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2022 HAL Star Party Reports and Other News

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HAL's COVID-19 Policy for Events - Updated May 2023

  • In Howard County, COVID-19 community level is Low. We are following Howard County guidelines:
  • Face coverings are optional inside the Alpha Ridge HALO building. People may choose to mask at any time.
  • If you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms or have tested positive for COVID, please be considerate of others and refrain from attending HAL events.
  • For HAL impromptu and member-only star parties, participants should wait for an invitation before approaching to look through others’ telescopes; respect each other’s desires for social distancing.

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2022 Star Party Reports

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 12/09/2022

(The One with Near Perfect Seeing and Unexpected Frost)

We had a nice impromptu star party at Alpha RIdge yesterday. FIve members joined the star party: Mario was already there when I arrived around 6:40 pm. Later Benjamin, Charles, and Grace also showed up.

The weather was calm; the sky was clear, the seeing condition was near perfect except for the near-full moon. I used this opportunity to learn how to do the period error correction for my CGX mount. Mario and Benjamin did some imaging.

The weather forecast did not predict subfreezing temperatures before midnight, but frost started to bite my telescope around 10:15. We started to wrap-up around 10:30 and I locked the door at 10:50.

Richard R.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/22/2022

(The One with Visions of Turkey and Pumpkin Pie to Keep Us Warm)

Tuesday night turned out to be a fine night of observing from Alpha Ridge Park. Ten HAL members braved the moderately cold temperatures to view the heavens under the moonless skies. Mario had a couple of scopes set up for visual observing, but most of his time was dedicated to his new 6-inch SCT. Richard did intensified sketching (sample links below) of some galaxies with his 4.3-inch refractor. Richard later shared 1x views of the sky with his intensifier, allowing us to see Barnard's Loop and the Horsehead and Flame nebulae in Orion; the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros was very bright and surprisingly large. As is common at our impromptu star parties, imagers outnumbered the visual observers. Arjun and Shrikant conducted wide-field imaging, with Arjun capturing the Andromeda Galaxy and Shrikant imaging several different objects. Arjun's whole family participated in his efforts, and it was nice to discuss numerous topics with them. Ken S. continued his imaging with his eVscope eQuinox setup, collecting images of several different objects including M15 (globular cluster in Pegasus), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), and the Triangulum Galaxy (M33). I continued collecting LRGB data for my M31 mosaic with my 8-inch RC; I have gathered data for 11 of the 12 panels of the mosaic. I also collected some RGB images of the Clown-faced Nebula, NGC 2392, in Gemini. Hannah encountered some unfortunate equipment problems while trying to image with the Illig scope and didn't get anything but practice opening and closing the observatory. Shrikant and I closed the park at 3:35am on Thanksgiving eve.

It was a nice, long evening under the early winter skies, and everyone (with the possible exception of Hannah) had a nice time. It was fun to talk astronomy and other topics with the good people of HAL; I hope we can all do it again in the near future.


Sketches by Richard Orr:

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/19/2022

(The One with the Season Closer)

We had about 9 members show up for our last scheduled star party of the year. We all braved the cold to collect photons one way or the other. Gary, Kurt, and Arjun tested equipment and imaged before calling it an early night. With temperatures below freezing, Ken E. and I worked past midnight before finally calling the end tp our night. Orion is ready for winter imaging and I look forward to any impromptu winter star parties until the new year is scheduled. Stay warm out there!

Chris Miskiewicz

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/05/2022

(The One with 250 People and Our Youngest Helpers)

The last public star party of the year was a huge success! There were at least 250 people attending and 8 telescopes. Ken Everhart kept the constant flow of visitors entertained. Richard Ren pulled out the 16" Meade and there were long lines waiting to look at the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. Victor, Michelle, Eric, and I (Bob) also provided views of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. The weather was mild with a slight breeze. We were very lucky because the clouds actually stayed away from the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn until about 8:15. I set up the solar system models early (by 5:00) and the table was busy thereafter. Laurel John helped me a great deal. When Arjun arrived, he took over for me so I could focus on my telescope. Arjun was fabulous! He even recruited his friend Ramsey, and the two of them were dynamos. This evening was a great way to end a cloudy, rainy, snowy year of public star parties.

Clear skies,

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/22/2022

(The One with a Sucker Hole)

Six HAL members came out to join me at Alpha Ridge tonight for our members-only star party. Unfortunately, a thin layer of clouds coming from the east was covering everything but the westernmost part of the sky by dusk. I was still able to see Jupiter and Saturn through the clouds but it was totally unsuitable for deep sky observing. Around 7:30 PM a sucker hole opened up near Cygnus and some members were able to observe M13 (Great Hercules Globular) , M27 (Dumbbell) and M57 (Ring). But the clouds kept coming in and getting worse so everyone packed up their scopes and I locked up the park just after 8:00 PM.

Hopefully we'll have better weather for our public star party on November 5!

Clear skies,

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/21/2022

(The One with a Good Mix of New and Seasoned Observers)

Eight HAL members enjoyed the somewhat cool but clear skies at Alpha Ridge Park. Transparency started out a bit poor, but got better as the night went on. At 8:15pm my Sky Quality Meter (SQM) reported a sky brightness of 19.7 mag/sq-arcsec, which is rather brighter than normal and suggests that there were some high clouds reflecting the light pollution (there were high clouds in the west/southwest just after sunset). At 2:30am my SQM measured the brightness at 19.89 mag/sq-arcsec, which is more typical of a good night at Alpha Ridge, but not the best it can be. Seeing was also variable but was often very good. There was some dew, but it wasn't too bad.

