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HAL News / Star Party and Outreach Reports - 2021

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Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 12/19/2021

Four of us came out to Alpha Ridge tonight to image and/or observe comet Leonard. We set up in the upper parking lot near the playground. While we did get to see the comet - Dave in his telescope, Gene in his binoculars and Corey and I with our widefield imaging rigs - it did not put on an impressive display and was below the tree line while it was still twilight (Nautical twilight, I believe). I don't think I got any good data, but perhaps Corey did?

Regardless, it was still nice to be out under the stars and watching the full moon rise in the east while the comet was setting in the west was pretty cool. Corey and I were the last two to pack up around 7 pm at which time I followed him out and locked the gate to the park.

Regards and clear skies,

Library Outreach Event (Howard County Public Library) 12/13/2021

Come and "Check Out" the Telescopes! See the photos!

We had a very successful library outreach last night! I counted 60 visitors who stopped to take a look through our telescopes at the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn. We had seven telescopes set up, thank you very much to all the HAL members who came out and braved the cold to make this event a success!

Clear skies,

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Carrs Mill) 12/03/2021

We opened up Carrs Mill at 2:00AM (Friday, Dec 3, 2021). At the open the sky was mostly cloudy from the west through the north to the east sky. The southern sky was cloud free. The wind was blowing with enough force to make it pretty cold, although the air temperature was around 43 degrees. Approximately 3:00AM the sky completely cleared. And it stayed clear for the remainder of the early morning hours. The wind also subsided.

Joining me was James Willingham, John Nagy, Jim Johnson, and Steve Bilanow. James, John, and Jim were imaging. I was observing using a 4" refractor, and Steve was observing using a binocular. The main target for the night was Comet Leonard. At arrival the comet was low in the sky and covered by clouds. I took this opportunity to point my telescope at the Orion Nebula. It was an excellent view. With the clouds gone, the rest of the early morning hours were used to view and image the comet. It was great fun to watch how fast the comet was moving relative to the background stars. I am looking forward to seeing the images and videos. We all had a good time sharing stories and learning from each other. I learned a lot. All in all, the event was a success, and we were all happy we got out.

I locked the gate at 6:43AM.

One note, during this time of year, remember to wear clothes that will keep your fingers and toes warm.

Clear Skies!

Phil W.

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/23/2021

It was a fine night at Alpha Ridge Park. It was little cold, but there was little wind and essentially no dew or frost, so conditions were comfortable for late November. The skies stayed clear all night after the clouds dissipated just after sunset -- transparency was quite good although the seeing didn't seem to be very good (I was imaging all night, so I never actually got a telescopic view to make a better judgement). After Arjun and his family left, I was at the park alone for the rest of the night, imaging the Soul Nebula in narrowband filters, with a quick grab of some M42 H-alpha images right at the end. I saw several meteors while the camera was working, with the brightest one being about -6mag moving due south toward the horizon, aimed right at DC. It was brilliant white with a very short train behind it; I didn't see that it exploded, so I guess it was a fireball instead of a bolide. [Update: The brilliant meteor I saw was at about 10:28pm according to my observing log. It's possible that I could be a minute or so off in the time, though.] I stayed late and closed the gate at 4:45am.

Wayne B.

Thank you, Wayne, for the Impromptu report, especially reporting the fireball sighting and distinguishing it from a bolide from your viewpoint. From the International Meteor Organization's website: A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus in the morning or evening sky. A bolide is a special type of fireball which explodes in a bright terminal flash at its end, often with visible fragmentation. My guess is that you saw an Earthgrazing late Leonid (peak of shower 17/18 Nov). Leo was rising late evening in the NE last night; so, your aiming at DC fits. There were two widely reported fireballs last night passing over Maryland, at 8:04 and 10:30 local time. Do either of those fit your sighting? If you want to report yours:
It's fun to check out the various reports. Meteorite hunters use these trajectory plots to search for specimens when something big enough warrants. As you click into the individual reports, sometimes there are videos.

Joel G.

Lunar Eclipse Members-Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 11/19/2021

An impromptu was held to view the Lunar Eclipse from 12:00 AM thru 6:00 AM. Four HAL members attended, including Jose, Daniel, Phil and myself. Clear, windy skies greeted our arrival and offered stunning clear moon and eclipse viewing. Stars and constellations shone bright with Orion and Pleiades framing the great event. Clouds began to show up in bands around 5:15 AM and by 6:00 a full cloud bank covered the Moon. Thus, the ending of the Penumbra phase was obscured. Phil and I left at about 6:15 AM and locked the gate tight. Thank you all for joining me.

Cheryl Kerr

Lunar Eclipse Schedule for Eastern Standard Time:
1:02 AM Moon enters Penumbra
1:54 AM Penumbra first visible, approx
2:18 AM Moon enters Umbra
4:02 AM Mid-eclipse
5:47 AM Moon leaves Umbra
6:10 AM Penumbra last visible, approx
6:55 AM Sunrise
7:03 Moon leaves Penumbra


Many more photos were posted in our Google Group.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/13/2021

See many more photos and details from this event.

On November 13, 2021, The Howard Astronomical League held its November Public Star Party. Despite the chilly temperatures and intermittent clouds, the event was a resounding success. Bob Savoy and I hosted the 150+ guests who enjoyed the evening. Hannah Broder and Dale Ghent helped out under the dome. Outside, our guests were entertained by ten members and their scopes. Bob Savoy set up a table and explained the dynamics of The Solar System while a non-member worked with a celestial sphere. We opened the dome shortly after sunset to catch Venus before it sank too low in the western sky. Afterwards, we viewed M13, The "Hercules Globular Cluster" and M57, "The Ring Nebula." Many of the participants wished to see Jupiter and Saturn, so we displayed these planets and their entourage of moons. At approximately 6:30pm, it became somewhat cloudy. For 30 minutes, we kept the Illig trained on the moon as it passed behind clouds. Once the clouds receded, we continued deep sky work with M31, "The Andromeda Galaxy" and NGC 891. In between each deep sky object, we slewed to the moon, Jupiter and Saturn as the guests requested. "The California Nebula" imaged surprisingly well using SharpCaps' LiveStack function. Afterwards, we viewed The Crab Nebula and The Pleiades. We ended the evening with "The Orion Nebula." At 11:30pm, Dale Ghent, Phil Whitebloom and I closed the park. The only glitch encountered was the camera twice disconnected from the laptop requiring all software to be reinitialized. This occurred while the Illig was motionless and no guests standing nearby. Thanks to all who participated. I apologize for not being able to walk around the event to speak to each member who braved the cold night. I was quite busy under the dome.

