2019 HAL Star Party and Outreach Reports
November 11, 2019 Mercury Transit
We had a great event at Alpha Ridge for the Mercury transit. What a way to wind up our scheduled observing for the year! The thin wispy clouds were no obstacle to observing and we had over 20 scopes going at the peak and perhaps 100 visitors overall. Visitors kept coming until the end of the event even though most of the members had packed up and moved on. It was a nice social event as there was plenty of time to catch up with each other while taking our occasional looks at Mercury's progress. It was, however, somewhat strange to be able to see the people I was talking to!
Many thanks to Richard Ren for opening up the park early so people could set up and to Chas Rimpo for operating the observatory. I don't expect to be around for the next Mercury transit but hopefully we'll all be able to enjoy many great star parties together next year!
November 2, 2019 Last Public Star Party
Our 2019 ending public star party (night) was a great success. The sky was clear and transparent throughout the whole event. The temperature was above 40 and the air was calm. We had about 100 visitors including Scouts and college students. We really appreciate that at least 6 members set up their own telescopes for observation.
The party started with Venus set around 6:15 (yes, we found it just above the tree branches). It peaked around 7:30 when there was a remarkable waiting line at each of the telescopes. New visitors kept coming till about 10:30. We covered all 5 available planets and more than a dozen of deep space objectives both inside and outside the dome. My favorite one was M11 wild duck cluster. It was breathtaking to observe the whole cluster in one view field from 16" Meade.
Wayne and Jessica tested Illig scope on more challenging NGCs after the moonset. The images were amazingly satisfactory with flawless polar alignment. We locked park around 11:20.
October 23, 2019 Members Impromptu
Talk about a Spacewalk Experience! 4 planets in one evening (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). Conditions were about as good as they get in suburban Maryland, and HAL made the most of them tonight. Garry graciously opened the gate before sunset for those who needed a lot of set up time (I couldn't get out there until 6:30). Marc Feuerberg brought out his giant Dob and regaled us all with spectacular views of various DSOs. There was the usual trying out of new equipment, and Richard Orr was busily sketching away (He won't finish until he has personally depicted the entirety of the Macrocosmic All). I was satisfied with tracking down all four of the outer planets in our solar system.
I forgot to count how many of us showed up, but we were at least 6 and at most 8.
October 5, 2019 Public Star Party
I would like to thank David Stein (CTO) and Neville Fernandes (CTA) for opening HALO. Forrest and Mike Krauss had telescopes setup along with me. Thanks to both of them also for talking with our guests inside and outside of HALO.
As most of you already know or have guessed, we were 99% clouded out. With that said, we had about 35 people show up. Just before sundown, we were able to observe the moon. Then there were a few "sucker holes" on and off for about an hour. That was it for observing. Even with the poor astronomy weather our visitors stayed and asked questions until about 9:00. We even had one person who was in town from Pennsylvania stop by to see our observatory knowing there was nothing to observe.
Let's hope for better skies for our November Public Star Party.
September 28, Members Star Party
Thanks so much for showing me and my family around HAL's observatory during the Star party Saturday night. It was very nice and thoughtful of you to devote your time to introduce us to the club. We felt very welcome.
My family and I are still talking about your awesome photos of the Wreath Nebula. We also enjoyed meeting Yvonne, Gary, and Thorn as well. We learned quite a bit. I picked up the Backyard Astronomer's guide at the library yesterday and am learning a lot. Thanks for that recommendation.
I have been talking about the club in my Clary's Forest neighborhood. Some neighbors are now interested in joining as well. We look forward to the next Star party and HAL club meeting.
September 7, 2019 Public Star Party
What a great party with lots of fun and even surprises. We estimated that perhaps 150-170 visitors attended, including a Girl Scout Troop and their parents who started off the evening with a “guided” Solar System walk.
By the time darkness descended, I counted 21 telescopes. Wow! Thank you, members, for helping make this a fabulous event. Outside the observatory I heard many people talking about having seen the Moon (of course), Jupiter, Saturn, the beautiful blue and gold double star Albireo, and many others.
The big surprise was the cloud bank that rolled in at around 9:00 pm. All of us were caught off guard. None of the forecasts had predicted this. Nor did it clear. The crowd drifted away so we finally called it to an end and everyone left the park by 10:30.