We had a good mix of new and seasoned observers, with "equipment" ranging from naked eye to a 10-inch Newtonian. Dan and Jay stopped by for a short while to check out the park for some wide-field imaging. Richard used his 4.3-inch refractor to sketch some double stars and some faint emission nebulae with his Televue eyepiece image intensifier. He shared the view of SH2-90 with me, and it is amazing what the intensifier brings into view. I later got a look at the complex of nebulae near the Bubble Nebula and was equally amazed; look for his sketches in a few days. Ken S. brought his new eVscope eQuinox out, and Grace shared her knowledge of the system with him to help get him past some new-equipment hurdles. Alex and Kimberly used their 10-inch Newtonian to practice finding objects, being successful with M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) and M57 (Ring Nebula), while I spent the night imaging M31 with my 8-inch RC. Despite the peak of the Orionid meteor shower, I only saw one meteor all night -- at about 12:40am I saw a first-magnitude meteor in the north, traveling west parallel to the horizon past Polaris and through Cepheus. I'm not sure if it was an Orionid or just a sporadic meteor, but it was a nice sight.

Richard left at 12:30am, leaving me alone in the park. I continued observing until 3:20am and closed the gate an hour later after tearing things down.

It was a very nice late Fall/early Winter night of observing. The early sunset makes it easy to get in a decent amount of viewing before it gets too late. Once again, it was nice to see members old and new taking advantage of the opportunity to observe and sharing their knowledge and views with one another. This is what makes HAL the great club that it is!


Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/09/2022

(The One with Cool, Bright Skies)

Another of our continuing series of Full Moon impromptus was held on Sunday, October 9, at Alpha Ridge Park. Conditions were nice with moderately cool temperatures and no wind; the humidity was elevated but not too bad. Four HAL members came out for the bright sky night, and all enjoyed themselves. Jason was observing with his 6-inch Newtonian, while Dave, Grace, and I were imaging various objects. Grace was getting an end-of season image of the Trifid Nebula (M20) with her eVscope and Dave was imaging Jupiter and Saturn with his 8-inch SCT. After doing some troubleshooting with my setup, I took some quick images of the open cluster M39 (very sparse!) and the globular cluster M15 (click to expand image on right). Mostly due to the bright sky we closed up early -- we stopped observing at about 11:30 pm and I locked the gate just after 1am.

As always, it was fun to get together with other HAL members for a night of observing and sharing our collective knowledge and experience. I hope to do it again very soon!


Click image to expand.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/08/22

(The One with Phil's New Tele Vue Night Vision Device)

Last night, Wayne Baggett and I co-hosted an impromptu event at Alpha Ridge. Joining us was David Glasser who was viewing through his telescope, Richard Orr who was viewing through his large Orion Binocular, and Steve Jaworisky who was enjoying our views. Wayne was calibrating his system and doing some imaging. I was testing out my new Tele Vue TNV white phosphor night vision device. It was incredible. The sky was almost a total wash-out with the full-moon high in the sky, combined with the normal light pollution. With that said, we were able to view several nebulae, globular clusters, and galaxies. I could only imagine what it will do in a dark sky. Click on the link below to open the image I captured by attaching my iPhone 14 to the night vision system. This is a single frame capture with a 3 second exposure. The details are described on the image.

Lagoon Nebula - M8 [single frame, 3-second exposure]

Clear Skies!

Gene Handler added: A monochrome image intensifier, like most other monochrome astrophotography cameras, can take images through different filters and produce color images using image processing software. The images from the filters are assigned to color channels and combined to make a color image.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/01/22

(The One with a Busload of Students)

The weather was terrible. Complete cloud cover and mist and light rain through the entire event which began at 6:30PM. At this point you are probably expecting to read that nobody was at Alpha Ridge and I closed the gate and went home.

It turned out to be a highly successful event! Michelle Hymowitz arrived with a school bus loaded with 28 students and 7 parents from North County High School (Anne Arundel County). They set up two canopies next to HALO with tables and crafts for International Observe the Moon Night. Bob Savoy set up his Solar System table inside HALO and presented and answered questions for students and other guests. Although we could not open the dome, Hannah Broder demonstrated how the telescope works and showed pictures on the large display throughout the event. Richard Ren and I added to the conversations and answered questions throughout. We even had one visitor who arrived when we started and stayed until we ended. He joined HAL using his cell phone. And we are thrilled to have Dan as a new member.

I locked the gate at 9:00PM.

Thanks to all who supported the event last night and to all who visited.

Clear Skies!

Phil, thanks so much for this report. Yes, it was amazing to have a highly successful public star party even though the weather was lousy. The visitors were engaged throughout the evening, the questions were great, and the answers were even better. Wonderful conversations!

Bob S.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/14/2022

(The One with Smoke from the West)

We had a quiet and successful evening at Alpha Ridge. The sky was clear and the smoke was present but not too bad. The moon rose above the trees around 9:50 pm. The temperature was around 63 degrees and the dew began around 11 pm.

There were four of us in attendance. Richard Orr came and made a beautiful drawing of M13 [NGC 6205, Great Hercules Globular Cluster]. Yvonne came to view the stars but found them very dim due to the smoke. Shrikant attended as well and worked on gear problem solving and imaging the moon and Jupiter. I worked on ongoing issues with tracking and imaged a few objects as well.

Shrikant and I were the last in attendance and packed up around 11:30 and locked the gates at midnight.

[The smoke refers to] many ongoing fires in Montana, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Northern California that have been burning for a few weeks. This smoke was brought over us by the jet stream this week. I was grateful Victor alerted me to this because I just wasn�t thinking about checking for it this year.

Here is a link that will take you to an interactive map. I use the free version of the app Astrospheric to view smoke. This app has a smoke layer that you can switch to view the smoke location and its thickness.

Cheryl Kerr

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/09/2022

(The One with Bright Moonlight and Alpha Ridge Newbies)

Despite the terrifically bright Full Moon and rather high humidity we had a successful impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge Park last night. About 10 HAL members, including some who had never been to the park before, enjoyed the clear, steady skies. Michael and John stopped by to check out the park; neither brought a telescope and both left before things got started good, but hopefully they'll come out next time with their equipment and stay longer. Garry continued testing a large Meade SCT that he is repairing, and Alex and his wife were doing visual observations with his Dob-mounted Newtonian. Race had his setup going, and Jaime and Grace were imaging -- Grace worked on the Veil Nebula with her eVscope, and Jaime imaged several objects with his 4.5-inch Newtonian. I spent the night addressing some issues that had cropped up on my 8-inch RC and the mount -- I successfully cleared them up so I think I'm ready to go on the next clear night. A few clouds started approaching from the south by about 11:30, but they never really impacted anything. I called it quits just before 1am and locked the gate at 1:45am after tearing down and packing everything up.