Ken Everhart

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/08/2021

What a spectacular night! Conditions were virtually perfect at Alpha Ridge Park last night (November 8, 2021) -- no wind, reasonable temperatures, great transparency, and steady seeing. The only issue was some dew, but that was easily controlled by everyone I talked to. The late fall/early winter sky showed off its wonders, from the Andromeda Galaxy to the Orion Nebula; the constellation Orion was absolutely gorgeous in the early morning hours after rising out of the light dome. Eight of us enjoyed the show, with visual observers and imagers taking part. One member stopped by for a short while just to allow a comparison between Alpha Ridge and the West Virginia skies he was on his way to enjoy (I bet you can guess who one that one). Three members stayed past midnight, and two stopped imaging at about 3am. I closed the park at 4:30am, almost exactly 12 hours after I arrived. This was one for the books.

Wayne B.

I can't speak for imaging, but through the eyepiece my views of Jupiter and Saturn were diamond sharp. I can't recall ever seeing so much detail in the Jovian cloud banks, and Saturn's Cassini Division was "in your face" obvious. At least 75% of my time last night was spent observing the Moon, and there was no wobble whatsoever. Tiny details I normally can't make out in my 90mm refractor were very visible. On a side note, I saw two beautiful meteors, and Garry saw three.

Bob P.

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/05/2021

About 10 HAL members and guests enjoyed a cold night under clouds and stars last night at Alpha Ridge Park. Shortly before sunset high clouds started coming in from the south, usually a huge warning sign that a storm is approaching. However, right at sunset the satellite loop suggested they were starting move back to the south, so several of us continued to set up. The clouds didn't go too far south, unfortunately, and generally hung around right up to the zenith or a little farther to the north, but they wobbled back and forth a bit allowing for observing in the north. Jupiter and Saturn were visible through and between the clouds, so people had some stuff to look at. Finally, just as several people had packed it in for the night, the clouds dissipated and the sky turned very clear and dark -- my Sky Quality Meter reported about 19.9mag/sq-arcsec at the zenith. The Milky Way was visible from Cygnus through Perseus for much of the time. The usual mix of visual observing, imaging, and equipment care was taking place all night. The clouds started returning around 1am, but stayed far enough south to allow observing to continue. I stopped observing and started collecting calibration data at 2:45am and finally locked the gate at 4:30, after taking 10 minutes or more to clear my windows of frost to allow safe driving.

It ended up being a really nice night of observing. Thanks to all the people for coming out and enjoying it. I hope to see you again soon.

Wayne B.

Impromptu Halloween Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/31/2021

Last night it went from 60% cloud cover to 0% in a matter of minutes. It was like a magic trick. And a welcome one at that. The wind also subsided to just a cool breeze. It did not start to dew up until around 11:00PM. We had four telescopes out at Alpha Ridge. Kurt B. and Kurt E. were both doing DSO imaging. Grace had her UniStellar telescope. It was very cool to watch in action and worked amazingly well. I have asked Grace to talk about it at an upcoming Monthly meeting. I was strictly doing observing through an eyepiece. Yes, that is still a thing. At one point I did attach my iPhone 8 to an eyepiece that was on top of a 4X Televue Powermate and Facetime the live views of Jupiter and Saturn to my family. For the leadership team, I did have to call the Park Ranger to report a plumbing issue in the Men's Room. They sent somebody out right away to take care of the problem.

The real "star" of the night was Yvonne. She showed up with Halloween candy for all of us. Overall, it turned out to be a successful event. I locked the gate at about 11:40PM.

Clear Skies! Phil

Member-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/30/2021

Well, the clouds held off any observing for the evening but we did have a few families and new members stop by to say hello. Phil and Ken E. helped talk about the club and get people ready for the star party in November.

Have a good night and see you then.

Chris Miskiewicz

International Observe the Moon Night / Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/16/2021

Last night (10/16/2021) we held our October Public Star party. A fairly strong storm came through in the afternoon and the early evening was mostly clouded-over with only periodic breaks in the clouds, but by 9 pm the skies cleared-up completely - allowing us to view a number of deep sky objects as well as our celestial neighbors Jupiter, Saturn and of course the moon - for International Observe the Moon Night.

Between 6:30 and 7:00 pm Joel Goodman led two scout troops on a tour of the solar system and the observatory. Throughout the night, Bob Savoy was set up on a table just outside the HALO building with his beautiful orrery and other solar system and moon learning activities. The observatory was open for business and there were also about 10 members set up outside the building with their scopes - ranging from a 2 inch GalileoScope up to a 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain (SCT). There were never any large crowds or people lined up behind telescopes like last month, but members of the public were constantly coming and going between up until around 11 pm. We estimated about 150 total visitors throughout the course of the night. Around midnight, Dale Ghent, Hannah Broder, Ken Everhart and I wrapped it up, closing the observatory and the park.

Victor Sanchez

Members-only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/02/2021

Last Saturday October 2nd, starting around 6 pm (a half-hour or so before sunset), we had our members-only star party at Alpha Ridge. Over the course of the evening about 15 people attended, including several folks brushing up on their HALO (Howard Astronomical League Observatory) operator skills and some new members coming out for their first visit. The sky was mostly obscured by high, thin clouds but there were periodic clear patches allowing us to see Jupiter, Saturn and a handful of Messier objects. The clouds got thicker as the evening progressed so Phil, David Stein and I closed up the park around 9:30 pm.

