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Howard Astronomical League - Meetings

All HAL Meetings (and star parties) are held in locations which are smoke free by law. Help us protect our ability to use these facilities by not smoking. Thanks.

Specific dates for the meetings below can be found on the HAL Calendar page. Additional information is communicated near the event in the HAL e-mail group.

HAL General Meetings (Open to the Public)

This Year's Meeting Topics / Speakers

  • HAL's monthly meetings are held at 7:00PM on the 3rd Thursday of every month at:

          The Robinson Nature Center (Map)

          6692 Cedar Lane

          Columbia, MD 21044


Click here for more information on this great new facility: Robinson Nature Center

HAL Planning Meetings (Open to All Members)

  • Monthly Planning meetings to discuss future club direction, events, meeting topics, outreach, etc. are open to all members.  Attendance is  encouraged. These are held from 7:00-8:00PM on the first Monday of most months* at:

    Wegman's Market 2nd Floor Dining Area (Map)
    8855 McGaw Rd
    Columbia, MD 21045

* Sometimes the Planning Meeting date falls on a holiday in which case the meetiings could be either cancelled or rescheduled. ' Occasionally, the meetings get cancelled due to lack of agenda items. Therefore, check the calendar page, the top of the home page, and/or posting on the e-mail group to be sure a specific meeting will be held.

2018 General Meeting Topics / Speakers

January 18

HAL Annual Election, Annual Treasurer's Report & astrophotos.

Guest Speaker:
Dr. Avi M. Mandell, NASA GSFC – Goddard Center for Astrobiology

Hot Jupiters and Lava Planets: Exploring the Diversity of Exoplanets Environments

After 20 years of discovery, we know of thousands of planetary systems, many with multiple planets and some that strongly resemble our own Solar System.  But we are only now beginning to achieve the detailed observations necessary to consider the physical properties of exoplanets beyond the basics of mass and radius.  In this talk I will provide a status update on the population of known exoplanets, and describe the methods we are using to begin to probe the atmospheres and surfaces of planets around nearby stars.  These observations are only able to provide a first look at planetary properties, but we can begin to examine how models based on our knowledge of Solar System bodies map on to these observations. Just as important, we can look at predictions for what future observations and telescope capabilities will be most helpful in constraining the formation and evolution of planetary systems, searching for habitable worlds and eventually life among the stars.

Dr. Mandell is a scientist in the Planetary Systems Laboratory (693); his research focuses on the characterization of extrasolar planets and the formation and evolution of planetary systems, with the specific goal of understanding factors that determine whether a planetary system can form habitable planets and what the characteristics of these planets will be.  He works on analyzing observations of transiting and directly imaged exoplanets and circumstellar disks, as well as modeling spectra of planetary atmospheres and the dynamical evolution of planetesimals during the formation of terrestrial planets.  He is the Director of the GSFC Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration, and is the Project Scientist for the Coronagraph Integral Field Spectrograph for the WFIRST space telescope. 

February 15

Guest Host: Joel Goodman

Guest Speaker: Dennis Conti, TESS Impromptu Talk

March 15

Guest Speaker:
Dr. Andry Timokhin- Theoretical Astrophysicist, NASA/Goddard and UMD

Raised and initially educated in Russia, Dr. Timokhin has been at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center since December 2011 as a Senior Fellow in the NASA Postdoctoral Program and since December 2013 as a research scientist.

Topic: Radio pulsars: electric stars

All but one radio pulsar is out of reach for observations by amateur astronomers, but they are some of the most spectacular astronomical objects. Pulsar's engine is 100% electric: a highly magnetized rapidly rotating neutron star generates huge voltage and produces powerful electric discharges. It is a sort of permanent thunderstorm of enormous proportions at neutron star poles which makes pulsars visible to us.  Neutron stars are probably the most extreme objects in the universe we can observe directly; they are easiest to spot when they are pulsars. This makes study of pulsars important for understanding of the most fundamentals laws of nature.  In this talk I will explain in lay terms what pulsars are, why they exist, how we observe them, what we know about their inner working, and what we can learn by studying them.

