2023 HAL Star Party Reports and Other News
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2023 Star Party Reports
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 12/15/2023
(The One with 3 Cold Deep Sky Imagers)
It was another cold, clear night on Friday, December 15, for HAL's
impromtu star party. Three HAL members spent the night imaging
celestial objects at Alpha Ridge Park. Michael imaged the
Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
with his Redcat 71, and Benjamin imaged the
Tadpole Nebula in Auriga (IC 410)
with his Apertura 75Q scope, a one-shot-color camera,
and an Optolong L-eXtreme dual narrowband filter (H-alpha and OIII). I
obtained images of the
Triangulum Galaxy (M33)
in LRGB and the
Orion Nebula (M42)
in SHO with my 8-inch RC on the new mount. I have attached
a starless version of my M42 image because the colors look appropriate
for the season.
[SHO, the Hubble palette, assigns red to S-II, green to Hα, and blue to O-III.]
Benjamin has posted his image on the Discord server's
"works-in-progress" channel if you'd like to see his handiwork
(instructions for joining the Discord server -- HAL member login
required -- can be found at https://www.howardastro.org/discord/, and
click the Discord invitation link near the bottom). I closed the park
Thanks to Michael and Benjamin for joining me at the park!
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 12/14/2023
(The One with Geminid Meteors)
It was a cold, clear night on Thursday, December 14, for HAL's impromptu
star party. Five HAL members and two guests braved the freezing
temperatures (literally!) to observe the sky from Alpha Ridge Park.
Alex was touring the sky with his 10-inch Newtonian on a Dobsonian
mount, observing objects as diverse as Jupiter and the globular cluster
Ken's two guests, Bob & Deb, were relaxing while watching for
and they saw a few. The other observers were imaging, Michael
concentrating on the Dumbbell Nebula with his Redcat 71 scope and
Ken using his eVscope to image a variety of objects in Orion
Flame Nebula and
Hannah used HALO's Illig scope to image
M33 (a bright galaxy in Triangulum) and the
Orion Nebula (M42).
I was out for the first time with my new mount to work
through its idiosyncrasies; I ended up only getting a short amount of
exposure on the
Cigar Galaxy (M82) and only in the Luminance filter. I
closed the park at 2am.
Thanks to everyone who came out -- it was fun seeing you all!
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 12/12/2023
(The One with Cold Weather)
Five members braved the cold on the evening of December 12, 2023. A
scary bank of clouds passed over at 6:00pm, but the skies cleared by
7:00pm and remained clear throughout the night. Although no wind was
forecast, there was an intermittent 5 mph breeze that did affect a few
We had four astrophotographers and one visual observer. The visual
observer concentrated on planetary work while the astrophotographers imaged
M42 ("The Orion Nebula"),
Sharpless 2-190 and Sharpless 2-240
and Soul Nebula"),
Sharpless 2-240 ("The Spaghetti Nebula") and
IC-2118 ("The Witch Head Nebula").
The club’s new Seestar scope was out capturing too many objects to
list, and I concentrated on Jupiter and Uranus’ outer moons.
The last of us ended our work at 1:00 am, and I locked up at 1:40am.
Thank you to everyone who attended.
Respectfully, Ken Everhart
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 12/08/2023
(The One with Our First Seestar Image)
I went out to Alpha Ridge to try out my new
an hour tonight. I didn't expect anyone to come out and join me for
such a short session and no one did. The park was still open when I
arrived. Transparency was not great, I could barely see the Pleiades
and there were some long thin clouds drifting through as well. The
telescope worked fine and I got a picture of the Dumbbell Nebula that I
was pleased with despite the conditions. This was a five minute
exposure of 30 10-second subs as processed by the telescope's onboard
software. I also saw a stream of about 20 Starlink satellites go by,
which was pretty to look at even though it was a sign of bad times to
come for astronomy. I locked up the park and left about 7:30.