Bob Savoy, Host
Well, I for one was certainly caught off guard by the clouds! I don't believe I've never seen a cloud bank move in so swiftly, covering the entire sky. Fortunately, I managed to turn disaster into opportunity by keeping my scope focused on the Moon, despite its being behind the cloud. People were amazed that they could still see it with the naked eye when nothing was visible. This gave me a chance to talk about aperture and light gathering power, making faint light visible in the eyepiece. (Plus, the Moon looks pretty cool with clouds passing in front of it. "The Moon was a ghostly galleon.")
Bob Prokop, Guest
We had a great– albeit truncated – Public Star Party last night.
I arrived 6:30 pm. Opening the dome door required a little coaxing by rocking the Up-Down control a bit.
I cooled the camera to 8⁰, and we were displaying images of the moon before sunset. Rupes Recta, “The Straight Wall” prominently cast its shadow.
Once the sky darkened, we moved to globular clusters Messier 10 and Messier 13. I believe the public enjoyed the images of M13, each image revealing more stars as the evening sky darkened.
We took a break to attempt to image a satellite (Orbiting Astronomical Observatory II) as it passed a bright star in Ophiuchus. Unfortunately, we were not successful in this effort.
We then moved to planetary nebula “The Ring Nebula” and NGC 6781.
A guest requested that we point The Illig toward Neptune. I was surprised how easily the planet was to identify by its blue color.
We then moved to “The Swan Nebula” and “Lagoon Nebula.” We had barely begun to explain the features of The Lagoon when the unexpected cloud obscured the field of view.
We closed Halo employing the new method of parking The Illig.
I did notice one anomaly. Although the Illig tracked well for most of our 30-second exposures. Approximately every ten minutes it seemed to skip the tracking. This resulted in stars smearing approximately 15 arc minutes. This might explain the inaccuracies in pointing that we have been experiencing lately.
Unfortunately, the CTA for the evening did not attend. Thank you, Forest Arnold for stepping in as Ad Hoc CTA.
Ken Everhart, CTO
September 3, 2019 Impromptu
David and I performed maintenance and observation at HALO last night. Two more members observed outside. The sky was fantastic. With the typical weather around here the last several years, it’s hard to tell when we might get another night that clear.
After doing all the maintenance we could do last night, we still had about 2 ½ hours to observe. David will process and stack several of the photos we took for presentation at this month’s HAL meeting.
We had an excellent impromtu last night at Alpha Ridge. We had four members come out, and Chas and I were working in the observatory getting things ready for our public star party Saturday. The sky conditions were excellent, attached are some pictures we took as test runs.
August 30, 2019 Members Star Party
We had about 12 members turn out for last night's star party. While the skies were clear to begin the night, we were completely clouded out by 10 pm. We had only two active observers and HALO was not used. I did remotely activate my home observatory and preformed an exoplanet transit egress for a few interested members. Overall, not a bad night.
August 29, 2019 Impromptu
It was a beautiful night at Alpha Ridge and we had about 14 members come out for our impromptu. Jupiter was stunning at dusk with the shadow of Ganymede centered in the northern hemisphere and a great deal of detail visible under steady skies. As the night went on, the shadow slowly moved to the edge of the disk becoming visibly oblong as it neared the limb. Saturn was as nice as I've ever seen it with the rings open this year to just the right amount to see the shadow of the planet on the rings while still easily seeing the Cassini division all around. There were several bands visible on the planet as well. I heard from others that the deep sky objects were beautiful as well. I also happened to see a double meteor which was exciting.
I left about 10:30 with the party still going strong since Ken offered to close up the park.
August 10, 2019 Public Star Party
THANK YOU to everyone who came for last night's public star party. What an awe inspiring turnout from our HAL membership! We cannot thank you enough for your dedication and time. What a wonderful attendance by the Public as well.
Last night our HAL members out-did themselves with 21 telescopes set-up at Alpha Ridge! The public took advantage of the marvelous opportunity to look through each telescope, wander into HALO and overall enjoy a beautiful evening under the stars.
At 8:30 pm we had 85 people in attendance. Then, there seemed to be a transition with some people leaving and more people arriving. By 9:30 we had 103 people moving thru the star party, looking thru scopes, speaking with our HAL membership and being enthralled by images in HALO on the screen.
All in all Phil, Chas and I estimate that approximately 150-170 people attended last night's public star party.
Many thanks to everyone for their time, effort and telescopes!
See you all at the next meeting.
As Cheryl mentioned in her report, we had a great turnout for this month’s Public Star Party.
