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2020 HAL NEWS Plus Star Party, Impromptus and Outreach Reports

Keplers trigon; Johannes Kepler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is Monday, December 21st! There is no issue of light pollution for this event so anywhere with a clearish SW - WSW horizon will be fine. For many of you, your own house or a nearby field or parking lot should be fine. If you want to figure out if a site is suitable, at 5:30 PM the planets will be about 15 degrees above the horizon (or three fists held at arm's length). At 6:00 PM when it ought to be dark enough to spot them very easily they'll be at 10 degrees above the horizon, or two fists. An easy way to check out a site ahead of time is that at 3:30 PM the Sun will be in about the same position as the planets will be at 6:00 PM. So if you can check out a site at 3:30 PM in the coming days and verify that the Sun is visible, the planetary conjunction will also be visible from that site.

Selected conjunction images posted by HAL members (external links):

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 12/29/2020

Tuesday night was clear and cold at sunset, and the clouds stayed away until a bit after 10pm; there was no wind. The extremely bright full moon prevented any serious deep sky observing, so I did some equipment troubleshooting and then did some quick LRGB images of a couple of open clusters (NGC 188 and Collinder 61). I was alone in the park (so was it really a "party"?), so the gate was locked shortly after 8pm. Packed up after the clouds came in and left the park at about 11:30.

All in all it was a pleasant, albeit cold and short, evening under the full moon. Hopefully we'll have more darker nights in the near future.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 12/22/2020

I arrived at 4:50 and some observers were there already. In total about eight cars visited Alpha Ridge during my 2-hour stay. We all parked beside the playground with social distance well kept. I only recognized JoAnn and all the observers I talked to were not HAL members. Although it was breezy, the temperature was comfortable with my winter jacket on. The view of Jupiter/Saturn was quite a phenomenon except they were blocked by clouds for about 20 minutes. Today's visual angle between two planets is wider than two days ago. I locked the door at 7:00 after going through the parking lot twice making sure that everyone had left.

I will call it a successful public star party as the finale of year 2020 of HAL!

Richard Ren

"I must say that for an absolutely miserable 2020 (good riddance!), this Grand Conjunction was a smashing and uplifting ending to a wretched year. It's great that as many of us managed to observe the event as did," Robert Prokop added.

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 12/20/2020

I would like to thank Richard Ren for opening and closing tonight. It was just the two of us at Alpha Ridge. We were set up at the far end of the parking lot near the ball fields. It was a very good viewing spot for the conjunction. We were out there just before sunset and got in a little over 1 hour of viewing before the clouds ended the evening. Richard was imaging and I was visually observing. It was very cool to see the planets so close together. [In addition to the star HD 19120, Jupiter had 4 very distinct moons (2 on either side).] Monday night's weather forecast is not looking good. However, if it is a good night. Alpha Ridge has no problem with visibility from where we were setup.


Wide angle view of Great Conjunction - Photo by Richard Ren.

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 11/28/2020

We had six telescopes at Alpha Ridge. It was a nice turnout considering it was almost a full moon and it was a bit cold outside. It was a cloudless night. However, the seeing was not great. Between the moonlight and an unstable atmosphere it made imaging a bit challenging. We arrived at 5:00PM and departed about 11:00PM.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 11/20/2020

Five (I think it was) HAL members enjoyed a very pleasant November evening at Alpha Ridge Park on Friday night.  The temperatures were cool but the humidity was low and the winds were light, so after a brief cold spell early in the evening conditions were rather comfortable.  Kurt, Neville, and I were imaging while Jessica and her guest were observing visually (with social distancing it's hard to know in detail what people are doing).  The 6-day old Moon was surprisingly bright before setting at about 10:00pm, even with the very clear air -- I was able to see Sirius rising at 10:00 when it was only 2deg 20min in altitude.  Everyone but me left by about 11:00pm, and I closed the park gate at 3:15am after some clouds rolled in.

Hopefully I'll see more of you out the next time.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 11/13/2020

Three HAL members enjoyed pretty nice skies at Alpha Ridge Park on Friday night, November 13, 2020.  The skies were generally cloudless, except for some occasionally passing by that weren't really an issue since they moved through quickly.  The temperatures fell from the low 60s into the 30's as the night progressed, but it never really felt cold -- I never even put on my gloves.  Winds were very light to non-existent, and the humidity was lower than I expected.  Unfortunately, the transparency was not as good as the Clear Sky Clock predicted, but they were probably pretty good on their seeing prediction (poor).  However, the three of us had an enjoyable evening of socially-distanced observing.