Let's hope for better weather for our October public star party scheduled for this-coming Saturday October 16th. In addition to our regular viewing with HALO and members' individual scopes we plan to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night with some special activities - stand by for more details in a forthcoming message. Best regards,

Victor Sanchez
Current HAL 1st Vice-President & Acting Observatory Director

Robinson Nature Center Open House & Solar Observation 9/26/2021

We had a very successful event. For the first time in a number of years, we had a clear sky the entire afternoon. There were six solar scopes set up. Michelle and Eric and Michelle Hymnowitz had two white-light filtered scopes. In addition to viewing the Sun, Eric was showing Venus during the day time. The visitors got a kick out of that. Corey Koval had a Coronado H-alpha scope. Steve had his AP 105mm refractor with a Coronado H-alpha filter, Bob Savoy had his Celestron with a white-light filter, and I had my 60mm Lunt H-alpha filter, I also had a 20' flat panel monitor set-up so visitors could see the Sun on a screen. It was helpful for those that had trouble with eye-relief when looking through the eye pieces.

I would also like to thank Hannah Broder who was there the entire time talking with visitors and assisting with the telescopes. Thanks to all of the other HAL members and friends that stopped by to say hello.

The Sun was not as active as it has been. There was one small sunspot group that contained seven sunspots. For the majority of the day the H-alpha sported just one small loop prominence at about the 1:00 position and one small filament on the surface at about the 11:00 position. At about 4:00PM their were several small prominences showing up on either side of the loop prominence. And just below the loop prominence a significant filament appeared. It was very dark and I am estimating that it was about 20,000 miles in length. I did not see evidence of a flaring. However there was an event that took place to cause it.

Robinson Nature Center counted 531 visitors for their Open House. We are estimating that there was around 75 people that came by for a look through the scopes.

Clear Skies!


Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/26/2021

A baker's dozen of HAL members got together at Alpha Ridge Park for another impromptu star party on Sunday night, September 26. The air was comfortably cool, and it was a lot less wet than September 24. The seeing wasn't very good but the transparency was pretty nice -- the Milky Way was faintly visible from Cassiopeia down to Aquila before the almost last quarter Moon rose a bit after 10pm. Before Moon rise my Sky Quality Meter reported 19.85 mag/sq-arcsec at the zenith, which is just about as good as Alpha Ridge Park gets. It was the usual mix of activities between visual observers and imagers. Victor used the Illig scope in HALO again to collect some images of a globular cluster.

Wayne Baggett

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/24/2021

Thirteen of us met under very nice skies at Alpha Ridge Park for an impromptu on Friday night, September 24. The skies were clear, remarkably transparent given the amount of water vapor in the air, and the seeing was generally good. People were doing a wide varieties of activities: the Astronomical League's Constellation Hunter program with naked eye observing, visual telescopic observing, and imaging at a variety of focal lengths. Victor was practicing using HALO, in order to update the procedures and be comfortable teaching the CTOs and CTAs in the revised procedures; he obtained a quite respectable image of M27 (Dumbbell Nebula) with the Illig scope in the process. By 12:30am there were only three of us left, and Jared and I imaged until 2am before collecting our flats and closing down. I closed the gate at about 3:30am, just as clouds appeared on the northwest horizon.

Despite the high humidity, everyone had a very enjoyable night!

Wayne Baggett

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/11/2021

WOW! We had an overwhelming turnout from the public and fortunately a correspondingly great turnout from our members. I arrived before sunset and found a huge crowd already gathered so I immediately began showing the daytime Moon on HAL's Rao 16" Meade scope and after that the stream of visitors waiting to look didn't let up until after 10:00 PM. Many, many thanks to all the HAL members who came out and brought telescopes or just brought themselves to help with talking to the visitors and managing the crowds! There had to be at least 20 telescopes set up around the park. Also, thanks to Dale and Victor, HALO was up and running for the first time since 2019 and I heard over and over again how visitors were thrilled by what they saw there.

I didn't get a count of the visitors and I don't think anyone else did but it had to be several hundred, the parking lot was full to overflowing and as fast as cars left more kept arriving. There was a constant line of 20-30 people waiting to get into HALO during the first two hours and I think everyone else with a scope was probably as busy as I was. In addition to the Moon, I used the Rao scope to show the public Jupiter, Saturn and the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules (M13). Once the public rush faded out the party turned into a members-only session that looked set to go into the early morning. Phil Whitebloom offered to stay late and lock up, so I left around 11:00 totally exhausted and exhilarated. I believe this was the best attended HAL public star party ever! (The only event I've been to since I joined HAL that might have had more visitors was the Mars opposition event in August 2003 at Belmont Manor, but that was jointly organized with HCC). Again, thank you to all the members who came to help out, I hope you had as great a time as I did showing the wonders of the sky to the public!

Clear skies,

David (Stein)


I agree about the turnout. I believe I had less than 15 minutes of eyepiece time the whole evening, I was so busy showing others the view.

Bob (Prokop)


I was thrilled to see the enormous turn out too. I forwarded the public party info to several local WeChat groups. Some of my friends took their kids to the star party last night and enjoyed the experience. I started my astronomy hobby after joining a couple of HALO star parties two years ago, so I am glad to share the experience with friends. Many people are interested in stars and planets, but they often worry about the astronomical price tags for telescopes. I hope more Asians will learn about this hobby and realize it is more accessible and affordable than they thought. Even better, I hope they will join our club and start their adventures in astronomy.


Mengnan (Tian)

Photos compliments of non-HAL attendee Wener Assis

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/10/2021


We had a successful impromptu star party on Friday night, September 10, 2021. Eight HAL members met at Alpha Ridge Park under a veil of high thin clouds or possibly wildfire smoke for a cool evening of observing. The humidity was rather high, with water dripping from the restroom roof by the end of the night. A couple of observers were doing visual observations while the rest of us were imaging. I think the visual observers were happy even with the low transparency, as the seeing was generally good -- average or maybe a little better. The imagers were able to collect photons through the clouds/smoke, which started clearing at about 10:30pm -- at 9:00 my Sky Quality Meter reported 19.43 mag/sq-arcsec, which is consistent with the thin clouds. At 10:45 the reading was 19.63mag/sq-arcsec and by 2:00am it was nearing 19.9mag/sq-arcsec which is typical of a pretty good night at Alpha Ridge Park. We were down to four observers by about 11:30pm, and down to three a little after midnight. The three of us stayed a few more hours, and I closed the park at 3:55am.