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/12/2023
(The One with Visual Observers Out-numbering the Imagers)
We had a nice night of observing on Sunday night, November 12. The
weather forecasts were pretty accurate, although it seemed a bit colder
and more humid than expected. Transparency was good and the seeing was
a bit worse than average, and seven HAL members joined me at Alpha Ridge
Park to see what we could. The sky seemed to be somewhat red in color,
but there was no evidence of actual aurora being present. Perhaps we
were seeing airglow, as suggested by Cheryl
Visual observers out-numbered the imagers for a change. Phil had the
smallest scope set up but it was a good one: a 5-inch AP refractor. He
spent the evening looking at a variety of objects, and shared his view
of the North America Nebula with his image intensifier. It's amazing to
see such a faint object from Alpha Ridge. Cindy was working with her
6-inch SCT, with assistance from Phil and Garry to get her started. She
successfully observed several objects but was forced out early due to
dew. Garry was working on a mount for James, who came and picked it
up. Garry was using a large SCT and shared views of M33 (Triangulum
Galaxy), and was also forced to quit after his corrector plate dewed
over. Finally, Richard set up his 18-inch Dob for the first time in a
long time, and he relearned a lot of things about using it.
On the imaging side, Cheryl was working with a new Celestron mount with
her camera, and James assisted her with some setup issues. She was
using a mirrorless camera with a telephoto lens to image Jupiter and the
North America Nebula. Victor used the observatory's Illig scope, a
150mm Takahashi refractor, to image NGC 7331 (the Deerlick Group),
Stephan's Quintet, and a third cluster of galaxies, all in the same
FOV. I have attached an annotated version of his 4.5-hour exposure
(reduced to 25% to make the file smaller). I was using my 8-inch RC to
complete (finally!) my data collection for my M31 mosaic; now I just
need to process the data and create the final image.
I closed the park at 2:15am after clearing the frost from all my
windows. Thanks to everyone who came out -- it was fun seeing you all!
[Click image for larger version.]
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/11/2023
(The One with Mostly Families with Children and a Junior Girl Scout Troop)
Our last Public Star Party for 2023 is a wrap.
Clouds were present at the start of the event and remained until approximately
9:00 pm. However, this did not not dampen the overall success of the event.
Bob and Arjun provided fabulous demonstrations and talks about our Solar
System. Several HAL members came to share views through their telescopes.
With several telescopes available, there were long lines waiting for glimpses
of Jupiter and Saturn during the early part of the event. Once the clouds
dispersed other celestial objects were viewed through the telescopes. The
Observatory, as usual was a huge hit. Ken and Dale provided excellent
celestial views and phenomenal information to everyone asking very complex
To recap: By 5:00 pm there were approx 100 in attendance (mostly families
with children and one Junior Girl Scout Troop) and by 6:30 pm there were
approx 150 people in attendance. Around 9:30 pm most families and the Girl
Scouts left and adults and families with older children began to arrive, with
the cloud cover in full retreat at this time. With a clear sky, views of
planets and deep sky objects from both the member's telescopes and HALO were
All in all, approx 180 people attended this event!
[Click image for larger version.]
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/07/2023
(The One with Three's Company)
The weather performed pretty much to the forecasts for last night's
impromptu star party, clearing nicely in the middle of the afternoon and
staying clear until we didn't care anymore. The temperatures were mild
all night, bottoming out at about 50deg, and the wind was light and
variable all night. The wind and low dew point kept everything
condensation free. The transparency was about average based on the Sky
Quality Meter readings, and, unfortunately, the seeing was as bad as
Three Hal members came to the park to enjoy the skies. Richard was
testing a new mount for his 100mm binoculars, performing a sky tour to
put the mount through its paces. He made a couple of sketches while he
was at it, and learned a thing or two about using the mount. David was
also touring the sky, but he was using an 8-inch SCT with a new
binoviewer and contrast-enhancing filter. He successfully observed a
number of objects with his setup and liked the view through the
binoviewer. I continued imaging the Andromeda Galaxy to fill out the
mosaic I've been working on seemingly forever. I'm getting close to
having all the data I'll get on this project.
I closed the park at 2:55am. Thanks to Richard and David for joining me
at Alpha Ridge. It was good to see you both and I hope we can all do it
Sketches by Richard O. on Flickr:
Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/04/2023
(The One with Uncooperative Weather)
The weather did not cooperate for our Members Star Party. Contrary to the
weather reports, even while on site, the cloud cover did not dissipate.