It was great to see so many members out enjoying the sky under the bright moonlight. It was a pleasure meeting the new folks and I'm looking forward to seeing them again in the future.

Wayne B.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/03/2022

(The One with Its Own Web Page!)

The September Public Star Party was so successful that we're devoting a whole page so we can include lots of photos - 15, to be exact.

September Public Star Party Report and Photos

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/01/2022

(The One with a Meteor, Satellites, Binoculars and a New Keyholder)

For the second night in a row HAL members enjoyed an excellent night of late-summer observing at Alpha Ridge Park. The night was pleasantly cool, and a light jacket was a welcome addition to my observing gear. The humidity was slightly high but not enough to interfere with observing, but it did make the sky a little brighter than the previous night due to the additional scattering.

About half a dozen members came out for the views, with Richard searching for, and finding, Messier objects with his 100mm binoculars -- in the first couple of hours of darkness he bagged over 20 objects. Bob came out to confirm an observation he had made last night, and sure enough, he was right. Garry did some testing on a large Meade SCT that he is repairing, and Harold, Kurt, and I were imaging. Richard came out to provide Kurt with his keyholder training, which Kurt passed -- we have a new keyholder to call even more impromptus! Congratulations, Kurt! (I may have missed a couple of people as I was preoccupied with some mount issues; sorry!)

Harold and I saw a very bright meteor just before 1am. It was moving south through Aquila and into Capricorn pretty low in the west southwest. I estimate it was close to -6 magnitude, much brighter than Jupiter and considerably brighter than Venus at its brightest. It glowed a very pretty blue-green at the end of its flight. I saw two other meteors during the night, with one being about as bright as Jupiter and the other fairly faint but very fast and short duration.

Another interesting sight was a probable Starlink satellite train passing right past the north celestial pole. I was using my Polemaster camera to polar align during bright twilight when satellites started passing through the field of view. There were often three of them in the camera field at the same time, following almost identical tracks and having the same brightness. I didn't actually count them, but I would guess I saw upward of 50 of them before I finished polar alignment.

I closed the park at 3:25am -- winter is on its way! Thanks to all of the members who came out to do some cool summer observing; Hopefully the weather will be cooperative for Saturday night's Public Star Party.

Wayne B.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/31/2022

(The One with 12 Members and Completely Clear and Transparent Skies)

We had a great impromptu last night at Alpha Ridge! It was a beautiful night with completely clear and transparent skies and a cool comfortable temperature with very little humidity. I counted a dozen HAL members plus Victor Sanchez who came out to tune up HALO and make sure everything was running properly ahead of Saturday's public star party. It seemed like the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) was the photographic target of choice as I saw several folks imaging it when I walked around, including Hannah who was imaging it using HALO once Victor's work was finished. Ken was an exception as he had his giant SCT imaging the Io transit on Jupiter with a methane filter, which made the moon stand out brilliantly against the planet (very much unlike what I could see visually). Personally, I first looked at the Moon which was a beautiful crescent that set early in the evening, then I switched to Saturn where I could see Cassini's Division popping in-and-out of visibility for me as the seeing varied (it was overall not great but there were brief intervals where it was fine), and finally I was able to watch much of the Io shadow transit visually once Jupiter climbed high enough in the sky to get out of the slop. I wished I had taken notes during Jim [Tomney]'s great presentation at our [August] HAL meeting so I could properly describe what I saw on the planet's itself - I'll have to watch it again on our YouTube channel!

I finally called it a night and left about 12:15 AM. Wayne was still going strong on his Andromeda project so he kindly offered to lock up the park for me. Personally I had a blast and I hope everyone else did too and that Saturday's public star party has similar weather!

Clear skies!
David S.

Supplemental Report from Wayne

As David has already reported, it was a very nice night of observing at Alpha Ridge Park. When David left at about 12:15am, there were four members still observing under the perfectly clear skies. By about 2am, it was just Phil and myself, and Phil left at about 2:40am. I continued observing and closed up the park just after 4am.

The skies were very dark last night: my Sky Quality Meter reported just fainter than 20 mag/square-arcsec for most of the night after the Moon set. This is about as dark as it can get at Alpha Ridge Park, and afforded wide views of the summer Milky Way with the unaided eye. Sometime after midnight Phil and I noticed that the Milky Way could be seen from Perseus in the northeast, through the zenith, and down to Aquila in the southeast. As we remarked at the time, it didn't knock you over but it was there, and it's not commonly that good.

It was a great night of observing, and it was nice to see such a large turnout on a weekday night. Thanks, David, for opening up, and thanks to all the members who came out to enjoy the pleasant conditions.


Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/27/2022

(The One with Perfect Temperature and Fleeting Clouds)

I arrived at Alpha Ridge Park at 7:15pm and noticed couple of members were already there. It was fairly cloudy but the clouds started to disperse soon after. About 10 members showed up and set up their gear. For some of the members it was their first members star party and others were veterans of it. Most of the members busied themselves with imaging. Some thin clouds moved in around 10:30pm but didn't stick around for long. The temperature was perfect for the party. I left around 11:45pm. Big thanks to Phil Whitebloom who graciously offered to close up the gate later.

The next public star party is on Saturday, September 3rd.


Phil added:

I have done very little deep sky imaging (DSI). This past weekend I did grab a few images and below are two of them. I used SharpCap to capture the images and the "Live Stacking" feature to record them. The results are pretty good. They do not compare at all to the many spectacular images you see from other HAL members. It is a learning curve, that I am taking one step at a time. The cool thing is that I captured recognizable objects and had fun doing so. I simply used LightRoom Classic and Photo Shop to process the images. These are unguided images with relatively short exposures. The weather turned out to be much better than expected. It made for a fun and relaxing night/early morning. Thanks to Atul and Richard for hosting the star party. And it was good to see so many of you at the event. I am sorry I did not get to talk with everyone.