Despite the early clouds/smoke, it was a very nice night of observing. I have attached an image of NGC 7331, the Deerlick Group (data from Sep 2 and Sep 10) to show the results of our efforts; I look forward to seeing the images the others obtained. Thanks to all of you who came out, and I hope to see you and others at a future impromptu!

Wayne (Baggett)

Impromptu Star Party (Carrs Mill) 9/07/2021

I believe there were 6 of us out there tonight, with a 7th arriving just as everyone was tearing down and packing up. Conditions were near perfect for visual observing. Venus was super bright just over the tree line as twilight set in, and Jupiter and Saturn were both in Capricornus to the south. Jupiter's moons were curiously bunched up, almost touching each other. I spent most of the evening hunting down individual stars of interest, with better than usual success. There were some first timers out tonight, evidence that HAL remains healthy as a club. 5 meteors were spotted tonight.

Now if only our scheduled star parties could enjoy conditions as beautiful as tonight!

Bob P.

Members Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/04/2021

We had a good members star party last night with around 13/14 members showing up through the night. It was good to see members come out to test their equipment on deep-sky objects as well as observe the planets. We had a good view of Venus, Jupiter and Saturn with Venus setting early leaving the other two to take centerstage. The highlight for many for us was the Io shadow transit across Jupiter. My personal highlight was when Io suddenly emerged from the face of Jupiter appearing as a tiny bump on the surface of the planet. The party started at sunset with high linear wispy clouds obscuring parts of the sky. As the clouds moved slowly across the skies, they interfered with members observations from time to time. Just as conditions appeared to be worsening, the skies cleared and by 10.45pm there were barely any clouds in the sky. Nevertheless, the party ended at 11.15pm. Overall, seeing was steady and it was nice to not have the party rained out or completely clouded over. Here's looking forward to the next Public Star Party this coming Saturday September 11, 2021.

Your friendly host,
Neville Fernandes

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 9/02/2021

We had a great impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge last night! The sky was entirely clear and the temperature was pleasantly cool. Seventeen HAL members came out to enjoy the night. At 8:30 we saw a bright pass of the spy satellite USA 186 and then at 8:36 an even brighter pass almost overhead of the Chinese space station Tiangong. From where I was sitting, Bob Prokop was reeling off a string of greatest hits of the summer sky to my south while to my north a group of astrophotographers were industriously collecting data in front of the observatory. Personally, I spent the evening observing Jupiter and Saturn. At dusk they were very low and quite soft, but after about 10:00 they finally climbed out of the slop and began to look really sharp. On Saturn I could see the Cassini Division and the shadow of the planet on the rings. Jupiter was resplendent with all four Galilean moons visible. I watched as the Great Red Spot rotated from the edge across the face of the planet. I finally left just after 11:00 as Wayne Baggett was kind enough to offer to keep the park open late.

Hopefully we'll continue to have good weather for our Saturday members-only star party, when Io's shadow will be transiting Jupiter from 8:09 PM until 10:28 PM.

Clear skies,

Three HAL members remained after Richard departed at about 12:30, with all three of us imaging. Kurt was imaging a nebula in Cassiopeia with his 8-inch SCT, Jared was busy with the Andromeda Galaxy with his refractor, and I was gathering more data for the Deerlick Group of galaxies in Pegasus with my 8-inch RC. The seeing was bad for most of the night with a few periods of better seeing. As others have stated, the transparency was pretty good, and my Sky Quality Meter was reporting zenithal sky brightness of about 19.9mag/sq-arcsec. (Note: Kurt's SQM reported values of near 19.5mag/sq-arcsec; we should try an experiment sometime to try to understand the different readings.) Jared and I both reached good stopping points at about 2:45am, so we gathered our flats and packed up; I closed the park at about 4am.

It was a very nice night of observing at Alpha Ridge Park, and it was great to see such a large turn out by the members. Hopefully we can do it again soon, perhaps at the 9/04/21 Members Only Star Party.



Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 8/24/2021

Seven or eight HAL members gathered at Alpha Ridge Park on a hot Tuesday evening for an impromptu star party. After the soccer crowd left just after sunset, we were able to complete preparations for what turned into a very nice night of observing. The Moon rose just as astronomical twilight was ending, so it was never actually dark, but the seeing and transparency were both pretty good. Readings from my Sky Quality Meter ranged from 19.64mag/sq-arcsec just after moonrise to 18.62mag/sq-arcsec with the Moon about halfway to the meridian. The humidity was a bit high -- by the time I finished closing up water was dripping from the roof of the restroom building. There was the usual mix of visual observing and imaging by the observers, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Most members had left by about midnight, and Jared and I started closing up at about 3:15am just as clouds started to blow through. I locked the gate at about 4:15am. A big thank you to the members who came out to observe!

Wayne B.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/14/2021

On Saturday evening, we were teased with mostly cloudy skies which looked like they might clear up and provide at least some sucker hole lunar views. From 8-10pm, I'm guessing I conducted about 10 individual family tours of the observatory (one masked family permitted at a time). Two new HAL members (sorry, I forgot names) stopped to see HALO and inquired as to how they can get certified to operate the observatory. All individuals and families were excited that HALO and HAL exist and were looking forward to a return visit under clearer skies. Outside HALO, Prez Phil, co-host Cheryl Kerr, and several veteran HAL members entertained visitors until about 10:15 when it clouded over more, and we decided to call it a night and lock up the park.

To the new member who brought her 8-inch Dob from Baltimore and patiently waited for clearing skies to set up, don't give up on us. Starry skies will return...