Kurt spent time imaging M13, Mars, and the Pleiades with his 8-inch SCT, and Richard did sketches of several objects including the open cluster Trumpler 3 with his 110mm refractor.  Kurt and Richard both left at around 10pm, while I continued imaging the Perseus Cluster of galaxies (Abell 426, including NGC 1275) with my 8-inch RC.  I finished my imaging and closed the park up at about 3:45am.

Hopefully we will have lots of clear skies in the coming weeks, and more of us will be able to get out and enjoy them.  The early sunsets make for long nights if you want to get a lot done in one outing.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 11/7/2020

No Report

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 10/6/2020

Four of us showed up. Temps were a bit on the chilly side, but still comfortable. Skies were 100% cloud free, winds were light, and humidity manageable. Once the sun set, the bugs disappeared. About as perfect as it gets here in suburban Maryland.

The Milky Way was immediately visible overhead, to include the dust lane through Cygnus and the arm extending into Ophiuchus. Five, count 'em, five planets were visible tonight - Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Mars, and Uranus. Now normally I would have spent a lot more time on the Ice Giants, but once Mars rose above the tree tops, I was glued to it until Moonrise, when we all packed up and left.

I saw more detail tonight on Mars than I had seen during the last four oppositions COMBINED!

Welcome to Kurt, a first timer at HAL impromptus, who spent the evening imaging M32. Richard Orr will be showing off his sketching talent over the next few days - he concentrated on some Messier objects tonight. I believe Kurt was trying out some new equipment, but with all this social distancing I'm not entirely sure. I pretty much stuck to the planets.

Bob Prokop



Thanks for opening Carrs Mill last night.  Before the moon rose around 21:30, the sky was, as you said, perfect.  A short but great night.  I spent most of my time drawing the stunning Open Cluster NGC 6633.  When finished with the Open Cluster I still had time to quick draw a Globular Cluster (NGC 6401) and two Planetary Nebulae (NGC 6629& NGC 6369) -- these were easy and uncomplicated compared to the Open Cluster.
Thanks again for providing access to the sky.

Richard Orr

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 10/3/2020

On Saturday night (October 3rd) we had an impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge. We had a total of 7 participants that came out to share the night. The sky was cloud free. The overall transparency was a little less cooperative as there was a lot of movement in the atmosphere which made the planetary imaging a bit more challenging. However, we did have some talented members out there. I am looking forward to seeing how they did. My Jupiter and Saturn shots were let's say "good practice". The moon was just coming off of full and it was very bright. I was able to get a few nice shots of it and I am looking forward to sharing one or two with all of you. The temperature did get rather cool as the night went on. We started just before sundown and I locked the gate about 12:30AM. Thank you to all who joined me.

Clear Skies! Stay Healthy!




Thank you so much for opening AR!  The seeing was a bit challenging as you said, but I still was able to see Ganymede transit in front of Jupiter.  I also got a good look at Saturn with the planet's shadow clearly visible on the rings.  I saw Syrtis Major and the South Polar Cap on Mars which was a special treat.  And to my surprise, the highlight of the evening for me was the twin shadows of the two central peaks of Langrenus on the Moon.  It looked like a painting with two long triangular shadows stretching across the floor of the crater to the clearly visible terraces of the rim wall.  Thanks for a delightful evening's observing!


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 9/20/2020

Eight or nine HAL members met up at Alpha Ridge Park last night.  We were split pretty evenly between visual observing and imaging.  Cheryl Kerr was imaging some wider fields, Anthony was capturing M31 (the Andromeda Galaxy), Ken concentrated on Jupiter early on, and I collected some data on NGC 7331, the Deerlick Group of galaxies. Yvonne, Mike, and Ben (I think it was) were doing visual observations of various objects.  A couple of others came for shorter times and were making visual observations, I think.  Sunday night was a little more comfortable than Saturday night: it was drier and seemed a little warmer.  Unfortunately, smoke from the massive wildfires on the west coast had moved in, so the transparency was down and the sky was brighter.  Last night my Sky Quality Meter reported 19.95mag/square arcsec sky brightness, but Sunday was reporting 19.82mag/square arcsec at the end of astronomical twilight, and was highly variable.  About 10:45 the smoke disappeared, improving transparency and darkening the sky to about 19.89 mag/square arcsec; unfortunately, the smoke came back with a vengeance after about an hour and essentially shut us down.  I locked the gate at about 1:30am.