See you at the next outing. Clear Skies!


Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/24/2022

(The One with the Completely Clear Night and First Time Participants)

Last night we held an impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge. I will classify the night as a success and a very good time. The sky was completely clear all night. The seeing was not perfect, but it was good. Dew was very mild. The temperature was mild. We had at least ten telescopes in the parking lot. HALO was not open. Half of the people were observing visually and half were imaging. What was best of all, is that we had first time participants and participants that we had not seen for a while. Of course, it is always good to be with the regular attendees. Most people were gone by about 1:00AM. Ken E. and I closed the park shortly after 2:00AM.

I am looking forward to seeing many of you at this Saturday's Member's Only Star Party at Alpha Ridge. Let us hope for good weather.


Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/12/2022

(The One with a Cool Summer Night and a New Member)

We had an unexpectedly cool night at Alpha Ridge Park, with the temperatures dropping into the upper 50s by 1am. About 10 HAL members were at the park to enjoy the brightly moonlit skies, and everyone had a successful night. The clouds stayed away all night, except for one short-lived puffy thing that showed up in the southeast soon after moon rise. The humidity was somewhat higher than forecast but not really a problem. The wind had died down before dark so it wasn't an issue, either.

As usual, there was a mix of visual observing and imaging:

  • Donna came out to see what the park was like and what people were doing; hopefully she'll bring her scope out the next time.
  • John stopped by for a while to see what people were doing and to assist another member in setting up their new system.
  • Richard checked out some new Orion large binoculars.
  • Phil spent the night observing a wide variety of objects through his refractor -- the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, the Pleiades, the Double Cluster in Perseus, and other clusters.
  • Garry was testing a repaired Stellina 80mm imaging system, imaging M27 (Dumbbell Nebula), NGC 6992 (Veil Nebula), M16 (Eagle Nebula), M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy), and M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) along the way.
  • Several members imaged the Eastern Veil Nebula (NGC 6992) for the August Object of the Month (Jared, Ken, Jaime, and myself, at least).
  • Jaime also imaged a number of other objects, including the Pleiades, the California Nebula, and the Cat's Paw Nebula.
  • Kurt imaged the Cygnus Wall portion of the North America Nebula.

The Perseid meteor shower was the unaided-eye attraction for the night, and I think everyone saw at least one. Because of the Moon only the bright meteors were apparent, but they were very nice if a little far between. I saw one that was almost as bright as Jupiter, and there may have been others that were brighter.

Orion was completely above the eastern horizon by the time I closed the park at 4:30am -- winter and longer nights are on their way! Thanks to all of the members who came out to do some cool summer observing; I hope we can do it again soon!


Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/06/2022

(The One with a Huge Turnout and Malfunctioning Flippy Flapper)

Last night, Hannah Broder and I hosted HAL’s monthly public star party at Alpha Ridge. Hannah drove the Illig and provided views of the moon along with the clouds. Guests enjoyed a brief view of M13 before the clouds rolled in for good. Phil had the 16� Meade out and viewed Saturn   rising, and Bob Savoy set up his solar system table and was a busy Bob. Although I was inside HALO with Hannah most of the evening, I saw Ken, Michelle, and Hymie talking with folks, along with several other HAL members. Even with the clouds, approximately 75-100 guests came and went until we closed up shop at 11pm.

A special thanks to Victor for interrupting his dinner party to attend to our malfunctioning flippy flapper. He removed it, and we reverted old school to our shower cap to protect the lenses.

Joel Goodman

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/03/2022

(The One with a Fine Night of Observing)

It was a great night of observing at Alpha Ridge Park for the dozen or so HAL members who came out. As expected, the daytime fair-weather cumulus clouds were gone by sunset and it remained clear the entire night. Transparency was good, but there was some evidence of wildfire smoke when looking to the east-southeast into the strong light pollution. Even though the sky was dark for Alpha Ridge -- my Sky Quality Meter was reporting 19.8 mag/square-arcsec after moonset -- the Milky Way was just very faintly visible as the Cygnus region crossed the meridian. Humidity was not too bad with just a tiny amount of condensation on my scope as I packed up. The temperatures, not surprisingly, stayed warm all night, being only about 74 degrees when I closed the park at 3:30am.

Our friends the bats were out in force last night; maybe that's why the bugs weren't too bad. Jared saw one bat swoop right past my scope at head height. Arjun spotted another flying around high inside the dome; I'm 99% sure it had left before I closed up. There were no reported collisions with any observers or equipment, and AFAIK no bats were harmed in the production of this report.

As usual, there was a mix of activities during the night -- maintenance, training, visual observing and imaging:

  • Joel did some CTO training on HALO after he and Victor installed grommets on the Illig scope's protective tarp. A little house cleaning was also performed (Thanks!)
  • Richard and Phil were observing visually, using Richard's eyepiece image intensifier. They were joined by Steve J. and shared the views with anyone who was ineterested. The intensifier provided very impressive views of emission nebulae and other targets in Phil's 5-inch Astro-Physics refractor: I checked out M17, the Swan Nebula , and the "swimming swan" shape was very bright in the monochrome view. The sparkly aspect of the intensifier was mesmerizing as it randomly picked up flashes of brightness in otherwise blank sky.
  • Steve B. came out for some naked-eye and binocular viewing.
  • Arjun imaged the Trifid Nebula with HALO, with assistance from me. Even at the low altitude of the object, just above the bottom of the dome's slit, the 2-minute exposures with the Illig scope provided a strong color signal. The final stack of 40 minutes exposure time should produce a very nice image.
  • Chris M. was working with his new ZWO AM5 mount, using it to image the North America Nebula in Cygnus. He's very happy to be able to run everything from his cell phone (using ZWO's ASI Air system) and not have to lug an entire laptop around.
  • Jared collected RGB data for M16 to complete July's Object of the Month project. He fought the seeing as M16 descended in the southwest and called it quits when it was below 25 degrees
  • I imaged a portion of the Eastern Veil Nebula in H-alpha and [OIII] as part of August's Object of the Month program on the HAL Discord server. I also tried out the Live Stacking plugin in NINA which uses Pixinsight to do the stacking and it worked very nicely; I expect I will continue to use it. The accompanying image is the Live Stack of my [OIII] image data, a total of 29 four-minute exposures (just under two hours of data). I can't wait to see the final product.