Chas and I arrived early, as Chas wished to work with The SkyX Pro’s display settings. Thankfully, settings to move the Illig and focus its camera now appear immediately upon start up. The CTA for the evening, Forest, arrived soon afterwards.
Although the sun was still above the horizon, many visitors entered the observatory, so I attempted to slew the scope toward the moon. Unfortunately, the moon did not appear in the field of view. Chas has well documented the issue. All that I can add is the inaccuracy amounted to approximately two-degrees in right ascension and one-half degree in declination.
Thankfully, Chas was able to re-center the Illig, and we began pointing the scope. With the sky too bright to image deep-sky objects, we began with Jupiter, Saturn and their array of satellites.
Once the sky was sufficiently dark, Forest and I slewed Illig toward the globular cluster, Messier 4. Next were the more spectacular globulars, Messier 10 and 12.
With the public bored of globulars, we slewed toward Messier 17, The Omega Nebula and began saving images. The Omega looked spectacular on the screen. However, Messier 16, The Eagle Nebula did not appear so spectacular. Still, “The Pillars of Creation” area of the nebula could be seen. The public seemed delighted to compare the Hubble image with our image. These objects were eight and ten degrees distant for the gibbous moon during the observations.
Next, we imaged M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy. This is when the clouds began to interfere. With Forest’s help in finding clear areas of the sky, we were able to observe Messier, 27, The Dumbbell Nebula, Messier 101, The Pinwheel galaxy and Messier 57, The Ring nebula thru the clouds.
Although we were able to find The Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), it appeared too small to show much structure on the screen.
Toward the end of the evening, the clouds abated and we were able to image NGC 981 and Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy.
With most of the public gone, we indulged in an attempt to image Pluto. Not only did we succeed in imaging Pluto, we even caught a slow-moving satellite as well.
I had an early report time for work on Sunday, so I closed the observatory at midnight leaving Victor Sanchez to continue his imaging and close up the park
Because of the bright moonlight and intermittent clouds, Forest and I mainly captured 20-second exposures at 300 gain. I submitted processed images of Messier 17 and 51 to be presented at Thursday’s club meeting and will present our Pluto observations once I get a chance to process the images.
August 9, 2019 Impromptu Star Party
7 people including me attended: Marc Feuerberg, Forest Arnold, Chris (didn't get last name), and later, Andre Timokin (sp?), and a couple of non-members, Matt and Alicia, who just stopped by with a telescope. They may join.
Humidity was high so the seeing was not great. The quarter moon was bright, so many stars were washed out. We did get to view Jupiter and Saturn as well as, of course, the moon.
My new (to me) Celestron 8" SCT saw first light.
August 3, 2019 Member's Star Party
It was a roller coaster ride of weather reports for this star party. About 12 HAL members setup last night with a number of guests joining us to observe and talk. We enjoyed mostly clear skies with some clouds surrounding us on the horizon. The clouds allowed us to observe Jupiter, Saturn, and DSOs like the Ring Nebula and Messier 13. We were also treated to a flyover of the international space station. I was able to track and view it in my scope which was well worth the effort. The night last up to about 11 with the highlight of the evening, the calm lightning show to the west and north of us. The lightning entertained us from start to finish. It never seemed like a threat since is was low on the horizon with clear skies overhead. Once we were packed up and home, a short storm finally hit the area and quickly passed. Thank you to everyone who joined us and I look forward to seeing you during upcoming HAL events.
July 23, 2019 Central Library Outreach
I made a presentation on Monday evening at the Central Branch of the Howard County Library. I was introduced as a member of HAL, so I’m reporting to the group on that basis.
The audience consisted of about 18 children (mostly 8 to 10 years old) and about 8 parents. I talked about our Solar System and used my models (size scale, position around the Sun, and speed scale -orrery). I ended with an activity called “Solar System in Your Pocket” which shows the distance scale of the planetary orbits.
All attendees took HAL business cards and some will come to our Star Parties and/or general meetings.
July 20, 2019 Public Star Party & Star-B-Q
Despite the heat, we had an excellent public star party this Saturday, the 20th. Several members came out with their telescopes, the observatory was working perfectly, and Joel rolled-out the 16" Meade SCT.
A headcount "snapshot" taken at 9 pm yeilded 80 guests and we estimate about 150 members of the public came out over the course of the evening. This includes the 25 or so Celestial Searchers/families who came over following their "Star-B-Que". Also, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Wayne Baggett gave a short presentation on the monitor within the observatory.
