HAL Star Party Reports and Other News
If you are a HAL member and wish to receive emails about impromptu star parties,
update your membership profile to opt-in for impromptu email notifications
Details: How to Join HAL's Impromptu Mailing List?
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.
Are you looking for scheduled Star Parties in 2023?
Unsure about Star Party Etiquette and Expectations?
2023 Star Party Reports
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.
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!