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2024 Star Party Reports

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/06/2024

(The One with almost New Moon but Clouds)

It was a hot day and evening, and 6 HAL members tried to enjoy the night of almost New Moon for the July Members-Only Star Party at Alpha Ridge Park. Unfortunately, the skies were cloudy and the hoped-for clearing never materialized, so we started packing up just after 10pm; I closed the gate at 10:50pm.

Thanks to the members who came out for the disappointing conditions; I enjoyed chatting with each of you and hope see you all again on a clear night soon.

Wayne B.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/02/2024

(The One with More Eagle Nebula Photos)

We had a surprisingly nice and clear sky until midnight. 7 members attended this party, and I apologize in advance but I am terrible at remembering everyone's names, but there were 2 members that I met for the first time who brought a 14” and a 16” dobsonian which was really cool!

My goal for the night was to give the OAG one last chance and I was finally able to use it properly. My target was the Eagle Nebula, and I was able to get 22 subs of 3 minutes each so I got some nice detail of the Pillars of Creation. It seems like I still have to work on the back focus distance which is making my stars slightly oval. I am including the final images here for you to see. I am not great at post processing and I use only the free software but I think it looks very nice!

I closed the park by midnight when we got hit by fast moving clouds. We had no inconveniences besides the clouds. [Update: Added Jose's next day refinement of his image on the right. Click images for larger view.]

Jose Urias

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/01/2024

(The One with a Clear Skies Cool Weather)

Last night four of us (Mike, Richard, Ken S. and me) enjoyed the beautiful clear skies and cool weather. It felt more like mid-September to me than early July. Ken and I had a couple of Seestar S50s running, Mike had an 80mm refractor with a new ZWO camera he was testing and Richard was doing some seriously amazing naked-eye observing. I took my first picture of a comet, C/2023 A3 Tsuchinshan-ATLAS, which is predicted to possibly be a bright naked-eye object in the fall. In honor of the upcoming Independence Day I also photographed the Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946) and the Eagle Nebula (M16). The below pictures are straight out of the Seestar with no further enhancement (exposure times are given on the bottom watermark bars). [Update: Ken S. added his image of M27 from the same night.]

David Stein

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/21/2024

(The One with a Strawberry Moon and Suboptimal Conditions)

It was a hot day and evening, and seven HAL members and guests enjoyed the night of the Strawberry Moon for an impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge Park. The skies were mostly clear but very hazy, resulting in poor transparency; this is typical for a triple-H -- hot, hazy, and humid -- summer day in Maryland. Also common with triple-H days is good seeing, and the atmosphere was steady most of the night. The Full Moon was low in the southeast at sunset and added greatly to the sky brightness, so with the poor transparency it was not a night for visual observations of faint fuzzies.

Richard used his Televue TV-85 APO doublet refractor to tour the sky. Ernie viewed with a Celestron 8-inch StarSense Newtonian and concentrated on double stars and open clusters -- he observed the double stars Epsilon Lyrae, Algieba (Gamma Leonis), Mizar (Zeta Ursae Majoris), the open cluster Caldwell 37 (NGC 6885) in Vulpecula, and the Coathanger asterism (Brocchi's Cluster) in Vulpecula.

We had two Loyola students show up looking for a place to look at the stars, so they camped out in a corner of the parking lot and did their thing. I told them about HAL and gave them business cards; they sounded interested in checking us out further.

The remaining three members were imaging. Alvin used an SVBONY 80mm refractor to image M4 (globular cluster in Scorpius) plus a nearby reflection nebula, with the primary goal being the reflection nebula. However, he fell victim to the bright skies and poor transparency and went to plan B, the North America Nebula in Cygnus, with much greater success. Anil used his Stellarvue 102P refractor to image the Pelican Nebula in Cygnus using narrowband (SHO) filters, while I gathered H-alpha images of M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy) in Canes Venatici with my 8-inch RC in hopes of using it for the June Discord Object of the Month, and an hour of LRGB of M13 (globular cluster) in Hercules.

