Each Night Sky Tour requires a minimum of two adults to operate. That doesn't mean you must have two in your party, only that there must be at least two on the tour. You may certainly reserve space for one, but if the tour cannot go because of low attendance you will be given the option of rescheduling or receiving a refund.
  
What if I don't want to be part of a larger tour group?
Groups are not large―usually eight or fewer people―but you may request a private session for just yourself or your family. In that case, however, the Group Rate will apply for parties of 1 to 15.  On occasion, however, attendance is light and you may have the session all to yourself anyway!
  
  
CHILDREN
 
is there an age limit for children?
Yes, children younger than 8 years of age are not admitted. Sorry.
  

My children are younger than 8, but are really smart.  Why can't they come along?

It's not a matter of intelligence. First, the eyes of very young children are unable to focus well on faint objects at the telescope. Second, a dark environment near a delicate and finely-tuned optical instrument is not a safe place for toddlers or small children. Finally, they will be unable to comprehend all we see and talk about, possibly leading them to become bored, frustrated and, sometimes, disruptive to the rest of the group.

 

Can I drop off my children and pick them up at the end of the tour?

No, sorry. No unaccompanied minors are permitted, and all must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

 
  
RESERVATIONS
  
Must I have a reservation or can I just show up?

Because these programs are heavily booked, and meeting times and places can change with the season and weather conditions, reservations and advance payment are required

 
How do I make a reservation?

You must first check to confirm that space is available. You can pay online with credit or debit card, or PayPal. All major credit and debit cards are accepted, and all transactions are secure via the PayPal system. You do not have to join PayPal. 

 
What if my preferred date is already booked?
If a date is booked, you may choose to be placed on a waiting list, or you can book another tour if you'll be in town for a few days.  During the winter months (when darkness comes earlier) you might be offered a tour later in the evening if maximum attendance has been reached.  It would be the same tour, but would allow a more personalized experience than overfilling the earlier tour. And if you'll be in town only on an unscheduled date and have a group of more than two adults, please feel free to e-mail to see if something might be available. 
 
I just arrived in town and saw your flyer. Can I make a reservation for tonight? 

If there remains space, yes, but the cutoff time for same-day reservations is typically five hours before sunset. In the summer, it can be as late as 3 p.m. but in the wintertime it can be as early as 12:00 noon.  It's always best to make advance reservations if you can. Either way, e-mail is the preferred method of communication.

 
I called the phone number but there was no answer. Now what?
Believe it or not, you will almost always receive a faster response via e-mail than by phone. And since all of the tour details must be sent via e-mail, this is always the preferred method of communication. 
 
I made my reservation; now what?
Shortly after making your reservation payment you will receive an e-mail confirmation giving you preliminary details and links for activities, restaurant, lodging, etc. in Borrego Springs, and requesting some important information. Once those are received―and a few days before your Night Sky Tour―you will receive another e-mail detailing the exact time and place we will meet, and offering more detail about the evening's adventure.  You're always welcome to contact Dennis at any time if you've got questions that have been unanswered.
 
 
LODGING AND ACTIVITIES IN BORREGO SPRINGS
 

I've never been to Borrego Springs before. Can you recommend a good place to stay?

A variety of resorts and motels exist around the village of Borrego, and all are very near to where we'll be meeting and observing. You can find a list of them (as well as other activities, restaurants and more) at the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce.

 

I don't want to stay overnight in Borrego; is that an option?

Of course, but keep in mind how far Borrego is from just about everywhere.  From San Diego it's a 2+ hour drive; from the LA area it can be 4+ hours. Your Night Sky Tour can end quite late, and the roads out of town are winding, dark and potentially dangerous at night. You would be much wiser to spend the night in town, and enjoy the views back the next day.  In fact, you might even prefer to stay a few days to explore the ruggedly beautiful Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

 

is there anything else to do in Borrego?

Plenty!  Please check out the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce to see what kinds of restaurants, museums, lectures, desert excursions and more for you to enjoy.  But be ready for beauty and solitude... and no traffic!
 