Transparency and seeing were not the best, but the thicker, lower clouds held off until after 10 pm and even then it was spotty and there were clear patches (mostly to the North and East). Many views were shared of Jupiter & Saturn as well as some of the more-prominent DSOs like M13, M57 an M51. We even had a few guests still with us when the moon came up a little after 11 pm. Wayne and Fausto shut down the observatory around midnight and we locked up the park at 12:15 AM.
I am going to take this opportunity to add my appreciation to Victor's email. The evening started off wonderfully as Victor said with Joel Goodman hosting the Celestial Searches as and several HAL members to his annual "StarBQ". I can see how much they appreciate what Joel does and the kids are really into astronomy. And the parents are very supportive.
Thanks to Victor for hosting the public star party and to Wayne (CTO), Fausto (CTA), and all the HAL members who brought out your telescopes for the public. I don't have to tell any of you just how hot and humid it was last night. It certainly did not keep the crowd away. Joel took out our large Meade telescope to help with the crowd. It was kind of like opening up another check-out lane at the grocery store when the lines get long.
To honor and remember the 50 anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing we had a table set up in HALO highlighting memorabilia and stories provided by members of our club. I had many people come and talk with me at that table. Many took pictures. I want to give special recognition to Wayne who gave a presentation on Apollo 11 around the exact time of the first steps on the Moon. He did not repeat the commonly known details. He covered the Apollo mission from the perspective of the social and political aspects. He finished with the benefits gained to humanity resulting from the Apollo missions and by encouraging all of the young people watching his presentation to make a positive difference in what ever they choose to in their life. I was excellent, informative and moving.
It was a great night last night. Thanks to everybody who supported the event.
July 9, 2019 Impromptu at Alpha Ridge Park
7 people including me attended: Marc Feuerberg, Forest Arnold, Chris (didn’t get last name), and later, Andre Timokin (sp?), and a couple of non-members, Matt and Alicia, who just stopped by with a telescope. They may join.
Humidity was high so the seeing was not great. The quarter moon was bright, so many stars were washed out. We did get to view Jupiter and Saturn as well as, of course, the moon.
My new (to me) Celestron 8” SCT saw first light.
June 29, 2019 Members Star Party
Tonight's Members Only event attracted four members and one interested
high school girl drop by who took a card and got info about our next
event. Clouds and scattered thunderstorms discouraged setups. Closed up at
9:30pm and escaped to dryer, cooler air.
Odd, mixed, weather forecasts, with a couple predicting clear skies with
low cloud cover.
June 18, 2019 Public Star Party
James Stack - Host
Chas Rimpo - CTO
Cheryl Kerr - CTX
Bob Savoy - Solar System Display Guru
I arrived an hour before sunset thinking I’d be the first one there only to find that the place was already a beehive of activity. Joel was giving a group of Brownies/Girl Scouts an observatory tour followed by taking them on the Solar System walk. Victor was there with an HCR&P representative taking Drone photos of the observatory. Bob Savoy had already set up his solar display. James and Cheryl were also already there.
Cloud cover was the predicted 85+% so we stuck with pointing the scope at the Moon. It was occasionally visible in full glory, but most often looked like a perfect “Halloween” Moon with lots of clouds partially obscuring the view. We did have one extended period where the Moon was invisible. During this time, we showed several of the new NASA videos that David Stein dropped off earlier last week.
I would have guessed that there were about 60 attendees, but Bob Savoy thought there were in excess of 100. In either case it was a great turn out for yet another cloudy night at HALO.
Naturally when Cheryl and I locked up at 10:30 it was clear to the east and Jupiter was up high enough that it would have been just visible in the scope!
June 1, 2019 Member's Star Party
We had a successful member's star party last night, though the clouds did move in by 10pm or so. We had seven telescopes set up, by my count, and we had some testing occur on the HALO system. As Phil noted in his last message, we had a special treat for us as well. Aditya Ram gave us a wonderful presentation on his Space Radiation research project focusing on gamma radiation bursts from supernovae and the effects on human spaceflight. Phil gave him an open invite to return to HAL for follow-up progress on his research. We shut down and closed the Alpha Ridge gates just after 11pm, but overall a very good night for all.