It was a fine night of observing, and I thank all of those who came out to enjoy it!

Wayne B.

   Click image to expand.

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/23/2022

(The One with the Threat of a Rain Storm)

I arrived at sunset and found three (and a half - Hi Zach) members as well as Hannah at HALO, enjoying the cool evening breeze but not the cloudy skies. Unfortunately, it appears that the ECMWF cloud forecast was closer to reality and we were clouded over with a threatening rain storm appearing along the west horizon. At 9.05, I decided to call off the party lest we get swamped by the storm. I'm actually not sure if it rained at all as the radar showed the rain dissipating before reaching Alpha Ridge Park. However cloud cover continued through the duration of the event and after, with a few pockets opening up here and there. Your reminder that the next star party is a Public Star Party scheduled for August 06, 2022.

Neville Fernandes

PS: Reminder about HAL Impromptus - To make the most of clear weather on nights other than designated star parties, members can sign up for the Impromptu list as detailed below.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/11/2022

(The One with Two Enthusiasts)

Had a good night of imaging last night. Kurt and I were the only two people at AR. I arrived at AR at 8PM and Kurt was there shortly after. We both had initially considered shooting M16, but due to the proximity to the mostly full moon, changed plans. Kurt took pictures of the Cygnus Wall and I shot Sii data on Pelican. We wrapped up with flats around 12:30AM and closed the gate at 1AM. Clear Skies!


Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/09/2022

(The One with All the Clouds)

Saturday's public star party was a total cloudout. Phil and Ken S. were kind enough to join Gary, Ken E. and me and keep us company. We had a few visitors stop by to look at the observatory and say hello. We locked up the park and left about 10:00 PM.

Our next members-only star party is July 23 and our next public star party is August 6. Let's hope for some better weather for these events!

Clear skies,


Greetings Stargazers,

Overcast skies tainted Saturday night's Public Star Watch.

Four HAL Members, five members of the public and one wolf-like dog attended. As well as seeing the facility, visitors got to watch videos of The Messier List and James Webb Space Telescope.

Once the visitors left, we closed up HALO at about 9:30pm.

Thank you to all who attended.

Ken Everhart

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/30/2022

(The One with a Bunny)

An early end to the night! Ten HAL members and a little baby bunny came to Alpha Ridge Park last night for the impromptu star party. The night started well, with very clear skies and reasonable transparency and seeing. A couple of members were viewing naked-eye, (re)learning the summer sky and getting their astronomical bearings. Several others were working with new equipment to gain the necessary familiarity with it to use it efficiently in the dark. The rest of us were imaging the Crescent Nebula and a galaxy in Draco. Things were going along swimmingly (although the humidity wasn't that bad!) until a little after midnight when a few clouds appeared in the sky, starting in the north near Polaris. By 12:30, they were actively interfering with observing; the remaining imagers decided to utilize the time by obtaining their calibration images while waiting the clouds out. We gave the clouds another half hour to get better, and we decided they were forming in the northwest part of the sky then blowing through. Since they showed no sign of ceasing that activity we called it a night and started tearing down our scopes. By the time we were all packed up, the skies were clear again. :) We closed the park at 2:00am.

Visually, one of the prettiest sights of the night was the young Moon hanging low in the west in deep twilight. The 3.4% illuminated satellite (38 hours old, approximately) was a very slender crescent significantly reddened by the atmosphere.

Short as it was, it was an enjoyable night under the summer skies with good conversation all around. It was good to see new or returning HAL members again, and I thank eveyone for coming out to share their evening.


Members-only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) Saturday evening, 6/25/2022

(The One with 30 HAL Members)

What a GREAT turnout! At last night's Members-Only Star Party at Alpha Ridge Park approximately 30 HAL members -- nearly 10% of our membership -- enjoyed the pleasant conditions to observe the nighttime sky. Quite a few did not bring any equipment, but they discussed all topics astronomy with other members. People were doing the usual mix of visual observing and imaging, and several visual observers made some personal observational firsts -- their first external galaxy and first observations of M11 (the Wild Duck Cluster in Scutum) are two that I distinctly recall. The attached photo is a collage of some of the rigs that were set up.

After reinstalling the flat panel (or "flippy-floppy") on the scope, Dale and David worked in HALO all evening training multiple CTOs and grabbing some fine images with the Illig scope, and worked with several software packages to set them up for use by others. Richard started to observe and sketch galaxies, but the transparency was not optimal so he switched to open clusters. Imagers were using equipment ranging from DSLRs on tripods to a 14-inch SCT, and they were observing a similarly wide range of objects. Hopefully we will have a lot of images to share at the next meeting.

There were still almost 10 of us observing as 2am approached and clouds started coming in. By 2:20am the sky was mostly covered by clouds and everyone closed up for the night. I locked the gate at about 3:20am.

Although the sky conditions were not quite up to the forecasts, it was still a nice night of observing with lots of nice people. Thanks to all the members who shared their night!


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Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) early Saturday morning, 6/25/2022

(The One with the Alignment of 5 Planets and the Moon)

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We had a very successful event. I opened up Alpha Ridge at 3:30AM. We had 7 people onsite. The featured event was the alignment of the planets. When we arrived the sky above was clear. However, the eastern and horizon had a dark line of clouds that hovered just over the tree line (of course), and extended upwards about 5 degrees. Venus, crescent Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were visible by the time we were setup. We were easily able to see these objects "naked-eye", Mercury came up as the early morning progressed. It was difficult to see naked-eye because it was behind the cloud line. As it rose above, the Sun was preparing to rise and it was very difficult to see without a binocular, but not impossible. Using a 24mm wide angle lens, I was able to capture Venus through to Jupiter. We will see if I got Mercury when I process the pictures. Saturn was just too far out of my field of view. However, James willing ham was using a 10mm wide angle lens, he was able to capture the entire stretch from Mercury to Saturn. We were also able to see Neptune and Uranus through Dave's telescope. I am not sure anybody saw Pluto. By 5:30AM pretty much everybody had departed. I left soon afterwards and was home at about 6:00AM. Burt was the last person to depart. All and all it was a successful event. It was great to be out there with everybody in the early morning hours. The temperature was very comfortable in the mid 60's.