Despite the smoke, it was a nice night and we had a lot of fun.  It was nice seeing and meeting you all, and hopefully we can do it again sometime.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 9/19/2020


We had a spectacular night last night at Alpha Ridge Park.  Eight of your fellow club members enjoyed crisp temperatures and amazingly clear skies.  I used my Sky Quality Meter throughout the night and it routinely reported about 19.95 mag/square arcsec at the zenith – perfectly dark skies would get to about 22 mag/square arcsec.  The Milky Way was visible from Aquila through Cassiopeia, which is a rare sight at Alpha Ridge.

The evening started with a sliver of a moon setting in the west right after sunset, with Jupiter and Saturn dominating the south low on the meridian.  Ken Everhart worked on imaging some faint moons of Jupiter and Saturn, while Richard Orr did some sketches of some double stars in Ophiuchus.  Several other members were observing visually and imaging, but I neglected to ask what they were looking at.  I spent my night imaging M27 (the Dumbbell Nebula).  Bert Rude (hope I spelled that right!) arrived late to try to catch a view of the Orion Nebula, but was unsuccessful due to the bright sky low in the east.  I finished up with a short set of images of Mirach’s Ghost (look it up!), and locked the park gate at about 3:30am.

Thank you to the members who kept me company (from a safe distance, of course!), and I hope you enjoyed the night as much as I did.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 9/6/2020


The sky conditions were disappointing, but six HAL members enjoyed the sights from Alpha Ridge Park anyway.  High cirrus clouds covered the sky all evening, but were thin enough to see some brighter objects.  Three scopes were used for imaging: Matt was imaging the Cygnus Loop, Avery MacAloney (and Dad Brent) was imaging the moon with a small Celestron refractor and cell phone, and I gave the Dumbbell a halfhearted try.  Mostly it was good conversation (from safe distances!) and the simple enjoyment of being outside. 

Marty Cohen stopped by for a few minutes before dark and we had a nice conversation.

We also welcomed Rashid Bhatti and his son with their 6-inch Newtonian for their first star party as new HAL Members.


Members Only Impromptu (Carrs Mill Park) 9/6/2020

It was good to get out even if it was only for a relatively short amount of time. Joining me at last nights event was Thorne, Cheryl, and Anthony. It was never really clear. There was a thin layer of clouds that covered most of the sky. Jupiter and Saturn were easily visible. Even with the clouds the Moon and Mars came up later. Our party broke up as the moon was rising. Everybody was able to accomplish a little during the night whether it was imaging, observing, or just practicing with the setups. Looking forward to an all clear night when the next day is not a work day.

Clear Skies! Stay Healthy!


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 9/4/2020

What a beautiful night last night for an impromptu!  Bob Prokop opened the park and Wayne Baggett closed it so all I had to do was to enjoy it.  When I arrived about 8:30 PM I saw about a dozen cars spread out at what looked like good safe distances around the Alpha Ridge parking lot.  I watched the Great Red Spot transit the face of Jupiter and it actually looked a bit reddish to me which I've never seen before.  I also got a very good look at Saturn.  The Moon and Mars rose together and looked like they were about 1 moon diameter apart by 11:00 PM.  I took a look at them although they were low in the sky and I could see some surface detail on Mars which was a nice taste of things to come.  I left around 11 but several people were still going strong.

Clear skies,


Thanks to David and Bob for coordinating the opening of AR last night (9/4).

Approximately 10 people spent a glorious evening under the Alpha Ridge skies.  Temperatures were cool and the sky was perfectly clear.  Dew was a bit of an issue early in the evening, but it actually dried out some as the night progressed.  The seeing was somewhat variable and generally got worse later in the session.  I’m not sure what everyone observed since we were following COVID protocols, but Jupiter (with a GRS transit), Saturn, Mars, and the Moon were high on the list of objects.  I know one intrepid observer (try to guess who) found Barnard’s Star without the aid of a finder scope or even resorting to star hopping – that’s how good the night was, both astronomically and on a personal level.