Clear Skies (which lately seems like wishful thinking than an astronomer's salutation)
May 18, 2019 Impromptu Star Party
We had a very nice impromptu star party on Saturday night. Around 8:30 PM a big thunderstorm came overhead and drenched us for about 45 minutes, but after that the sky cleared up and it became a mostly clear and pleasantly cool evening. Some members observed outside. I was inside the observatory doing operator training, we were able to view such objects as the (very full and bright) Moon, the Ring Nebula, the Great Hercules Globular Cluster and Jupiter. We locked up the observatory and park and left about 1:00 AM
May 11, 2019 Public Star Party
Well, as expected, tonight was a total cloud and rain out. 3 HAL members and 6 guests (4 adults and 2 children) showed up. We opened the observatory and discussed mostly minor solar system bodies (asteroids, moons, Kuiper Belt objects, etc.) for the evening. David Stein brought along a fine collection of NASA videos for education and entertainment.. Closed up at approx 9:15 or so. Despite the weather, I do believe that a good time was had by all!
May 4, 2019 Member's Star Party
Well, I fulfilled my hostly duties by hanging around Alpha Ridge Park for about an hour or so. No one else showed up, and prospects for any break in the clouds turned to zero. In fact, it's predicted to start raining within an hour or two.
Better luck next time!
April 13, 2019 Public Star Party
Well the clouds did not clear as promised but we had a number of families and HAL members stop by to share the evening with us. HALO presented videos and images and outside Bob Savoy pulled double duty with a table setup showing a model of the solar system. I was able to share views of the moon peaking through the clouds, the asteroid belt, and Saturn courtesy of the solar system walk.
It was a fun night with about 40 people visiting. Clear skies ahead!
March 24, 2019 Impromptu Star Party
It was a beautiful night for stargazing, at least until the 86% full moon came up just after 11 pm. Five HAL members came out to Alpha Ridge tonight and were treated to two ISS passes including a stunning mag -3.1 pass straight overhead just after dusk. We also had a couple of random visitors including a family who came out to see the ISS and another guy who thought he might see some Aurora (we didn't).
JoAnn Shapiro and I were the last two to leave, following on the heels of Richard Orr. I locked up the park gates right around midnight.
Thanks a million for opening Alpha Ridge last night. The sky really did not disappoint, and I completed several drawings before the moon rose. I will post last night's drawings in the next few days (NGC 2539 - Open Cluster in Puppis, NGC 2506 -- Open Cluster in Monoceros, NGC 1501 -- Planetary Nebula in Camelopardus and the triple galaxies NGC 3607, 3608 and 3626 in Leo). The Open Clusters took the longest to draw (most complex) but the others were reasonably quick. I was pleased that I was able to see the Camel's Eye Planetary with the 110mm William Optics refractor -- a test to the clearness of last night's sky. I will post the drawings on my Flickr site https://www.flickr.com/photos/dragonflyhunter/ and on my webpage: www.orrastrodrawing.com
March 16, 2019 Public Star Party
Our 2019 public star party season started off wildly successful. I offer a tremendous thank you to all members who brought out their telescopes and viewing binoculars as I know how much work it takes to do such a thing. I offer a very deep thank you to everyone who participated and volunteered their time with HALO and at the learning tables. Hal is so very fortunate to have wonderful and dedicated members who actively share their astro love with others.
We had just over 100 people attended this event, (I counted 103 people). There were 10 telescopes and one pair of beautiful viewing binoculars set up outside. The learning table was very busy with kids and adults actively participating there the entire time. HALO was up and running very well and was pretty much packed most of the evening.
In attendance were many families, and young people, some of whom I recognize as regular public star attendees. We had both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts join us as expected. From the Girl Scouts we had Daisy's, Brownies, Juniors and Cadette's in attendance with either their troops or with their parents. From the Boy Scouts we had two Cub Scout Packs and a group of Boy Scouts, each attending with their leaders and family members. All scouts (both girls and boys) were working on activities toward their respective astronomy merit badges. The public began arriving at 6:30 pm.
While it was a bit windy, making it feel much colder than the thermometer read, mother nature gave us clear skies. Here is a list of just some of the targets that were successfully viewed: Moon, Mars, M81 and M82, Crab Nebula, Dumbbell, Rigel and Canid Major cluster, un-named star clusters, and Astroid Juno was really put on a show for us all!
By 10:00 pm the crowd thinned out and by 10:40 they had all gone home. The party was called at 10:50 and close-up/clean-up commenced. Wayne Baggett remained for personal viewing after the event and closed HAL and the Park.