However, 4 members joined me for the event: Jim Johnson came to recruit
for the upcoming Board election; it was wonderful to see Jim and catch-up
on life, Thorn Ransom came to work on routine maintenance of his observing
equipment, Gene Hudyma recently newed his previously expired membership
and came to dust off his viewing equipment, Bobby Shumar, a new member and
his friend Claire Nakazawa also joined us. Bobby and Claire were the only
ones who successfully viewed celestial objects. They were able to view
Jupiter and Saturn through cloud gaps. I set up my Red Cat hoping to point
it toward Perseus and the North American Nebula to collect some photons.
With persistent cloud cover we decided to call it a night at 9:45 pm.
Everyone left and I locked up the gate at 10:15 pm.
Respectfully, Cheryl Kerr
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 11/02/2023
(The One with Very Nice Conditions and Several New Members)
It turned out to be pretty cold, but six HAL members attended the
impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge Park on Thursday night. The
transparency was good, as was the seeing, so the conditions were very nice.
There were several relatively new members making visual observations
with a variety of telescopes. Cindy was back to continue working with
her 6-inch Celestron SCT as a familiarization exercise. Victor assisted
her to get the mount aligned with the stars, and Cindy was able to
observe a number of deep-sky objects. Brian and Liz were there for
their first HAL star party, using their Celestron 5-inch Newtonian to
observe a variety of objects. Finally, Alex used his 10-inch Newtonian
to observe the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), Jupiter,
Saturn, and M15 (globular cluster in Pegasus), and a few other objects.
All of the visual observers were very happy campers at the end of their
Victor used the Illig scope in HALO to set up the new HAL computer. He
used NINA (Nighttime Imaging 'N' Astronomy) to control the telescope and
camera to obtain some images of NGC 7331 (the Deerlick Group). I
continued my engineering efforts with my 8-inch RC scope, then continued
getting images of additional panels of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
mosaic. I completed my imaging at about 2:15am and closed the park at
Thanks to all the members who came out to share the skies with one
another. It was especially gratifying to see the new members, and I
especially appreciated your enthusiasm!
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/23/2023
(The One with Good Seeing and Bright Moonlight)
It was a coldish October night Monday night for the HAL impromptu star
party at Alpha Ridge Park. Seven HAL members came out to take advantage
of the clear skies and good seeing under a rather bright Moon. As
usual, there was a mix of visual observing and imaging, and everyone
seemed pleased to be out. John N. stopped by to talk to Kurt for a few
minutes and then departed for home to start his imaging session.
Cindy brought our her new Nexstar 6 (I think it was) to get comfortable
using it. She reported that she learned a few things and was happy with
the evening. Alex and Mark were both making visual observations with
their 10-inch Newtonian scopes, and were successful in finding a number
of deep-sky objects.
John D. spent the evening imaging the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) with his
500mm camera lens and DSLR, while Kurt imaged the Cocoon Nebula (IC
5146) with his Askar V scope and a one-shot-color camera using an
Optolong Extreme narrow-band filter to help cut down the moonlight. I
mostly tweaked my collimation (taking advantage of the good seeing and
bright moonlight) and then imaged
for a couple of hours to have
something to show from the night; the image on the left is a quick
processing of the data.
Clouds approached from the northwest at about 1am, just as I was
finishing my imaging. I then collected my flats and packed up, closing
the park gate at 2:20am.
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/21/2023
(The One with Good Weather, a Dozen Telescopes and 100 Visitors)
We had our October public star party last night (October 21). It was a
really nice event! The weather was cloudy in the late afternoon but a kindly
breeze swept away the clouds just after sunset and then departed for the
most part so we could use our telescopes outside. HALO was running strong
all night and we had about a dozen telescopes set up outside and around the
parking lot. Personally, I started with the beautiful first quarter moon at
dusk, and then switched back-and-forth with Saturn a few times after it got
dark. Both targets elicited the usual 'ooh's and 'aah's and 'wow's from the
public! I switched over to Jupiter about 8:30 and got some very nice views
of Io's shadow transiting across the surface of the planet between about
9:00 and 10:00. From where I was set up in front of the observatory I could
see that Bob's astronomy table and HALO were very busy and there was a
steady stream of visitors from sunset until about 8:30 or so when the pace
began to slack off. I would say we had about a hundred visitors overall. I
could see that others were showing off the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the
Triangulum Galaxy (M33), the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27)
and other deep sky objects. I personally saw a meteor while looking at
Andromeda 'naked-eye' through Phil's magic lantern box but it was too dim to
have been visible without amplification.