See you next time. Clear Skies!

JPWillinghan's 5 planets aligned Flickr photo or labeled version

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/18/2022

(The One with the Rocket Gas Cloud Flyover ;-)

HAL Friends, the impromptu on Saturday night was another night of great conditions at Alpha Ridge. We had 10 folks join us for both visual and imaging observation. Conditions were great, even with a slight wind that actually helped to keep the bugs and dew away. A cool highlight for the night was seeing the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the GlobalStar DM15 Satellite. (We think, or it's just a UFO). We captured some video, but the effect was a bright light with a donut shaped halo that went overhead around 2:15 AM in the morning (image on the right, shot on iphone). We locked up the gate around 4AM. I shared pictures on Discord for all the rigs from beginning of the night for those interested.

Jared C.

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Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/11/2022

Last night's Public Star party was a success despite that more than 80% of the sky was covered by clouds after 9 pm. I spent most of the time in the HALO but estimated that at least 50 guests visited the party, including a Boy Scout Troop. Thanks to Joel who did most of the greetings! About 3 members set up their telescopes and Bob Savoy displayed his solar system orrery as usual. Bob's table was crowded with listeners all the time! The Illig scope slewed at the coordinate of the moon most of the time waiting for it unveiling itself from the cloud. Hannah had some good pictures of the moon. The party reached its climax around 10 pm when a clear pocket showed up in the northern sky. We were able to peer at M81 for about 10 minutes.

We said good night to the last visitors around 11 pm and wrapped up. I locked the park at 11:20. Many thanks to all the members that helped last night!

Clear skies!
Richard R.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/05/2022

Click image for alternate view.

Ten HAL members enjoyed a SPECTACULAR night of observing at Alpha Ridge Park. It was perfectly clear all night (OK, there were a few clouds far in the south right after sunset), with no wind and a bit dew by night's end. At about 1:45am, my Sky Quality Meter reported a sky brightness of 20.05 mag/sq-arcsec, which is pretty much as dark as it gets at Alpha Ridge Park; the Milky Way was visible from Cygnus down toward Scutum. Nine of the observers were imaging a variety of objects -- Rho Ophiuchi, the Lagoon Nebula, and a small Sc Galaxy in Draco were among the targets of choice. Arjun used HALO to get some images of the Rho Ophiuchi region to look for asteroids, and when he was done I used HALO to grab a few images of the Black Eye Galaxy, M64. Jared and I both finished imaging a little after 3am, and I locked the gate at about 4:15am; it was bright twilight by the time I got home, with four bright planets visible in the east: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Thanks to all the members who came out for this glorious night of observing!
Wayne B.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/04/2022

Galactic Buddies: We opened up around 8PM yesterday and had a good turnout. It looked like it was going to be a great night, but unfortunately the clouds rolled in from the south and refused to leave. That said, its always nice to be able to get out under the stars with your equipment and enjoy the company of others that share a passion for the cosmos. Wayne opened up the Halo and we had several folks that were able to take advantage of some decent visual observations last night of the moon. I ended up packing up around 1AM last night, after deciding the clouds were not going to break, and Wayne and Phil closed up the park. Looking forward to the next Impromptu.

Clear skies!
Jared C.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/29/2022

Just a follow up from last night's Impromptu. We had a great night, nine people joined us at Alpha Ridge. We all got to watch the ISS, which was amazingly bright last night as it transited overhead. Several of us enjoyed catching a glimpse of a few shooting stars. We ended up locking the gate around 3:30AM. Thanks to all that joined and shared there camera views, telescopes, and knowledge. Looking forward to the next Impromptu.

Jared C.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/28/2022

Last night's impromptu included three members. Early in the evening, the Meade 16" was used to point at objects close to the horizon as clouds passed overhead. By 11:00 pm, the clouds had parted to reveal a nice sky with above average transparency. I packed up and left at 1:15 am.

Attached is an image I got later in the evening. As I was really just working out some idiosyncrasies with my guiding system, the image is not my best work.

Ken E.

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Members-only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/21/2022

We had a delightful members-only star party Saturday night. Although it was warm, it was clear at sunset. Neville Fernandes and I opened up HALO for some observatory practice, and at least five HAL members showed up outside. Neville and I had a great time practicing on the Beehive Cluster, the Whirlpool Galaxy, Bode's Galaxy (M81), the Cat's Eye and Owl nebulas and finally the Mice and Antennae interacting Arp galaxies. The clouds finally rolled in about 10:30 and we locked up the observatory and the outside folks packed up their scopes and we all left. It was really nice to be out under the stars on a clear Saturday night for a change, especially with such good company. I hope this starts a new streak of successful star parties!

Clear Skies,
David S.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/17/2022

We had a very nice impromptu at Alpha Ridge last night. Cheryl, Atul and I were in HALO for practice, and at least five other HAL members stopped by outside to take advantage of the beautiful night. Using HALO we were able to image the globular cluster M3, the galaxy pair M81/M82, the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), Markarian's Chain (M86 and many others) and the Needle Galaxy (NGC 4565). The Moon rose brightly but beautifully at 10:30 and Cheryl and I locked up HALO and the park and left just before midnight.

The weather was just about perfect, it was cool but not at all cold with calm winds and entirely clear with good transparency. I wish we'd get weather anything like that good for our members-only star party this Saturday night!