Thanks to the members who came out for the somewhat disappointing conditions; I enjoyed chatting with each of you and hope see you all again on a clear night soon.

Anil and I locked the gate at 3:50am.

Wayne B.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/15/2024

(The One with Over 250 People!)

Last night's HAL Public Star Party at Alpha Ridge Park was fantastic. The skies were perfectly clear until approximately midnight. The Moon was in it's first quarter phase, which provided great views for the lunar observers. There were 27 telescopes setup. They ranged from the most basic starter scopes to very sophisticated setups. There were well over 250 people in attendance. At one point I counted almost 100 cars in the parking lot and along the street. Our observatory (HALO) was packed full the entire night. Our visitors included a large group from the Howard County Social Club. Everybody had a great experience.

I want to give a special shout out to all the HAL members that supported the star party. It could not be done without you. Your graciousness, knowledge, and enthusiasm are qualities that makes HAL what it is. It is always about the people. The technology is awesome, you are the magic.

Thank you to all our visitors. We look forward to seeing you at future outings. If you want to learn more about HAL and how to become a member, go to our website,

Until next time. Clear Skies!

Phil W.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/11 & 12/2024

(The One with Two Reports in One)

I am sorry I am doing a dual report but I figured since it was a back to back situation it would be better to condense it.

Starting with 06/11, we had 5 members coming, some to image and some to do visual astronomy with their dobsonians. I was very surprised to see how amazing the star sense push-to scopes works, making the star hopping process a little bit easier. We had no eventualities and closed the park around midnight.

Yesterday (6/12) we had 4 members visiting and this time it was a combination of dobsonian and Seestar scopes. I never thought of how great and “inexpensive” it can be now to get a big dobsonian with some push to device to enjoy visual astronomy and have a Seestar running in the background for doing some imaging of things that look faint on an eye piece. I closed the park around 11:40 with no eventualities.

I want to thank everyone for being so diligent at closing the gates behind them when they come to or leave the park. It make us all feel safer and enjoy the park without worrying about unknown people.

Jose U.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/07/2024

(The One with the Black Eye Galaxy and Hungry Mosquitoes)

Four HAL members (me, Ken, Kurt, and Sundar) showed up at an impromptu star party last night.

As forecast predicted, the evening cloud gradually dissipated starting at 9 pm. The clear sky continued till 11:30 pm when a huge cluster of clouds moved in from the south. So we started to wrap up and left Alpha Ridge around 12:15 am. Ken volunteered to lock the gate behind me.

I managed to process most of the so-so photons collected from Black Eye Galaxy in a so-so night. 83401/

I got quite a few mosquito bites last night. For those who will join the member's only star party tonight, be prepared to have bug spray at hand.

Richard R.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/31/2024

(The One with a Lengthy Report)

The last impromptu of the month was a fantastic one as we had 12 members enjoying the wonderfully dark and clear skies of last night. The night was a little chilly but we had no clouds almost from the very beginning.

Some members were observing through their dobsonians, while others where imaging or aligning their equipment (me included). I was also able to chat with a few new members who showed up to see how we setup and if they wanted to join next time, and it was my impression that we will see more members showing up to the impromptus.

Once everyone was done setting up their equipment, members started walking around and saying hi. It was nice hearing conversations all over the place.

There was a couple of Seestars around and I was able to test the club’s one for a more extended time. I will include some objects I imaged with it to encourage people to sign up to use it. I may not meet it for an entire month myself but that is how long you can take it with you and use it when your turn comes.

Finally, I appreciate that everyone was very responsible in closing the gate behind them when they left. This is for everyone’s safe enjoyment and I was really happy when I locked the park gates at 2 am and I found them closed. Some members even emailed me to let me know they closed the gates when they left. Wayne, who is also a key holder, stayed until 3:30 am and locked the observatory and the park as well.