April 19

Guest Speaker: Dr. Patrick Peplowski, Johns Hopkins APL – Space Exploration Sector

Topic: MESSENGER at Mercury: New Views of the Innermost Planet

Abstract: NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury revolutionized our view of the innermost planet. This talk will review the MESSENGER spacecraft and mission, from its conception and early development to the exciting low-altitude campaign that preceded the end of the orbital mission at Mercury. The top discoveries of the mission will be presented, along with how they have forced planetary scientists to reevaluate of our understanding of terrestrial planet formation and evolution.

Bio: Patrick is a staff scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where he served as the instrument scientist for the MESSENGER Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer. His expertise is in the use of nuclear spectroscopy to study the surface composition of airless bodies in our solar system with the goal of understanding how they formed. He now works on developing the Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometers for upcoming missions to asteroids 16 Psyche and the Mars’ moon Phobos. Patrick has a Bachelors of Science in physics from the University of Washington, and a PhD in nuclear physics from the Florida State University.

May 17

Guest Speaker: Joe Bohannon

Topic: Astrophotography From Down Under

Abstract: This talk will include a brief history of my forays into astrophotography and will focus on lessons learned from a trip to the Australian Outback.

Bio: Joe grew up in a science professor's household, so has always been interested in astronomy, but he owes his current interest to a floormate in college who had a junky department store refractor. In 2002, he bought his first real telescope and has been slowly upgrading his equipment one item at a time. He holds a PhD in Math from Washington University in St Louis and works for the federal government. Currently he shoots from Severn, MD and has recently gotten into narrowband photography.

June 21

Guest Speaker: Richard Orr

Topic: Tips on Observing Mars During the 2018 Opposition

Bio: Astronomy was Richard’s introduction to Natural History.  His first telescope was purchased from paper route money that he earned in the early 1960s.  He has been involved in astronomy clubs, organizations and societies ever since.  Although his formal training is in biology, he took astronomy and physics classes to fulfill his astronomy addiction.  Richard is foremost an active observer of the night sky and owns 5 telescopes.  He has taught an astronomy course for the Graduate School USA (Natural History Division) and has provided astronomy lectures for the Audubon Naturalists Society for the past couple of decades.  He has published several articles on astronomical observations.

July 19

Speaker: Lou Mayo, NASA, Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Title: NASA Science Results from the August 21st 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

August 16

Title:  Determining Initial Conditions for Type Ia Supernovae

Abstract:  Type Ia supernovae have proven to be key objects in astrophysics, with their use in the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe having its 20 year anniversary this year.  However, the physics behind the progenitor systems and explosions is still under debate today.  The way forward will likely involve investigations outside the optical wavelengths and traditional observations near maximum light.  Late-time spectroscopic observations in the near-infrared will be presented, along with how they provide insight into the natural variety of these objects, improving our understanding of the underlying physical processes and their usability in cosmology. 

Bio:  Dr. Tiara Diamond is a CSU Chico Alumna with a BS in physics (2008). She received her PhD in physics from Florida State University in 2015. Currently in her third year as a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center, Tiara researches late-time spectroscopy of Type Is supernovae, focusing on identifying signatures which discriminate between current models. Along with her international collaborators, Tiara has presented findings to fellow scientists at astronomy conferences throughout the world. She is also very interested in science policy, education, and outreach, and will be starting a AAAS Science & Technology Policy fellowship this fall with the State Department.

September 20

Speaker: John Stansberry, Solar System Lead, Space Telescope Sciences Institute

Title: The Kuiper Belt: What it has Taught (and will Teach) Us

After the discovery of the second Kuiper belt object in 1992 (the first having been Pluto in 1930), our understanding of the solar system and its history have undergone significant changes. The dynammical structure records a history of giant-planet migration previously un-guessed at. The Kuiper belt objects outnumber the asteroids, and are a menagerie of types, including the most extreme coloration, dwarf planets likely to harbor atmospheres, and an astonishingly large fraction of binaries and moons. The most advanced observatories (e.g. HST, Keck, VLT) have been able to reveal something about the physical nature of these objects, but the work is challenging even with those. Future observatories such as JWST, LSST, GMT, and the extremely large  telescopes in planning stages will be necessary to learn more about these objects in general. However, in just a few months the New Horizons spacecraft will fly by the small KBO 2014 MU69 at a range of only 3000km, giving us our first up-close look at an example of these fascinating objects.