 
TOUR LOGISTICS
 
When are Borrego Night Sky Tours offered?
Sky Tours are offered several times a week, except when the moon is bright or when Dennis is not available. Check out the current tour schedule for dates and send an e-mail to confirm that space is open; if there is, you may pay in advance to hold your spaces.
 
What time does the program begin and how long does it last?
The Sky Tour typically begins about an hour or so after sunset, and generally lasts 2-3 hours, depending on conditions and your interest.  Please be aware that PROGRAMS BEGIN ON TIME, so plan to arrive early or your may miss our departure; there can be no refunds for late arrivals. On rare occasions, conditions may dictate a last-minute change of start time, and these changes would be communicated that day via text message to the cell phone number you provided. Please check your text messages from time to time that afternoon to make sure you don't miss out.
 
What if I'm late?
You may miss the tour.  We begin promptly at the scheduled time, and once the program has begun you will be unable to reach anyone by phone or e-mail.  Please keep in mind that there are no refunds if you miss the program.  Please plan your travel accordingly and arrive early!
 
Where will we meet?
There is no fixed location, but all are within only a few miles of the town's center. It will be determined before you receive your final tour details. Conditions may require a last-minute change, and those changes would be communicated via text message that day to the cell phone number you provided. Please check your text messages from time to time that afternoon to make sure you don't miss out.
 
Can't I just drive to the observing site without meeting first?
No. During our brief meeting we will over important details about our evening's session, and will look over and sign a waiver form before heading out to the observing site together.
 
How should I plan to dress for the evening?
Nights can become quite cool (or downright cold!) after sundown in the desert, except during mid-summer. Always be sure to dress for the season, but you will be advised before your adventure what weather we can expect.  Good sturdy shoes are always a good idea for the desert at night, however.
 
Do I need a special vehicle to participate?
No. The observing locations are all located within a few miles of the town's center, and only a short drive on a dirt road may be necessary.
 
I'd prefer not to drive at night in the desert; can I ride with you?
No, sorry.  We're not licensed to carry passengers and, besides, the telescope gear takes up the entire vehicle! 
 
 
THINGS TO BRING ALONG... OR TO LEAVE AT HOME
 
What do I need to bring?
All you really need to bring is your curiosity about the universe!  But when spending time in the desert, it's always a good idea to bring water and solid shoes (to avoid cactus needles and small critters); and, if you're able to do so, a folding lawn chair will make your time under the stars much more comfortable.  Do NOT bring a blanket to sit on the ground; not only can it pick up cactus needles and, possibly, tiny critters, it is a safety hazard for people will be walking around in the dark.  And don't forget a flashlight, preferably with red LEDs or covered with red cellophane; this will help preserve your night vision for optimal viewing of the heavens.
 
Can I take photos through the telescope?
The telescope is not designed for long-exposure photography; the program is strictly visual. However, if moon is visible that night you can try holding a camera or phone up to the eyepiece and snapping the shutter, but this can be a bit challenging so we'd wait until the end of the evening to try this if you wish.
 
Can I bring a camera and tripod to shoot the sky directly?
Certainly, but you’ll be asked to set it up away from the group for safety. And, since light is not allowed at the observing site, you’ll also need to disable your strobe and white flashlight.  Keep in mind that, if you spend time with your camera, you'll miss much of the Sky Tour.  You may, however, stay after the program to shoot the sky on your own.
 
May I bring my own telescope?
This is discouraged since participants would be distracted from the program they've paid for.  You may, however, stay after the program to set up and use your scope on your own .
 
 
GROUP TOURS
 
I have a group coming to town; do you offer group discounts?

Absolutely, as long the night is available. Typical group sizes are 9-15 people; larger groups are not recommended, since the personal experience then becomes limited. 

 
What if my group is larger than 15 people?

If you've got larger group you might consider breaking it into two separate evening sessions so that everyone receives the best possible experience.  If that's not possible, we'll do our best to make it work.  Please e-mail Dennis directly to work out details. 

 
My group is holding an event in another town. Can you visit to do a Night Sky Tour there?

Of course, as long as it's within reasonable driving distance of Borrego Springs and the calendar date is available. Events held elsewhere are charged at the Group Rate and do require travel expenses.