Three of us stayed rather late imaging: I continued imaging the Ring Nebula, while Dale Ghent and Mike Krauss were both imaging the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus.  All of us feel like the night was a success.  I closed the gate at 3:15am and managed to get a few hours of sleep.

Here’s hoping for more nights like this in the near future!


P.S.  Bob Prokop observed Barnard’s Star and told me about it.

Members Only Impromptu (Carrs Mill Park) 8/8/2020

We had six HAL members come out to Carrs Mill tonight.  I think most everybody was focused, pun intended, on the comet for Imaging or visual observation with Joel also looking out for Perseids.

The comet is most definitely much dimmer and harder to find these days.  Most of us got good glimpses/photos of Neowise, but neighboring Panstars was much more elusive. (The dew and horizon glow certainly didn't help).

Everyone packed-up more or less with the moonrise and I closed the park, with John Gladden kindly waiting-by to keep me company as I locked the gate, around 11:45 pm.



Members Only Comet Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 7/18/2020

Six or seven members met at Alpha Ridge Park Saturday night for an impromptu star party.  The weather wasn’t great – it was quite warm, no breeze, and high, thin clouds were present over most of the sky all evening.  Most of us were there to observe Comet NEOWISE, but a couple of us hung around later doing some general imaging; I closed the gate at about 3:15am.  In spite of the conditions, it was fun and I look forward to seeing the images that were taken.  Thanks to the members who stopped by to observe; it was good seeing, and meeting, all of you.


Members Only Comet Impromptu (Carrs Mill Park) 7/18/2020

We had a great social distancing impromptu at Carrs Mill. There 12 people including 9 telescopes and three people observing with binoculars. The highlight of the show was definitely Comet Neowise. There were some concerns going in about the tree-line to the NW. However, it was not an issue as the comet was significantly higher than the tree-line. Jupiter and Saturn were also excellent views.

We dealt with a very faint clouds for most of the night which started getting worse just after midnight. We were packed and gone around 12:30AM. 

Thanks to all who came out to observe. It was great to get together in person. 

Clear Skies!

Stay Healthy!

Members Only Comet Impromptu (Carrs Mill Park) 7/15/2020

I opened up Carrs Mill at 3am today.  Four members arrived shortly thereafter and set up equipment. Scattered clouds suggested that I would be thwarted once again, but around 3:45am, James found the comet just clearing the trees.  Yeeha!  Best comet since Hale-Bopp. Easily visible with 10x42 binoculars. 

Clouds rolled in around 4:30am and obliterated most of a bright ISS pass. 

We are all heading home.  It’s 5am.  Evening apparitions should be much less fatiguing.


Members Only Comet Improptu Fail (Carrs Mill Park) 7/14/2020

I left home with a single line of high clouds passing by.  With these clouds I hoped the skies would clear and proceeded with the scheduled impromptu.  I opened the gates at 3:00 AM.

Two people joined me, James Willinghan and Gene Handler. We arrived to find the skies quite clouded over with the moon peeking between the openings. The weather satellite showed localized clouds forming over the Carr's Mill area with clear skies to the north.  After about 35 minutes we decided the clouds were not going to dissipate so we called the event and left.  

I locked the gate at 3:40 and arrived home to clear skies. 

Until next time.
Cheryl Kerr

Members Only Comet Impromptu (Carrs Mill Park) 7/12/2020

I opened the gate when I arrived at 3:30AM

In total about 10 members showed up.  The sky condition was even better than Thursday.

James first spotted the NEOWISE above the trees around 3:50AM, which made observation much easier for the rest of us.

The NEOWISE is definitely brighter than I observed on Thursday.  Jim and I were lucky enough to capture a meteor in the same frame of the NEOWISE.

The social distance was excellently practised with about half of the folks wearing masks.  I think Carrs Mill may hold up 2 or 3 more cars for social distance capacity.

I locked the gate at 5:30AM.

Richard Ren


I took almost 100 frames of the comet this morning, but this one with a meteor in it leaves me speechless...

Thank you Richard for opening Carrs Mill. It was good to be in the field with HAL members again!

~Jim Johnson


Thanks again to Richard for volunteering to open up Carrs Mill this morning. To add to everybody else's comments, Venus, the Moon, and Mars were also excellent views. For me, the approximate 60 minutes of observing this morning was more eventful and fun than some good nights that lasted many more hours. I also enjoyed seeing everybody with slightly different rigs for observing and imaging. I did not get any pictures of the comet. I did take some pictures of Venus and the horizon at sunrise. I will see how that turned out later today. The view of NEOWISE through my 10.5 X 70 binocular was great. Nice closeup view and I could see the comet and the visible tail to the end in the field of view.