Bio: John Stansberry is currently working on the JWST project at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. He previously worked on the Spitzer Space Telescope project while at the University of Arizona, and obtained measurements of heat given off by KBOs using Spitzer and the European Herschel Space Telescope. His dissertation was on the interactions between the surfaces and atmospheres of Pluto, and it's sibling, Neptune's moon, Triton.

October 18

Speaker: Herman Heyn

Title: A Lifelong Journey in Astronomy.

Abstract: This talk will feature a widely known Maryland astronomer speaking about an avocation in which he has been active his entire life. He is not only an accomplished visual observer, but was also a film-based astrophotographer. Most importantly, he has more experience in public outreach and in popularizing astronomy almost anyone around.

November 15

Speaker: Dr. Albert Holm, Retired. Formerly a staff member for OAO-A2, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Title: Out of this World Astronomy: The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory-A2 

Abstract: What could be better than a telescope on a high mountain? In 1946, Lyman Spitzer published a paper arguing for the development of a large telescope in space. The technology to do that did not exist then nor in the decades after Sputnik. The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory series provided stepping stones for developing and testing the technologies that eventually would be used for the Hubble Space Telescope, the implementation of Spitzer's dream. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the December 7, 1968, launch of Orbiting Astronomical Observatory-A2, the first satellite to deliver astronomical data about stars, planets, and galaxies to Earth. This is the story of that mission, its operations, its discoveries, and its legacy. 

December 20 Holiday Potluck plus President Johnson's Year End Wrap-up.
January 17

Speaker: Bob Dutilly

Title: Spacecraft Mission Development



February 20

Speaker, Mark Perry

Title: Ring rain and tar polluting Saturn: a new understanding of the interactions between Saturn and its rings. 

For forty years, calculations based on remote observations indicated that Saturn’s magnetic field carries ions and charged particles from the rings to the mid latitudes of Saturn. In Cassini’s spectacular last few months of life, direct, in situ measurements found that ten tons per second of molecules and particles smaller than two nanometers are streaming along the plane of the rings into Saturn’s atmosphere by another process: atmospheric drag. Saturn’s extended atmosphere reaches the inner edge of Saturn’s rings and extracts neutral particles less than one thousandth the thickness of a human hair by slowing them down until they fall into Saturn. Surprisingly, the flux is a hundred times larger than past predictions, and at least half of the material is hydrocarbon, which comprises less than 5% of the water-ice-dominated rings. Cassini’s data also show that the influx varies at least a factor of four and may be linked to clumps that appeared in 2015 on D68, the ringlet on the inner edge of the rings. These newly discovered particles and processes alter the evolutionary landscape of the rings and provide an exciting, rich field for future research aimed at understanding the origin and history of the rings. 

Short bio:
Mark Perry, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, uses data from in situ mass spectrometry and remote observations such as RF occultations to study the internal structure of rocky planets, the magnetospheres of outer planets, the plumes of icy moons such as Enceladus, the topography of asteroids, and now the interactions between the rings of Saturn and its atmosphere. Before returning to research, Dr. Perry spent fifteen years involved with live-cycle engineering and managing many missions, from deep-space missions such as the MESSENGER mission to Mercury and the New Horizons mission to Pluto, to technology-demonstration missions, the International Space Station, and astrophysics missions such as the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer

2013 Meetings - Speakers and Topics
2014 Meetings - Speakers and Topics
2015 Meetings - Speakers and Topics
2016 Meetings - Speakers and Topics
2017 Meetings - Speakers and Topics

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