Around 10:00 the clouds started coming back in and it became quite chilly
and we decided to start packing up about 10:15. Victor was kind enough to
volunteer to lock up the park so I left about 10:45.
Our November public star party will be on Saturday, November 11.
I hope to see many of you there!
Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 10/14/2023
(The One with a Rain Party for Two)
The October HAL Members Star Party, or Rain Party, went off without a
hitch, and nearly without any members -- only one other member showed up
to chat for a few minutes. It was nice to meet her and hopefully she
will make it out next week for the Public Star Party. It was, obviously,
raining during the "event", so I did a little bit of cleaning in HALO
while giving people a chance to drop in. I closed the park at 7:15pm.
Here's hoping for better conditions next Saturday!
Annual Solar Eclipse Party Report (Alpha Ridge) 10/14/2023
(The One with Cub Scouts but No Magic)
Four HAL members hosted the eclipse
party today: Krysta, Atul, Thorn, and me.
As expected, no magic occurred during the 2.5 hours event.
We had a cub scout visit the HALO around 2 pm. We demonstrated a dry run of
Illig without opening the dome shutter. Kids' inspiring questions made the event very intriguing.
We closed the observatory around 2:50 pm.
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/15/2023
(The One with Pleasant Observing)
It was another nice night at Alpha Ridge Park for an impromptu star
party and ten HAL members came out for some pleasant observing. The
winds were calm as the temperatures dropped into the 50s, and the
humidity was somewhat elevated with condensation on car windows by the
end of the night. The transparency was good, but not as good as on
Susan arrived to do some unaided eye observing, partially to reacquaint
herself with the sky. Shrikant came by but discovered he left something
at home so he didn't stay long. The rest of the observers were imaging
with a wide variety of equipment. Benjamin imaged the Iris Nebula with
a Nikon DSLR and a 500mm lens. MIchael imaged with a small refractor,
but I didn't catch what he was looking at. Arjun imaged the North
America and Butterfly nebulae with his 51mm Redcat refractor, and Ken
imaged a wide variety of objects with his eVscope. I continued
capturing H-alpha photons on the Elephant Trunk Nebula and some more
portions of M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) with my 8-inch RC.
Everyone seemed to have a good time and a lot of success in their
endeavors. Hopefully we'll get to do it again soon! Thanks to everyone
who came out! I locked the gate at 4:15am.
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/14/2023
(The One with Fabulous Conditions)
It was a fabulous night for an impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge Park,
and almost a dozen members came out to take advantage of those
conditions. The skies were very transparent, with sky brightness
readings as low as 20 magnitudes/square-arcsec -- about as dark as it
gets at Alpha Ridge Park. Seeing was also average, and the wind was
calm for the entire night even with hurricane Lee about 700 miles to our
southeast. The temperature became fairly cool late, and we were glad to
There was a wide mix of visual observing and imaging. The visual
observers ranged from unaided eye up to a 12-inch Newtonian with several
instruments in between. Carol and Anthony were using their mark-1
eyeballs when they weren't enjoying views or just "soaking in the
astronomy energy" through Mark's 6-inch and 12-inch Newtonians. The
views were quite nice in the not truly dark Howard County skies, and
objects including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31),
the Ring Nebula (M57), the Pleiades (M45), M15, M22 (globular clusters)
were well-presented. Richard was sketching open clusters with his 100mm
binoculars, and Alex was surfing the sky with his 10-inch Newtonian.
The imagers were also quite varied in their equipment and targets.
Benjamin used his Nikon DSLR and a 500mm lens to image the Iris Nebula,
while Michael and Arjun were imaging with 51mm refractors. Michael was
imaging M31 and Arjun, with his parents and sister, was imaging a field
in Cygnus. I spent the night imaging the Elephant Trunk Nebula in
H-alpha, and then M31 with my 8-inch RC.
The conditions were nice all night, and actually became rather cool --
upper 50s -- by the time I closed the park gate at 4:10am. Everyone had
a good time, and I hope we get to do it again soon!
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/05/2023
(The One with Clouds and a Tenth Grader)
Conditions were not as good as the predictions, but three HAL members
and a couple of potential new members enjoyed the warm temperatures for
last night's impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge Park. Many high clouds
moved in before sunset and we battled them all night. The wind was calm
and the humidity was bearable, and we had pretty good seeing conditions
for most of the night. The clouds did clear up some after most of us
left, allowing some serious imaging to be accomplished, but they were
around all night.