Joel Goodman

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 8/08/2021

Nine or ten HAL members met at Alpha Ridge Park last night for a delightful night under the moonless skies. It was a bit warm early, and somewhat humid all night (I've seen much worse!), but the occasional breeze moderated the conditions. Several new members came out for their first HAL star party, and they all reported a good time; thank you for coming out! Typically for HAL, different observers were doing a mix of imaging and visual observing, including one who brought just a chair as their observing equipment -- the activities really exemplified how there are so many ways to enjoy this hobby. Four of us stayed until after 1am, when the clouds started to become annoying; by 1:30 the clouds had become very detrimental to observing so we stopped and finished up. I closed the park at about 2:45am. It was a nice night to be out under the stars, and thanks to all of the members who made it such a wonderful evening.


Members Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/07/2021

As you probably gathered, clouds dominated the night sky. With that said, we had seven people at the event. It was a great night even though we were not able to observe. We did some training on camera only tracking devices and we discussed many different astronomy and HAL related topics. I closed up the park gate at about 11:15PM. Thanks very much to those of you who joined me last night at Alpha Ridge Park. It was a very enjoyable evening.

Clear Skies! Phil

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 7/23/2021

Seven HAL members enjoyed a pleasant Friday evening at Alpha Ridge Park. We did have some smoke from the western wildfires that reduced the transparency a bit, and the Full Moon was bright, but temperatures were comfortable and even the bugs weren't too bothersome. HAL's Observatory Director, Dale, worked in HALO to get the new focuser set up and checked out -- he has pronounced it ready for use. Jared and Chris were imaging near Cassiopeia, while I was using the bright time to get some things checked out on my imaging setup. Joel, HAL's Publicity Chair, worked with HAL's 16-inch Meade SCT which had not been used in over a year, and then he did some personal observing. Dominic did some visual observing with his 130mm Newtonian and Bert checked out a newly-purchased refractor. Overall, it was a nice evening until about 12:30am when a solid deck of clouds rolled in. Of course, by the time everyone finished tearing things down, the sky was almost clear again -- go figure. I closed the park at about 1:45am. It was a fun evening for all, I think, and I hope we can do it again soon.


Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/17/2021

This past evening, Ken Everhart and I hosted HAL's monthly public star party, and it was obvious that a few thunderstorms cannot keep local astronomy enthusiasts indoors. I led a group of 12 Cub Scouts and their parents in a program under the pavilion where we explored the origin of the solar system, and the families were able to handle and learn about meteorites from my collection. It's amazing how perceptive 7-year olds can be with their questions and observations. While I was speaking with the scouts, Ken, Bob Savoy, and Phil Whitebloom were greeting and answering questions from 12 other guests who came and went along with the clouds and rain for the next hour or so.

Everyone left during the the final downpour around 9:00 except me, Phil, and the scouts under the pavilion. When the rain stopped and the moon peaked out from behind the clouds, Phil and I walked the group over to HALO for a tour of the observatory and short discussion about different telescopes. As the tired and happy scouts were leaving, a couple arrived from Silver Spring who heard about HAL and had some questions about purchasing the "right" telescope. Phil and I offered our 2 cents for a bit, and we all left together and locked up the park around 10:15.

Next month, y'all need to start your clear sky dances a little earlier in the week

Joel Goodman, HAL Treasurer and star party co-host

Members Only Solar Observing and Imaging (Astro School) 7/17/2021

I want to thank everyone who came out to our Solar Observing class and event. We has over 20 people in attendance. The one thing we all will agree on is that it was HOT outside. We had 12 solar observing stations including white light filtered telescopes, hydrogen alpha telescopes, filtered binocular, and a Sunocular. We covered information from safety measures for observing the Sun (including remember your sunscreen), observing tools, and observing techniques. All was capped off by actually observing the Sun. The Sun was showing sunspots. There was not much activity in the way of prominences. There were some nice filaments and plages visible in hydrogen alpha. As a result of the extreme heat, we did not do the solar imaging part of the class. It was going to be tough on the cameras and laptop computer. Also, it would have been tough on us humans going in and out from under the cover to see the screen. We will save that for a time when the temperature is more reasonable in the Fall. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed being out with you this morning. It was totally enjoyable. I appreciate your support and comradery. I am looking forward to the next time we are together. If you have pictures from the event, please email them to me and Ken Sall. Ken will add them to our website and I will show them at our August monthly meeting.


Jim J. posted his imaging of the Sun from this event (with some sunspot activity visible).

Members Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/03/2021

Unfortunately, last night's member star party got rained out. I arrived at Alpha Ridge Park almost an hour before sunset and was greeted with almost clear skies overhead but dark foreboding clouds along the western horizon. I was hoping those clouds would miraculously clear away and allow us a decent night of observation. Alas, that was not to be as it appeared we were right in line of the approaching deluge. I counted atleast 13 members who swung by for the party before it was canceled. It was great to see some familiar faces and exciting to see new members come to experience a member star party. It started to drizzle well before 8.30pm and forecasts showed the worst was yet to come. The decision to cancel the party was made just in time as the deluge caught up with us leaving the park. For the last few minutes before calling off the party, members were huddled by the observatory. By around 9pm, the park was locked and we were on our way home. Here's hoping we are blessed with better weather for the next public and member star party. Hope to see you all out soon.

Your host, Neville Fernandes

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 6/24/2021

We had a very good turnout for last night's impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge Park: eight or nine HAL members and their guests enjoyed the cool summer evening under the Strawberry Supermoon. Conditions were not perfect, with thin clouds passing through on occasion, but they never stopped anyone from observing. A couple of people remarked about one cloud, in particular, that they first thought they were seeing Milky Way, but alas, with the moonlight that wasn't possible, and it was in the wrong place. Several people were observing the Moon and other objects visually, while others were imaging. Most people were gone by about 12:30, but Anthony, Bert, Jared, and myself continued observing. Jared and I finished up at about 2am and started packing up, and I closed the gate at about 2:50am. Despite the full moon, or perhaps because of it, it was a nice night for observing and spending time under the Maryland skies. Thanks to everyone who came out, and hopefully we can do it again in the not too distant future.

