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2023 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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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, and click the Discord invitation link near the bottom). I closed the park at 2:45am.

Thanks to Michael and Benjamin for joining me at the park!

Wayne B.

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 M15. Ken's two guests, Bob & Deb, were relaxing while watching for Geminid meteors, 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 (Orion Nebula, Flame Nebula and Horsehead Nebula). 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!

Wayne B.

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 observations.

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 ("The Heart 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 Seestar S50 telescope for 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.

David S.

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!

Wayne B.
[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 questions.

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 very good.

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 predicted.

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 again soon.

Wayne B.

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 nights.

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 3:30am.

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!

Wayne B.

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 NGC 891 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.

Wayne B.

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!

Clear skies,

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 September 14.

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 have jackets.

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.

Wayne B.

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.

Wayne B.

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.

Wayne B.

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!

Wayne B.

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, M81/M82, M5, and some NGC galaxies.

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.

Joel Goodman
SP Co-Host

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 supernova SN2023ixf. 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!

Kurt Bauch


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!

Chris Miskiewicz

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 planet party!


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 substantial dewfall.

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.

Ken Everhart

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,
Neville Fernandes

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 Rosette Nebula while Ken imaged M81 (Bode's Nebula) and M97 (Owl Nebula) with his 14-inch SCT and I imaged 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, anyway!).


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 Ridge?

  • 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!

Wayne B.

2022 Event Reports

Event Reports from Previous Years

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Last modified: January 02, 2024 @ 20:05 EST