Benjamin stopped by to do some observing but was thwarted by the clouds
and never set up his equipment before taking an early drive back home.
John was working to learn about a new star tracker before his Milky Way
photography class coming up soon. Despite the clouds, he was able to
get comfortable and make some mistakes that he won't repeat when it
counts. He reported being happy with the night.
I decided that I could do some engineering work under the conditions so
I set up my rig and got to work. I had some frustrating equipment
problems that I never resolved, but after working around them I decided
to image the Elephant Trunk Nebula
in Cepheus, the September Object of
the Month for the Discord channel. I chose to gather data in H-alpha
and Luminance filters only so as to produce a grayscale image rather
than color. I have attached the image I obtained as an illustration of
what we managed.
Phani and his daughter stopped by after he saw us setting up while he
was playing tennis at the park. His daughter (a tenth grader) is
interested in astronomy and they have a Celestron NexStar scope that
they want help figuring out. I gave gave them a business card and we
chatted about HAL for a while; it sounds like they will likely join us,
and I hope they do.
It was a nice night in spite of the clouds, and all the participants
seemed to have a good time. Hopefully we will get another chance soon.
I closed the gate at 2:15am.
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 9/03/2023
(The One with a Meteor, Sonic Boom and a Fireball)
On Sunday night (9/3/2023)
we had about 15 members show up including a family who had just joined the
club. A number of us were imaging things like M27 the Dumbbell Nebula (me),
the Iris Nebula (Ben D.) a number of galaxies (Neville Fernandes, who was
refreshing his skills at operating the HALO system) and M2 (Arjun), some
others were doing visual, and few others came out just for the camaraderie.
The weather was fair and the night very clear up until around 11 pm when
thin high clouds started to form. The highlight of the evening was a
spectacular meteor which appeared at 9:23 pm, followed by a sonic boom a
minute later. This meteor was spotted from Virginia to Vermont; more info
at the link provided by Jim Tomney:
Most everyone started wrapping up around 11:45 and I closed the park at
1 2:30 AM. Overall it was a nice evening out. Regards,
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/26/2023
(The One with a Separate Web Page)
See Krystal's August Public Star Party Report with a number of photos.
Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/18/2023
(The One with a Great Deal Going On)
Friday night was a very nice night for an impromptu star party, and 15 -
20 HAL members took advantage of the conditions. The transparency was
not as good as predicted, but it wasn't really terrible, either. It got
better as the night went on, as evidenced by my Sky Quality Meter
readings of 20.0 mag/sq-arcsec starting just before midnight; the Milky
Way was visible through Cygnus. The seeing was as poor as predicted,
but the temperatures were really nice. The wind was variable in speed,
being a little breezy at times and virtually absent at other times.
HAL members were observing with everything from naked eye to a 12-inch
SCT. Richard T. was relaxing in a reclining chair/cot and a light
blanket to observe meteors; he submits reports to the American Meteor
Society so he has the process down pat. Mark, Richard O., and Gordon
were using binoculars of various sizes to observe a variety of objects,
while Jim was relearning the sky with a 6-inch Newtonian after a year's
absence from observing. David was checking out his new mount and
Televue image intensifier. Garry was checking out a Meade mount that he
repaired and was helping others as needed.
The remainder of us were imaging with a wide variety of systems. At the
very small end, I was using a DSLR on a tracking mount to image the
constellation Cygnus, and Benjamin was imaging the North America Nebula
with a 200mm lens on a tracking mount. John was doing some wide-field
Milky Way imaging with a star tracker in preparation for a Milky Way
photography class he is taking soon. Arjun, with a lot of assistance
from his mother, was imaging a field in Cygnus with his 51mm Redcat and
iOptron mount. Michael was imaging the Veil Nebula with a 71mm Redcat
on a ZWO AM5 mount. Kurt was using his Askar V scope to image M16 with
a ZWO color camera. Finally, I was also imaging the galaxy NGC 6946 in
Cygnus with my 8-inch RC and a ASI1600MM-C camera. It looks like HAL
captured a lot of photons!
A few members came and went before I had a chance to talk to them
(sorry!), so it was even busier than I have described. Thanks to all
the members who came out to do some late-summer observing. Hopefully we
will have some more good nights in the near future
I closed the park gate at 4:35am, and dodged deer all the way home
missing them all, thankfully.