Wayne B.

First 2021 Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/19/2021

We had a very successful public star party last night! About two dozen visitors and about a dozen HAL members attended and about half a dozen telescopes were set up. It looked like we'd be sure to be clouded out, but to our surprise and delight just after sunset the clouds suddenly parted to show a clear view of the Moon, which lasted about half an hour. I didn't get too much of a look myself as I was showing it to the public, but the view of Copernicus was stunning even through my 3.5" scope.

Joel was also kind enough to conduct tours of HALO for our visitors, one family at a time with everyone wearing masks. I saw some old friends again after far too long and met some new members and soon-to-be members and I think we all had a wonderful evening. Although it clouded over again and we only got glimpses of the Moon after that, many people stayed until 11 PM when Phil and I finally sent everyone home and locked up the park.

Our next members-only star party will be July 3, and our next public star party will be July 17. We'll also have impromptu star parties as conditions warrant. I hope to see many of you there!

Clear skies,
David S.

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 6/10/2021

This morning I viewed the partial solar eclipse at Carrs Mill Park. I was the only one there. I decided to go visual other than imaging after I found that I forgot to bring the computer charger and my old laptop battery only lasted about half an hour.

There were patches of clear skies but with horizontal clouds in the East most of the time. The Sun rose at about 5:50 with approximately 60% eclipsed. I was fortunate to observe an integrative view for just 5 minutes before the sun was covered by the cloud at 5:55. After that till 6:30, there were only about 5 minutes in total the eclipse was partially visible between the clouds. I packed up at 6:35 and left the [gate] unlocked as the Park Ranger suggested.

Clear skies,
Richard Ren

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 6/05/2021

We had a great turn tonight with about 13 members joining us. So old and new faces enjoyed a night that start with some cloud cover but ended with a decent view of the night sky. Cygnus was up in the East and Sagittarius was in the South, the summer is here. The other plus for tonight was only the noise from members chatting instead of the daytime teenage Cicadas screams for attention. Looking forward to more clear skies ahead.

Chris Miskiewicz

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 5/18/2021

Last night four of us braved the beautiful weather at Alpha Ridge to enjoy spectacular views of the 6-day-old waxing crescent Moon. Coincidentally, Phil and I both brought out our 90mm Maksutov scopes. This was fun, but I ended up wishing I'd brought out something bigger as the seeing turned out to be as good as I've ever seen it at AR and for once I'm sure it could have supported more magnification than I was able to use on such a small scope.. Unlike my past experiences of great seeing there, the night was pleasantly cool without being cold and the humidity was low with no sign of dew. On the Moon, the Sun was rising over the Montes Apenninus range providing great shadows, and the view of Rima Hyginus was crystal clear. I enjoyed watching the terminator move across Aristillus and Autolycus craters during the evening. We finally packed up and left about 11:00 PM.

Clear skies,
David S.

Members Only Remote Impromptu (Little Orleans, MD) 5/13-14/2021

The two night "Impromptu" out at Little Orleans turned out fairly well. I was solo on Thursday night and joined by Jim Johnson on Friday the 14th. The weather was cool (in the 40's) and humid with excellent seeing but poor transparency. Galaxy season is in full swing and I spent time imaging M51, NGC 5033, and the Draco Trio (NGC 5982 & pals). Jim's target of choice was M86 / Markarian's chain.

We both struggled with some gremlins and the conditions weren't the best, so it remains to be seen if any good data was collected, but Jim and I enjoyed being out there and chatting and we also had some good binocular and naked eye views including the open cluster Melotte 111 and the Leo Trio. We also were treated to a particularly bright ISS pass and a shooting star or two each.

I'll be keeping my eye on conditions and will call for another road trip if/when "the stars align". Cheers,


Jim J added:
I finally managed to make it to Little Orleans Camp Ground with Victor Sanchez for a remote impromptu star party last Friday evening, and I really enjoyed being out there. I was not able to image because autoguiding did not want to function correctly. Before giving up, I took this image [of Markarian's Chain of Galaxies] to see if my polar alignment was sufficient to get decent images without autoguiding. Finding elongated stars, and knowing that the elongation would be even worse in the longer exposures in the RGB channels, I gave up at about midnight. Looking forward to going back again soon.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 5/07/2021

Just a short report of last Friday's impromptu party. When I arrived around 7:30, Ken was already there and the party was just two of us. We all know that the Black Brant XII rocket launch was postponed to today. My mount was malfunctioning on Friday night and because Ken is also a key holder, I left early around 10 pm, when the sky was still clear.

Richard R.

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 5/01/2021

Six or seven HAL members enjoyed the mostly clear skies of Alpha Ridge Park on Saturday night. Despite some clouds blowing through on occasion, the air was clear and the viewing conditions, including the absence of the Moon, allowed some good deep-sky observing on this galaxy season night. I spent most of the night working on some guiding issues, but took a few luminance images at the end of the night on M104 (Sombrero Galaxy) and M3 (globular cluster). The other members were imaging or doing some visual observations, including one finding a comet that was on their list to observe. It was a pleasant night of observing, and most members were gone just after midnight. I closed the park just after 3am, after extensive cloud cover arrived.

Thanks to all the members who came, and I'm happy they had a good observing session! Hopefully we can do it again soon.


Second Virtual Public Star Party (your device) 4/17/2021

Our second Public Star Party of 2021 was a great success. And it was virtual.

An overcast situation prevented our backyard astronomers from sharing live views with the participants. Normally, I would be very disappointed by this situation. However, it turned out to be a tremendously successful event. We had over 20 participants that stayed just short of 3 hours. I want to thank Chuck Cynamon, Brad Martin, Jim Johnson, and Gene Handler for their preparations, presentations, and leading discussions. The topics ranged from image processing (multiple aspects), to photometry, to imaging a solar eclipse, to demonstrating a backyard observatory, and more. The interactions were excellent. I am very excited on how well the night went. We did record the event. It [has been posted] on the HAL website [and is] available for viewing and downloading for a limited time. Stay tuned for some exciting activities that I am going to launch in the very near future. I am looking forward to seeing everyone at our May events. Clear Skies!