It was definitely worth getting up early and getting out.

Phil Whitebloom

Members Only Comet Impromptu (Carrs Mill Park) 7/9/2020

I opened the gate just about the rise of Venus. Four members showed up.  The sky was clear and the humidity was moderate.

NEOWISE raised above NE horizon at about 4 am and was visible by naked eye from 4:15 to 4:50, before the sky was too bright.  It's my first time to literally see a comet.

James was able to capture some nice photos by his scope with short exposures. I took some long exposure pictures with my D750.  The star trail by 5-second exposure was barely tolerable.

We locked the gate around 5:20AM. 


Members Only Impromptu (Carrs Mill Park) 5/12/2020

Just Ben and I showed up. Our fortune ended at 9:30PM, when I just finished the polar alignment. More than 80% of the sky was covered by clouds. I locked the door and left around 10:40PM after hopelessly waiting for about an hour.

When I came home, it appeared that the condition in Ellicott City was better: about 50% of cloud coverage with Virgo spared.

I tend to give another try on 5/13. I will give a definitive answer around evening.


Members Only Impromptu 3/8/2020

3 members brought out their telescopes to join me with my cameras under March's lovely Worm Moon (which was a super moon, as well).

We started set-up at 5:45PM, observed the moon rising around 6PM under smoky skies from a managed fire in Virginia.  The smoke cleared as darkness arrived and, with bright skies we were able to see a number of great targets.  

With the moon rising higher in the sky we closed the park and locked the gates a 11PM.

Cheryl Kerr

Members Only Impromptu 3/7/2020

We had a nice , although somewhat short, night of observing at Alpha Ridge Park on Saturday night.  Thorne Ransom, Bob Prokop and I set up under very transparent skies and a nearly-full moon with cold, but not terribly cold, temperatures.  The moon was nice to look at with Bob's scope, and Bob checked out a new eyepiece.  Thorne did some imaging, and I fought my computer.  We closed up by about 10pm mainly due to the bright moon and my misbehaving computer.

The highlight of the evening for Thorne and myself (I'll presume to speak for Thorne here, but he is free to disagree) was sighting Venus well before sunset.  I first spotted the planet at 5:33pm, a full 34 minutes before sunset, while still wearing sunglasses.  Thorne arrived a few minutes later and he was able to see Venus, too.  The hard part of seeing Venus in bright skies is getting a good focus with your eyes -- it really helped when high-flying airplanes passed near the planet since they gave your eyes something to focus on.

Bob found a very pretty crater with a central peak right on the terminator of the moon.  Gotta hand it to him: the moon can be a nice object to observe, and the much-neglected "left side" of it does contain some interesting features.

We also had two non-members show up for a while.  They had stopped by Company 7 in Laurel to look at binoculars, and Marty shared with them about HAL and gave them a brochure and a business card.  They stayed around for a while until they got cold (lesson learned!) and departed.

Wayne Baggett, host

Members Only Impromptu 2/22/2020

No Report from Alpha Ridge Park

Chris Miskiewicz, host

Members Only Impromptu 2/21/2020

No Report from Alpha Ridge Park

Chris Miskiewicz, host

Members Only Impromptu 1/12/2020

Short, but sweet. 11 cars showed up, and at least two of those had more than one passenger, so there a minimum of 13 people out at Carrs Mill tonight.

Conditions were far from perfect, but they promised to be the best for the foreseeable future. Spectacular sunset (which of course meant clouds), but Venus was beyond beautiful.

As it grew darker, the Winter Milky Way was out in all its glory. I myself stuck to old warhorses (the Pleiades, the Hyades, M35, 36, 37 and 38, the Crab Nebula, and the Great Nebula in Orion). Richard Orr found a comet in Perseus, and there was a lot of testing of new equipment going on. I stupidly left my star charts for finding Uranus at home, so I never even tried to observe it.

By 7 PM, the clouds started rolling in, and the sky was pretty much overcast even before moonrise at 7:20. But it was certainly worth getting out this evening! I don't know when we'll get another chance like this.

Bob (Prokop)

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Last modified: January 03, 2021 @ 15:02 EST