Richard O. made three drawings using 100mm binoculars:
Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 8/12/2023
(The One with a Shower of Perseid Clouds)
Well, the weather forecasts turned out to be optimistic, and about a
dozen HAL members plus five random members of the public looking for
someplace to observe the Perseid meteor shower, were treated to
essentially overcast skies for last night's Members-only Star Party at
Alpha Ridge Park. One early arrival set up his telescope to check out
of his new setup, and eventually got a quick peek at a single star low
in the southeast to get an approximate focus and to discover a large
dust mote on his new camera's window. Another member downloaded some
images off of HALO's computer and gave a brief tour of HAL to a guest.
The rest of us spent a few hours chatting about virtually all things
astronomy, and everyone enjoyed the warm evening. We called it quits
early and I locked up the park at 10:25pm. Hopefully next month's
members-only star party on September 9 will have better conditions.
Thanks to all the members who came out for the great conversation.
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/22/2023
(The One with Clear Skies and a Separate Web Page)
Check out Krystal's July Public Star Party Report with a number of photos.
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/11/2023
(The One with a Midsummer's Night Scene)
Seven HAL members met at Alpha Ridge Park last night to enjoy views of
the mid-summer sky. Although clouds were fairly widespread early in the
night, by about 1am they had dissipated completely. The seeing was
better than average, and not surprisingly the transparency was below
average -- a typical hazy, hot, and humid summer night, just without the
excessive humidity. Dew was not an issue during the night with just a
light layer on the grass and car tops at the end of the night.
Several members were observing visually with scopes ranging from 7x50
binoculars to a 10-inch Newtonian. Gordon was reacquainting himself
with the sky and looking for a variety of interesting targets with his
7x50mm binoculars. Steve and Alex were observing with 8-inch and
10-inch Newtonians on Dob mounts, respectively.
Benjamin and John were both imaging with DSLRs on tracking mounts, John
working on the
North America Nebula
and Benjamin was undecided early in
the night and I never got back to see what he chose.
Garry and I were doing mostly engineering stuff, with Garry testing a
Meade mount he had repaired and I was working out the bugs with a new
computer among other things. At the end of the night, I decided I
wanted something to show for the effort so I hung around for an extra
hour and collected data for a quick image of the
globular cluster M56 in Lyra, attached.
Overall everyone had a successful night in spite of the clouds and low
transparency. It was great being out under the night sky again with so
many HAL members. Thanks to everyone who came out, and I hope to see
you again soon.
I locked the gate at 4:10am -- barely beat the dawn!
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/24/2023
(The One with a Long Wait for Clouds to Pass)
We had 6 telescopes set up by members in the parking lot and about 50 visitors last night.
The weather was very promising around sunset as we could observe the phase of Venus and
the flyby of Tiangong around 9:30.
Clouds started to build up and only left the moon
intermittently visible for the next hour. Some areas of the sky became tolerable after
10:30 and HALO was able to capture some photos of M97,
M5, and some NGC
We locked the gate around 11:15 pm. Thank you to all the members and guests who showed
up and it was a pleasant cool summer night after all!.
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/27/2023
(The One with a Lots of Excited Young Astro Enthusiasts)
150-200 folks were treated to an evening of astro fun around HALO
last night. Phil Whitebloom led a group of scouts, their families,
and others on a
solar system walk just after sunset. He looked like
the Pied Piper with around 30-40 followers. Hannah Broder held
court in HALO featuring the moon, Venus, and several clusters and
galaxies. The conversation was animated and the questions
insightful. Garry Ingle took time between dismantling the 16” Meade
to show guests the moon and other targets. Steve Bilanow had two
celestial sphere globes on display and answered questions. At least
one HAL member captured the new
supernova on camera, and Ken
Everhart and David Stein were busy all night sharing eyepiece views.
And, of course, Outer Space Bob Savoy and WhizKid Arjun had their
solar system display set up and entertained visitors for a
continuous 3 hours. I heard one father comment that he was bringing
his family back next month just to listen to Arjun. The highlight
of my night was peering through Phil’s night vision gizmo and seeing
a long meteor flash through my 40 degree field of view.