 
 
RESTRICTIONS
 

May I bring my pet?

No, sorry.  Pets can attract hungry coyotes, and they can be vulnerable to snake bites and being stepped on in the dark. In addition, some of our guests may have allergies to pet hair.  Please arrange to leave your pet elsewhere during the few hours of our program.

 

May I smoke on the tour?

Please don't. Other guests (including your astronomer) may be negatively affected by smoke. If you choose to do so, you will be asked to move to another area downwind from our group, and you  will miss part of the program. 

 

Can I bring a blanket to sit on the ground?

No. Not only can this pick up cactus needles and, possibly, tiny critters, it is a safety hazard for people will be walking around in the dark.  If you wish to sit, please bring a chair.  If you're traveling and don't have one, sometimes you can borrow one or two from your hotel.

 
 
AT THE OBSERVING SITE
 
Will we be doing much walking?

Not at all; we will park our vehicles at the observing site and walk only a few feet on flat terrain to the telescope.  That's it!

 
Are there rest room facilities at our observing site?

Since we'll be out in the desert, there are no restrooms there (OK, there are thousands of them!). Please be prepared for that.

 
What about rattlesnakes and scorpions?
Though it may appear barren and lifeless, the desert is alive with critters such as rattlesnakes, scorpions, field mice, coyotes and more—some seasons more than others—but rarely do they bother us humans.  And, while none have ever visited our observing sites, it's always a good idea to wear solid shoes, use a flashlight when walking in the desert and, in general, be aware of your environment while walking through the desert.  Perhaps more dangerous is backing into a cactus!
 
 
CANCELLATIONS
 

Do I get a refund if I choose to cancel?

Of course. but a refund can be issued ONLY if your cancellation is received by 5 p.m. Pacific Time two days before your scheduled sky tour date. (For example, a Saturday sky tour must be cancelled by 5 p.m. PT on Thursday; a Friday sky tour cancellation must be received by 5 p.m. PT on Wednesday, and so on).  Because these programs can be in high demand, cancellations received after that date and time cannot be refunded.  Sorry. 

 

Can I reschedule instead of canceling?

Absolutely but, like a refund, your request must be received by 5 p.m. Pacific Time two days before your scheduled sky tour date.

 
 
WEATHER
 

What kind of weather will force a cancellation?

Cloud cover is only one factor; strong winds, blowing sand, high humidity and air turbulence (what astronomers call "seeing") can all influence observing conditions, and can even cause cancellation of the night's program. Unfortunately, many of these cannot often be known in advance, and actual desert weather can sometimes deviate quite far from forecasts. 
 

What happens if the conditions are bad the day of my Sky Tour?

Desert weather can change quickly and dramatically, but only rarely does it become so bad that we cannot observe. Dennis will monitor conditions that day and, if he determines that weather will force cancellation of the program, he will send a text message that afternoon to the cell phone number you provided (as well as a detailed e-mail), and you may then reschedule or receive a full refund.

 
 
AFTER THE SKY TOUR
 

Hey, this Sky Tour was great!  How can I let others know about my experience?

You can read others' reviews—and write your own—at TripAdvisor, Yelp.and  the Borrego Night Sky Tours Facebook Page.

 
Suppose I want to come back... will there be different things to see?

Absolutely!  The evening sky changes gradually throughout the year, and there are different celestial sights available during each season. For example, if you want to see the Milky Way in all its glory, the summer months are best.

 
Can I book Dennis for an upcoming celestial event?

On occasion that might be possible, but Dennis' schedule is often booked more than a year in advance, and these events are frequently planned with local resorts or tour companies.  He is available for other special events and presentations, however.  Just contact him directly.

 

How can I keep up with other astronomical programs and sky events?

One way is to check out Dennis' website.  He writes a free e-mail newsletter, and you'll find even  more timely information—plus the ability to interact with him and other sky watchers—on his Facebook and Google+ pages, Twitter and his blog.  And, of course, don't forget his weekly syndicated column Stargazers, to which you can register to subscribe free via e-mail so you'll never miss another celestial event again!

     
     

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