Clear Skies,
David S.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/09/2022

Turned out to be an amazing night. Very little to almost no wind and cool temperatures in the 50s. We had five HAL members join Alpha Ridge last night, most of us arrived around 8PM. The Waxing Gibbous was almost directly overhead when we started the night. Huge thanks to Bert for sharing an amazing view of the moon from his telescope. I packed up around 1AM and locked the gate around 1:30AM after everyone left. It was great to enjoy the clear skies last night with good company. Looking forward to many more this summer as the weather warms up!

Clear Skies,
Jared C.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/07/2022

Last evening, Cheryl Kerr, Hannah Broder, David Stein, and I braved the yucky weather and opened up HALO for a Girl Scout troop from Columbia/Elkridge. We took turns taking about HAL, the capabilities of the Illig scope, eclipses, and more while fielding thoughtful questions from the 7th graders working toward their Night Owl badges by attending a star party and learning about the night sky. The comments and questions dried up around 9:30. We locked up the park about 9:45.

Joel G.

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/30/2022

Approximately 15 HAL members arrived at Alpha Ridge Park to attempt observing under largely cloudy skies. The clouds were thin for the most part, but they were annoying nonetheless. The observational highlight of the night for several of us, I think, was being able to see Mercury above the western horizon, viewing through a cloud that was thick enough to make the planet slowly wink in and out. That made observing the challenging object even more challenging. Most people had departed before 10pm, but a few were sticking it out a little longer, giving up by about 10:30. We called it a night and I locked the gate at about 10:45pm.

I enjoyed talking to all of the members, several of whom were at their first star party; thank you all for coming!

Wayne B.

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/29/2022

We had an impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge this past Friday evening (4/29/2022) so I thought I’d summarize how things proceeded - as we generally tend to do afterwards. It turned out to be a fine night, with clear skies, light winds and temperatures dipping down to around 50° F (I think). Several HAL members set up their gear for imaging including Bert, Wayne, Shrikant and Richard. We also had a telescope operator training session in the observatory for Ken E. which Wayne joined once his rig was up and running. Later, in HALO, I helped Arjun collect some image data on M44 for his asteroid hunting project. I was ready to leave around 12:30 AM but Wayne was interested in staying longer, so I handed over responsibility to close up the park to him. When I left, Bert, Shrikant and I were in the process of wrapping up and Wayne was still going strong.

Until next time,
Victor S.

After Victor left, Bert, Shrikant, and I continued our imaging. Bert and Shrikant stayed for about another hour, and left me there in solitary communion with the night sky. The night was pretty good -- my Sky Quality Meter consistently reported a sky brightness of 19.75 mag/sq. arcsec -- with little wind and only slightly cold temperatures. The seeing was rather poor, however, even though the transparency was better than average. Some high, thin clouds started to encroach at about 1am, but they held off until I finished at 2am and collected my flats. I locked the gate at about 3:15am.

It was, overall, a very nice night of observing. Hopefully more people can come out for the next impromptu.

Wayne B.

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Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/23/2022

We had a good impromptu last night. Five members (David, Cheryl, Richard, Neville and Atul) showed up to do some training work inside the observatory and a handful of others (Thorne, Bert, Shrikant and myself) set up their own gear in the parking lot do their own thing. Arjun and family were also in attendance, with Arjun using some HALO scope time (with some help from Richard, David and myself) to do some asteroid hunting citizen science. Go Arjun! The night was very calm, pleasant and clear. Around 1 AM, high thin clouds started threatening, so we wrapped it up… except I stuck around a little while longer until they actually rolled in. I got some images of the region around M60 where Supernova SN2022hrs recently appeared (thanks to David for alerting me to this!) and will share if the data looks any good.

Overall a good night under the stars. Regards,

Victor S.

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Public Earth Day Celebration (Clarksville Commons) 4/23/2022

Today was a beautiful day at Clarksville Commons. Occasionally cloudy but mostly sunny and clear. Three HAL members (Eric and Michelle Hymowitz and Dominic Alfinito) were there with two telescopes. We did not think to keep a formal count, but we estimate 75-100 people came to look at sunspots and prominences through our telescopes, including Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. About a dozen people were interested enough that we talked about HAL, our meetings, and our star parties.

Eric H.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/09/2022

Greetings All,

Last night's Public Star party was a success in spite of the ever present clouds, with the Moon acting as the leading star actor of the evening. Approximately 45 people attended the party which included 2 local Girl Scout Troops from the Central Maryland District, HAL members and the general public.

Tremendous thanks go to Hal members Bob Savoy and Chris Miskiewicz. Bob set up his popular Solar System education table and Chris set up two telescopes which provided incredible views of the Moon all evening. Chris's telescopes were the main attraction outside offering truly incredible close-up views of the Moon's surface features. Additionally, Chris provided everyone with great explanations of the telescopes and imaging equipment he was using. Both Girl Scouts and other attendees were able to capture fantastic souvenir cell phone images from Chris's scopes. Phil Whitebloom provided an educational walk and talk to the Girl Scouts with a Solar Walk and talk, then they visited Bob's Solar educational set up and talk and spent the remainder of their time looking at the moon images on the big screen provided by the Illig Telescope. Phil also assisted other attendees as well. Hannah Broder and Dale Ghent manned the recently upgraded Illig scope and dome which operated beautifully and, Victor Sanchez stepped in to answer attendee's questions and lend technical assistance as needed. Mike Krauss and I provided host reception duties for the duration. We truly hope everyone enjoyed the evening as much as we did.

Cheryl Kerr

Chris Miskiewicz added:
Big shout out to Mike Krauss who co-hosted from my setup as well. He helped with a lot of the cell phone astrophotography.

   More photos on HAL's Instagram account.

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Carrs Mill Park) 4/4/2022

After all the guessing on the potential cloud coverage and the tree line, it turned out to be a successful early morning at Carrs Mill. It was just James Willinghan and myself. We arrived at 4:00AM, spent some time planning on where the best place would be to set up, and got started. There was not a cloud in the sky and Venus, Mars, and Saturn cleared the tree line around 5:00AM and continued to rise at a good rate. James was using his 6" SCT on a Celestron mount. He also setup a tripod with a DSLR camera (lens unknown). I was using a Canon EOS Mark IV with a 200mm-600mm zoom lens. It was setup on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2 mount on a tripod. Hopefully there will be some good pictures to share. Visually naked eye it was very cool to observe. The temperature was in the mid to low 30's. I am ready to start complaining about the heat.