Phil W.

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/29/2021

I was the only person at Alpha Ridge Park last night, which is too bad because it was a nice one. The weather was fine for late March, with only a touch of dew (which did turn to frost on the car roof), and the transparency and seeing were both quite good. While collecting more data on the variable star AE UMa, I did a little poking around with my 5-inch Celestron SCT. The Moon provided a nice target, albeit a rather bright one. There was a spectacular terraced crater right near the terminator that showed a cluster of central peaks with a prominent rille cutting from the central peaks to the eastern edge of the crater -- this was Petavius. Not far from Petavius was a shadow complex that resembled a backward "E", at least in my SCT with a star diagonal. I also observed a few double stars, including Castor and Polaris. Castor, with a separation of about 6arcsec, was easily split at 50x. Polaris was actually more difficult given the faintness of the companion, but the blue-hued 9.2-magnitude star was definitely there at about 150x. No deep sky observing was even attempted given the bright Moon. I ended up closing the park at about 3:45am EDT.


Virtual Public Star Party (your Zoom device) 3/20/2021

Our first Public Star Party of 2021 was a great success. And it was virtual.

First, I would like to thank Gene Handler, Victor Sanchez, Jim Johnson, Chuck Cynamon, and Brad Martin for sharing their telescopes, views, expertise, and information about what they were using, how it works, and educating us on the deep sky objects and the moon. You guys were great. I also would like to throw a shoutout to Cheryl Kerr for talking about how she does her imaging.

People came and went throughout the night. We started at 8:00PM and ended about 11:30PM. We had on average approximately 42 connected devices participating most of the night. Early on there were families sharing a single connected device. They got to see the moon, open clusters, globular clusters, a planetary nebula, super nova remnants, emission nebulas, galaxies, and even a solar image I captured earlier in the day. There were many questions as well as discussions.

I learned that even when we can get back together for in-person public star parties, there is still a role for virtual star parties. There are great many things that a large number of people can experience virtually that could never be accomplished while standing in lines behind telescopes for a short time viewing through an eyepiece. At the same time, there is nothing like looking directly through the eyepiece at the planets, the moon, bright nebulas, and bright star clusters. That is why I say our future will include both venues.

Thanks to everyone who joined in tonight. It was great to have all of you there and I hope you got a great deal of enjoyment out of the event.

Keep an eye on the HAL calendar for upcoming events and activities and watch for my emails. Clear Skies!

Phil W.

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/20/2021

The skies were spectacular last night, and five HAL members enjoyed them from the relative darkness at Alpha Ridge Park (that would be relative to my backyard, of course). After the last of the public departed the park just as darkness arrived, I turned off the park lights, eliciting a request to flip the switch on the moon, too. David Glasser, Shrikant Gajengi, Mike Lee, Kurt Bauch, and I enjoyed the not-too-cold temperatures, low humidity, and calm air to enjoy the sights of the early spring sky. The transparency was good and the seeing was very good. David was using his binoculars and planisphere to study the sky and learn his way around, while Kurt was working with his Questar 3.5 on a new tripod. I'm not sure what Shrikant was actually doing, but he said he had a successful and enjoyable evening as he was leaving. Mike Lee was working with his new Zhumell 130mm Newtonian with a cell-phone-based push-to system and was tuned in to the simultaneous and highly-successful HAL Virtual Public Star Party. I was making RGB observations of the variable star AE Ursa Majoris with my 8-inch RC and poked around for fun with my Stellarvue SV80ED refractor to pass the time.

The seeing was so steady in the 80-mm scope that the terminator of the Moon looked like a grainy B&W photo because of all the tiny black specks along it. The Alpine Valley was particularly interesting since it looked like a linear extension of the shadowed part of the Moon sticking into the lighted portion -- the floor of the valley was in darkness while the walls were illuminated. I also eventually located M51, and M81 and M82 in the 80mm scope. Castor was easily split at 65x, and Polaris' companion (mag 9.2 at a distance of 18arcsec) was just visible.

Just before 12:30, I was standing near the southeast corner of the observatory looking up high in the south, when all of a sudden the world turned green. Not a stroke, but a meteor somewhere in the sky was illuminating the sky and ground with its brilliant green glow. I turned to the northwest see it, only to see the dome backlighted by that bright green light -- the dome was blocking my view of the meteor itself, and I never actually saw it. However, from the effect on the sky and the ground, it had to have been brighter than the Moon, which was still up in the west-northwest, for those few seconds. That's one I really wish I had actually seen. I waited, counting off the seconds, for the sound of its passing but I never heard anything.

Everyone but myself had left by midnight, and I stayed until about 4:30am, when the park gate was closed up for what little remained of the night.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/13/2021

Last night was a great night to be out. It started with cloud cover but once twilight began the clouds began to disappear and stay out of our way for the evening. We had imagers and observers enjoying the evening and a few people stopped interested in knowing when HAL will be back to hosting star parties. Ken helped me host as he worked on an asteroid moving on a "close" approach with Earth. I worked on using my ASI Air Pro to polar align my AVX mount. By the time I had everything setup I was getting solid 10 minute subs of IC2177 in H-alpha It was a great social distanced star party and I look forward to another before the Cicadas come.

Chris M.

Phil wrote: "It was good to see some old and new faces at the event. As long as you were not trying to observe anything low in the sky, it was nice and clear last night. As a reminder to all key-holders, please make sure that when you lock-up HALO that you lock both the door knob and the the deadbolt."

Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/07/2021

Last night at Alpha Ridge Park was virtually perfect: Richard Orr, David Glasser (new member, first impromptu), Cheryl Kerr, and myself enjoyed cold temperatures but very good transparency, acceptable seeing, no wind, and fairly low humidity to make observations of numerous celestial sights. David was there with binoculars learning his way around the sky and viewing various deep sky objects with the aid of his Sky Safari phone app. Richard was observing and sketching northern objects including a difficult nebula and a galaxy in Draco. Cheryl spent some time photographing Mars and the Pleiades with her signature expertise in nightscaping, and I imaged the Crab Nebula in narrowband and M82 in LRGB. The night was about as good as they come at Alpha Ridge, with sky brightness measurements as faint as 19.9 mag/square arcsecond. Everyone had a great time and enjoyed the cold temperatures, and each other's socially distant company. I closed the park at about 4:45am; wish they were all like this!.


Members Only Remote Impromptu (Little Orleans, MD) 3/05-06/2021

Well, it was a glorious, if frigid, weekend for stargazing out in Little Orleans, MD. Friday was cold, dipped down to around 30 degrees F in the middle of the night. It was off and on windy until around midnight and the moon came out at 2 AM. I spent the night imaging, or trying to image, NGC 1975 (running man nebula), then M81/M82, and then finally M106 and friends (other nearby, in angle, galaxies). I got off to a rocky start as a tree branch just happened to block my view of Polaris, but a small shift in my mount's position allowed me to go through with my polar alignment (side note: I use the Polemaster camera but am looking forward to the upcoming talk on alternative techniques).

Saturday was more of the same with good transparency and poor seeing. (Fine for the deep sky stuff of interest to me). Everything went more smoothly since I was all set up from the previous day.

While imaging I spent a lot of the time huddled in my tent for warmth reading or watching Netflix (gives a whole new meaning to "Netflix and chill"). But I did spend some time scanning the skies with my Canon 12x36 IS binoculars and could very distinctly make out M81 & M82, and I swear I could (or thought I could) see the entirety of M42.

As it turns out, the weather forecast is still looking good so I've elected to take Monday off from work and stay here one more night. My plan is to image the same 3 objects, so hopefully I'll be able to get something nice out of the data.

That's it. I hope to do this again when it's warmer and hopefully others will be able to make it out. Cheers,


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/05/2021

Richard Orr and I enjoyed a productive night under the starry skies of Alpha Ridge Park on Friday night. Transparency wasn't as good as predicted but the seeing seemed to be OK. Richard spent the evening practicing with his new 4-inch binoculars and parallelogram mount, seeking Messier objects the learn how they appear in the new optics. I spent the evening observing a variable star, AE Ursae Majoris. Although the evening started with a light wind, it picked up considerably by about 10pm EST, and by 11pm it was interfering with my observing since I kept losing my guide star. The night was ended at a little before midnight when clouds came in, and I started finishing up. I closed the gate at about 1:15am.

This stretch of relatively fine weather looks like it could continue, so I hope more people will be able to come out if additional impromptus are called.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/03/2021

Well, I had a quiet night at Alpha Ridge Park as nobody else showed up. It was much warmer than last night (March 2); I never even put on my parka and gloves. The transparency wasn't as good as predicted -- instead of average I rated it as below average. The sky brightness was high early on, with measurements near 19.4 mag/square arcsecond, in keeping with a lot of scattering centers. As the night progressed, it did get darker, eventually reaching 19.8 mag/square arcsecond which is actually pretty decent for AR; then the moon rose and spoiled that. :) The clouds appeared a little later than predicted, about 1am, and became very troublesome by 2am when I stopped and collected my flats and packed up. I spent the night imaging the Crab Nebula in narrowband and M82 in LRGB. I got the gate closed up at about 3:45am. Overall, it was quite pleasant, and I enjoyed it very much. Hope to see you next time!


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/02/2021

Three HAL members, Mike Lee, Richard Orr, and myself, with a short stop over early by Steve Rifkin, enjoyed the spectacularly clear skies from Alpha Ridge Park last night. It was a bit on the cold side, but not too bad, and there was little wind or humidity. The sky was nicely transparent and the sky brightness was about 19.8 mag/square arcsecond prior to moonrise (it increased to 19.3 mag/square arcsecond after the moon was well above the horizon). Mike was working with his new Celestron Star Sense Explorer with a cell phone attachment to guide his observing for his first impromptu star party. He also took a few wide angle (and super-wide 360-degree) images. Richard continued his sketching of open clusters and a planetary nebula. He also was able to see the E and F stars in the Trapezium in the Orion Nebula with his 110mm Williams Optics refractor, a testament to both the transparency and seeing conditions, not to mention his telescope quality and observing skills. I spent the night collecting data on some open clusters for a project I'm just starting, using my 8-inch RC. Richard and Mike left before midnight, and I finally closed the gate at about 3:40am. It was a really nice night and we could have some more in the next few days.


Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 1/09/2021

Five HAL members met at Alpha Ridge Park on Saturday night for what turned into a fairly spectacular night of observing. The temperatures were somewhat cold with some light wind, but the wind and the relative humidity kept the dew/frost away. Clouds moved through for about 30 minutes around 10pm, but then it cleared up beautifully for the rest of the night -- the sky brightness dropped to 19.9mag/square arcsec, which is about as dark as it gets at Alpha Ridge. One interesting observation was that it got noticeably warmer as the clouds moved through and for a little while afterward, but then the cold returned.

The moonless skies allowed many deep sky object to be visible, but the Mercury-Jupiter-Saturn conjunction escaped us all -- Jupiter was visible but not the other two. Richard observed objects in the south with his telescope, then switched to binoculars. Phil did not actually set up a scope and left early after talking to several of us about our scopes and more general topics. The other three of us were imaging: Kurt was imaging the Horsehead Nebula, Anthony spent the night on the Orion Nebula, and I extended my exposures of the Perseus Cluster and then moved to do some narrowband imaging of the Crab Nebula. The highlight of the night for me was a very bright meteor, brighter than Venus that glowed a brilliant green color, falling toward the southern horizon between Sirius and Orion -- Anthony was looking north while we were chatting and didn't see it; sorry!

The park was closed up at about 3:30am.


2020 Event Reports

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Last modified: January 16, 2022 @ 18:04 EST