We have a super membership which loves sharing their passion for
astronomy with others. Thank you to all HAL members who showed up
with equipment or to just hang out with other like-minded folks.
Watch the video of Arjun's solar system explanation.
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/25/2023
(The One with Supernova SN2023ixf)
Three HAL members (me, Ken, and Stephen) enjoyed the impromptu star party at
Alpha Ridge last night. We discussed a lot about the
The skies were clear most of the time till 10:30 pm when the clouds started to
expand from the northern horizon and the temperature dropped to about 50 degrees.
The waxing crescent moon was tolerable for doing some imaging on SN2023ixf. Here is my photo:
We wrapped up before the clouds covered northern sky at 11:30. I locked the gate at 11:45.
Best wishes for tomorrow's public star party!
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/22/2023
(The One with Far Too Many Clouds)
It was cloudy and we had about a dozen to 15 people show up (including Hannah, Chris, Bob and Ken from HAL). I
think that where about six from a local Boy Scouts organization. Still, there were some good conversations,
questions and interest in our club and astronomy as a whole.
Rain was on the radar and everyone had left, so we closed up around 9p.
Looking forward to better weather at the next meeting!
Big shout out to Hannah too. She did a great job presenting in and out of the observatory. Looking forward to the
next star party and seeing everyone again!
Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/15/2023
(The One with Lots of Clouds and No Other Members)
I arrived at Alpha Ridge around 7:40 pm and watched the last bit of the sunset.
The sky was covered by >80% of the cloud all the time and no other members showed up.
The Park Ranger showed up around 9 pm and I left the park with the remaining picnickers.
Before I exited the park, I was able to see Venus between the clouds. Not too bad, at least tonight was a star and a
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/12/2023
(The One with Clear Skies, Almost-Average Transparency but No Milky Way)
Seven club members attended our Impromptu Star Party on the
evening of April 12-13, 2023. Although skies were clear
throughout the evening, the transparency could barely be
called “Average” as The Milky Way could not really be seen all
night. However, we enjoyed perfect temperatures and no
As Galaxy Season begins, most concentrated on observing or
imaging galaxies while a couple of us looked forward to
visually observing the elusive Mercury.
I took the opportunity to determine the faintest star able to
be imaged from Alpha Ridge that evening. If you are curious,
it was a magnitude 20.10 star in the open cluster M67.
Around 11:00pm, guests started to trickle away, and I closed
up at 1:16am.
Thank you to all who attended.
Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 3/25/2023
(The One with Fog and a Separate Web Page)
Check out Chris's March Public Star Party Report with a baker's dozen of photos from David S. and Phil W.
Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 3/18/2023
(The One with a Great Start But Cloudy Finish)
Tonight's star party started with a bang with around 15 members in
attendance including Victor and Krystal training on HALO. We were greeted
with clear but chilly skies with hardly a cloud to be seen. However,
starting at around 9pm clouds started to blanket the entire sky. With
forecasts showing continued cloud coverage, members slowly packed up and
left and Krystal and I finally locked up the park by 10.20pm to head home.
The next star party is a Public star party next Saturday. See you all there.
Your host for tonight,
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 3/15/2023
(The One with a Windy Start But Calm Finish)
Five HAL members came to Alpha Ridge Park for last night's impromptu
star party. It was fairly windy at the start of the night but the wind
died down by around 9:30pm and it was basically dead calm by 1:30am.
Dew was never an issue, in part because of the wind. Transparency was
very good, as indicated by the Sky Quality Meter readings that reached
as low as 19.97 mag/square-arcsec -- there was very little light being
scattered in the atmosphere. Seeing was variable, but there were
stretches of time when it was pretty good.
Richard was observing Herschel 400 objects
with his 110mm refractor and
his intensified eyepiece. These objects are generally much fainter than
the typical Messier object, so seeing them with a 4-inch class scope in
our skies highlights the experience of the observer and shows the
advantage that the intensifier gives. The rest of us were imaging;
Shrikant and Benjamin were both imaging the
while Ken imaged
M81 (Bode's Nebula) and
M97 (Owl Nebula) with his 14-inch SCT and
M82 (Cigar Galaxy) with my 8-inch RC.
I closed the park at 3:55am, with clouds approaching from the west. It
was nice to see all of you and I thank you for coming out to share the
sky with the rest of us.