All in all it was definitely worth getting up early in the morning to see the conjunction. See you next time. Clear Skies!

Phil W.

Was out this morning to catch the Saturn and Mars conjunction. Thanks go to Phil for the impromptu at Carrs Mill. For members who want to join in on impromptus, there is an option to get on the impromptu email list to be alerted to these. Was a great early morning with concerns over trees blocking our view to the ESE to SE, but around 5:15am both planets popped out over the tree line much sooner than I had expected so it was a go. Rings are visible in the first image zoomed in, but upper air winds made seeing poor. I went with my small 6 inch Celestron SCT with a Canon T7i camera and also decided when Venus also rose to get some wider shots with my Canon XSi on just a tripod. I still have some images to sort through and videos to try and stack to see if I got anything better, but here are a few I picked out and processed quickly.

James Willinghan

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 3/26/2022

After a day of rain, sunshine, sleet, sunshine, snow, sunshine, and whatever else was not in the forecast but happened, Ken Everhart and I braved the night to setup. A few other members stopped by to say hello, but the clouds hung around and the wind gust were strong so we packed up and went home knowing the skies would clear.

Chris Miskiewicz

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 2/20/2022

We enjoyed an unusually cloudless sky at Alpha Ridge Park last night -- there were no clouds visible from 5:15pm when I arrived until I locked the gate at 4:10am. As many as 15 HAL members and their families were enjoying the sky that gave us very good transparency but poor (or worse!) seeing. The temperatures were pleasant for late February, hovering within a few degrees of freezing all night. The breeze kicked up a few times but it never actually got windy; it was just enough to make it feel colder for a few minutes and make guiding a little rough.

The members who came out to observe did the usual mix of activities including visual observing, imaging, and equipment familiarization/checkout. Hannah opened HALO to use the Illig scope for some imaging of various deep-sky objects -- she captured a particularly nice image of the Orion Nebula. Others worked on projects like getting images of every Messier object, or spent their time viewing the many beautiful winter deep-sky objects. I spent most of my time collecting images of a variable star to determine its light curve, and I interrupted that project to grab an image of JWST as it orbits the Sun-Earth L2 point.

The attached image is my observation of JWST, this time moving through western Cancer, not too far from the Beehive Cluster, M44. I tracked JWST for 20 minutes of exposure time (five 4-minute exposures) with my 8-inch RC. Because I tracked JWST, the stars are trailed while JWST looks like a round(ish) dot in the center between the yellow marks. JWST was barely detectable in a single 4-minute exposure, and I have estimated it to be about magnitude 17.2 on the GAIA Gmag scale.

It was a very nice night of observing, with good conversation and sharing of experiences. It was good to see everyone and meet some new people, and it was especially encouraging to see the youngsters there and actively observing. Hopefully we'll have some more clear nights in the near future, and of course the scheduled star parties will be starting with a Public Star Party on March 12!

Wayne B.

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 2/10/2022

Ten HAL members enjoyed the occasionally cloudy skies at Alpha Ridge Park on Thursday night. The waxing gibbous Moon was high overhead in Taurus, making it a good target for visual observing. Most attendees were imaging, though, concentrating on bright objects typically due to the moonlight. The temperatures were comfortable for mid-February, not dipping to freezing until I closed up the park at 12:15, with a wide line of clouds covering much of the sky.

Overall it was a nice night for observing. I was happy to see all of you and hope to see even more members in the future. Thanks for sharing the night!

Wayne B.

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 1/26/2022

The impromptu began prior to dark with Wayne, Kurt and myself arriving to set up during daylight hours. Temperature upon arrival was 32 degrees. At approx. 9:00 pm the Park Ranger arrived for a routine Park Check and stopped to chat with us. The skies were clear and bright making for decent viewing and imaging.

This evening provided me the opportunity to give first light to my new little William Optics RedCat 51 that I mounted onto my Sky Watcher/Star Adventurer Tracker. This was a bit of a learning curve and challenge with recent eye surgery however, with Wayne's gracious and extensive knowledge and experience suggesting my alignment might be off. I rechecked and found alignment was off and re-focused the little scope and began to see a bit more detail in the image on the back of the camera. Anxious now to load the images onto the computer to see if there is in fact anything decent. More learning to do!

By approx. 10:30-11 pm, Kurt and myself were packed and ready to leave. Night temperature at this time was 22 degrees. Wayne decided to stay for further imaging so I left and locked Wayne in the park at 11 pm.

Cheryl Kerr

Member-Only Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 1/11/2022

It was cold - below 20F all night. For a while there were high clouds - but they dissipated after about an hour. The moon was bright - what's a person to do? However, overall it was a very nice night at Alpha Ridge Park in spite of these factors.

Steve Bilanow and I were the only HAL members to enjoy the night at Alpha Ridge Park. Steve arrived just after sunset to view Saturn and Mercury, and to watch the sky get dark. He left after an hour or so, just as I really got started with my imaging. I spent the night doing narrowband imaging of the Soul Nebula as part of HAL's Winter Imaging Activity. I also did narrowband imaging of the Monkey Head Nebula, and some luminence imaging of JWST. More clouds started encroaching at about 1:30am, so I finished up, collected my flats, and called it a night. I locked the gate at about 3:10am.

The image at right shows the motion of JWST from 11:36pm - 12:15am. This was captured as 20x2 minute exposures with my 8-inch RC through a luminence filter. I estimate the magnitude of JWST to be 16 in the GAIA Gmag scale.

If you're dressed appropriately, winter observing can be quite enjoyable. The winter constellations are beautiful and there are many interesting objects to observe. Hopefully more of you can and will give it a try next time!

Wayne B.

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Last modified: May 29, 2023 @ 12:01 EST