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

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.

How many people are there on a Night Sky Tour?
Typically the maximum is 10-12. Sometimes, depending on the 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 3 adults to operate. That doesn't mean you must have 3 in your party, only that there must be at least 3 scheduled for the night. You may certainly reserve space for 1 or 2 adults, 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 ten or fewer people―but you may request a private session for just yourself or your group. In that case, however, the Private Group Rate will apply for parties of 1 to 15.  On occasion, however, attendance in the public programs is light and you may have the session all to yourself anyway!  For private group  tours, you may also consider the White dates on the calendar, though some of them may not be available.
is there an age limit for children?
Yes, children younger than 9 years of age are not admitted. Sorry.

My children are younger than 9, 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 young 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.

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 select a date?

First you must confirm that a tour is available on the date(s) you're visitingvery simple instructions are provided at the top of the Tour Schedule page.

How do I make a reservation?

Once you've confirmed that space is available on the date(s) you're visiting, 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, if you'll be in town for a few days, you can book another date.  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 (white) date and have a group of four or more 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 12:00 noon (Pacific Time).  It's always best to make advance reservations if you can. Either way, e-mail (not text messaging) is the preferred method of communication.

I called the phone number but there was no answer. Now what?
All correspondence must be done by e-mail, not by phone or text messaging.  You will always receive a faster response via e-mail than by phone. Since all responses, confirmations and tour details will be sent via e-mail ALWAYS within 24 hours, please make sure that these are not going to your spam or junk folders.
I sent an e-mail, but never received a response.
You will ALWAYS receive a reply within 24 hours--often within minutes.  If you don't, check your spam and junk folders.  (Sometimes e-mail can be stubborn, though, so you should always include in any correspondence an alternate e-mail address as well as a cell phone number to which a text message can be sent.) If you've not received a reply within 24 hours, please e-mail again,  and Dennis will send a text message to the cell number you provided.
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.

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

A variety of resorts, motels and camping spots exist around the village of Borrego and in the State Park. You can find a list of them (as well as other activities, restaurants and more) at the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce.


How far are hotels from where we'll be meeting?

Borrego is a very small town, and all hotels and resorts are within only a few miles of our meeting place and observing site.


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!
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, text message or e-mail.  Please keep in mind that there are no refunds if you miss the program.  Please plan your travel and dinner 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! 
What do I need to bring?
You should bring water, solid shoes, seasonal clothing, a flashlight, and a sense of adventure for seeing sights and phenomena far beyond our daily workaday world. If you wish you may also bring binoculars. If you wish to sit during the 2-3 hour program you should bring folding chairs. Please do NOT bring a towel or blanket to sit on the ground; not only can it pick up irritating cactus needles, ants, scorpions, snakes and other small critters, it is a safety hazard for people walking around in the dark looking skyward.
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 .
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. If the only date you're interested in appears on the calendar with no color (white), please inquire if it's available for your special program.  One never knows!  Please see the Prices & Reservations page for Group Rate information.

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, and see the Prices & Reservations page for Group Rate information.

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.

Will I see the Milky Way during our Night Sky Tour?

It's possible.  The Milky Way appears during at various times during the year, and only on moonless nights (green dates on the program schedule).  We can see it during the winter months (December, January and February), though this portion of the Milky Way is rather faint. The time to see it at its best is during the summer months (July and August) when it appears to arc high overhead and streams very far to the south.  During September and October it's still visible, but its southernmost section is beginning to vanish in the glow of lights from San Diego.

Can I see all the spectacular colors I see in photographs?

Absolutely not.  First of all, cameras record colors and details that the human eye cannot see. Secondly, many of those highly-saturated photos you may have seen online are over-processed by novices and give the Milky Way a ghastly and terribly unrealistic look.  The Milky Way appears as a quiet and subtle "cloud" that arcs across the sky and, to the eye, appears as a rather gray and mottled band of light.


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. 

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  ants, scorpions, field mice, rattlesnakes, lizards, coyotes and more—some seasons more than others—but if you're careful you won't be bothered by any of them.  It's always a good idea to wear solid shoes, use a flashlight when walking in the desert and, if you wish to sit, do so off of the ground on a chair, cooler, etc.  In general, always be aware of your environment while in the desert. 

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.


What kind of weather can 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 any one of them can 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 later in the day to the cell phone number you provided (as well as a detailed e-mail), and you may then reschedule or receive a full refund.


I'll be in town for a few days... if weather cancels the program can we do it the next night?

Yes, often the following night can be used as a backup for those staying in town over a few nights. If, on the other hand, you're leaving town, you can look over the program calendar to select another date that would be convenient for you.


Suppose I'm just driving into Borrego and then home that night?

If you choose to make the round-trip drive without staying in town (at least for one night) you risk a long drive for nothing if a late weather cancellation becomes necessary. Borrego is at least a couple hour drive from everywhere and this is never recommended, especially during the frequently-unstable desert weather patterns of summer and winter. Please don't ask Dennis to make a weather decision before you leave home so you can avoid the drive; it's often impossible to judge a night's observing conditions in advance.


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

You can write a review of the program—and read others'—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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