Here is a quick processing of the M82 data I collected last night at the
impromptu. This is an LRGB image (no H-alpha has been include yet) and
is 4.8 hours of exposure time. [Click the image for a larger view.] I have more data from previous nights
that will be combined with this to make a more polished image (I hope,
Thanks for opening up last night. I was able to make several rough
drawings of Herschel 400 objects due to the excellent transparency at Alpha
Ridge last night. Several were southern objects that were a challenge from
Central Maryland skies. For example, I was able to bag the Hershel 400
edge-on spiral galaxy (NGC 2613) and Open Cluster (NGC 2627) in the
southern constellation of Pyxis (the Mariner’s Compass). I mean, how many
people have even seen this small constellation in binoculars from Alpha
- NGC 2183 -- A Small Gathering of Reflection Nebulae in the Unicorn
- [Click left in the Flickr photostream for the rest of Richard's sketches below.]
- NGC 2613 -- A Spiral Galaxy in the Mariner's Compass
- NGC 2627 -- Open Cluster in Pyxis
- NGC 2811 -- A Barred Spiral Galaxy in Hydra
- NGC 2974 -- The Weeping Eye Galaxy | The Lenticular Galaxy NGC 2974
- NGC 2964 & 2969 -- Pair of Leo galaxies
- NGC 3147 -- A Face-On Spiral Galaxy in the Dragon
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 2/28/2023
(The One with Clear Skies in Late February)
The clouds cleared late Tuesday afternoon, and it remained perfectly
clear all night. The temperatures were pleasant for the end of
February, but it did get a little chilly before the night was over. Five
HAL members came out to take advantage of the conditions and it was
almost evenly split between visual observing and imaging. Richard and
Phil were observing visually, Phil with his 105mm strophysics refractor
and Richard with his 120mm refractor; both were using their image
intensifier systems. Richard was sketching faint nebulae and galaxies
around the sky and Phil was looking at a wide variety of objects.
On the imaging side, Grace was attempting Barnard's Loop in Orion with a
new H-alpha filter. Shrikant was using a small refractor to image the
Orion Nebula. Phil used his iPhone to grab some intensified images of
M42, M41, and M46, and possibly other objects. Finally, I spent the
night collecting RGB data on AE Ursa Majoris, a Delta Scuti pulsating
variable star in Ursa Major, for February's Object of the Month activity.
I closed the park at 3:25am. It was nice to all of you and I thank you
for coming out to share the sky with the rest of us.
Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 1/09/2023
(The One that Started Off the New Year)
Eight people came out to Alpha Ridge Park for last night's inaugural
2023 impromptu star party; most were members but one family showed up
randomly with a telescope and they stayed for a while. We enjoyed
seasonal temperatures in the 30's with low humidity and a slight, but
gusty, wind. The transparency was good but the seeing was generally
poor with occasional spells of average seeing.
Most people tonight were observing visually. Raj and Tara (non-members,
but will likely join soon) used their new 102mm Celestron refractor to
let their young daughter experience better conditions than their yard.
Bob and his son Ryan used a variety of scopes for some visual observing
-- 80mm binoculars on a parallelogram mount, a new 8-inch SCT they were
trying to get working, and an older 14-inch Newtonian on a Dob mount
(from TScopes, I think it was). Mario used his 6-inch SCT for both
visual observing and to work out some practical issues imaging with it,
imaging the Moon, Jupiter, and the Orion Nebula (M42) in the process. I
used my 8-inch RC to gather the final panel of my Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
mosaic, then I collected some narrowband images of the Clownface Nebula
(NGC 2392). Hannah used the Illig to image the Flame and Horsehead
Nebulae, as well as the Orion Nebula.
For the first time in HAL history, AFAIK, we had to deal with a drone
being flown in the park during the star party. The county's contractors
conducting a deer management survey in the park flew a DJI Matrice 3
drone with an IR camera to see the deer in the park. Since they were
flying at night they had flashing lights that would be visible for 3
miles -- they were quite bright during the time they were flying, which
was luckily short. Also luckily, they did not fly over the observing
area so they were not a problem, just a minor annoyance to our observing.
Mario and I were the last to depart, and I closed up the park at 2:50am.
It was great to see HAL members and potential new members come out to
enjoy the January skies. As always, the conversation was good, and the
usual amount of HAL members helping one another was on fine display.
Thanks for coming out, and I hope to see all of you again soon!