Also, just a little but very important thing I want everyone to know is that the bathrooms in the park lock themselves automatically at around 10 pm and we don’t have the code to unlock them and our key doesn’t work after they get locked so we always manually move the deadbolt of the doors before that happens to avoid the door shutting down. Please leave them like that when you use the bathroom or we will not be able to open them until they unlock themselves in the morning. I also don’t know if it would become impossible to unlock them from inside if someone gets locked inside so let’s not find out.

That concludes my lengthy report. Thank you for assisting and sharing last night.

Jose Urias

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/30/2024

(The One with Sharing of Knowledge and Anecdotes )

Last night was cloudy for most of the night, however, 8 members showed up and even though conditions were not the best until about 11 pm, everyone enjoyed the usual nerdy conversations about astronomy and telescopes.

I personally loved how everyone shared some of their knowledge and anecdotes to help newer members with advice on how to use their current equipment.

There was a fair amount of Seestar S50 scopes last night and I got to try the club’s one as well. I am attaching an image I took of M27 with the seestar.

The night was a little chilly but comfortable enough to stay for a long time. I closed the gates of the park at 12:25pm and thanks to everyone closing the gates behind them, we didn’t experience any issues involving other vehicles coming to the park.

Jose Urias

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/24/2024

(The One with the Lone Park Ranger)

I went to the park tonight by 7:45 and waited until it was dark to start imaging. For some reason I was not able to plate solve tonight so I was fighting my scope for a while. At some point a police officer came to inquire what I was doing alone in the park so I informed her of what I was doing. A few minutes later it was the park ranger who came for the same reason despite having called the ranger office before my arrival. He advised it was probably not a good idea for me to stay there on my own so I packed my stuff I headed back home after closing the observatory.

It was a little sad not being able to enjoy a clear night but I think it was best to leave after that.

The ranger was nice enough to wait for me so he closed the front gates of the park.

Jose Urias

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/21/2024

(The One with Shallow Sky Observing and M81 Popularity)

Approximately 10 HAL members and guests took advantage of the pleasant conditions for last night's impromptu star party. There were high, thin, clouds around all night, but they were thin enough to observe through. The transparency was not good, but the seeing was pretty good, so it worked out well for shallow-sky observing. The Moon was quite bright.

It seemed that most people were checking out equipment and working on issues, while a few people made some serious attempts at observing and imaging. Ernie brought his 8-inch Newtonian on a Dob mount, and used his cell phone push-to app to see a variety of clusters and double stars.

Jose and his brother were working to focus the off-axis guide camera on his Celestron 8-inch SCT scope. Despite being unsuccessful, he used the scope to capture images of M81 (Bode's Galaxy) and another object or two. He also used HAL's Seestar to capture images of M81 and M51 -- he was quite impressed with the performance of the scope. Dave took some images with his Seestar S50 scope, too. Gary and his guest worked out some pointing issues he had been having with his new 10-inch Celestron SCT. Dani imaged M81 with her Redcat 50 scope with a DSLR and a ZWO AM5 mount. Krystal worked with her Dwarf imaging scope. Alvin used his Svbony refractor to image M81 -- it seems like everyone decided to image it! He showed me an impressive post-perihelion image of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks that he took from a farm near Westminster. Finally, I spent the night working with NINA's polar alignment tool to try to find the best parameters for my equipment. I did manage two short exposures in the process: 32 minutes of Luminance on galaxy M94 and 60 minutes of Luminance on M13.

It was great to see so many people on a Tuesday night! I enjoyed chatting with each of you and hope see you all again on a clear night soon.

I locked the gate at 2:45am.

Wayne B.

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/18/2024

(The One with 2 Hours without Clouds)

The clouds kinda parted for about 2 hours. Cheryl Kerr was driving the Illig along with Christopher Miskiewicz inside HALO and showed off the moon, M3, and M53 before the clouds thickened around 9:45. I rolled out the 16” Meade and stayed on the moon since it was never clear enough for a 3-star alignmemt. I believe there were 2 Seestars set up. Around 30 guests stopped by with one new family joining HAL on the spot and borrowing a DVD for their 11th grader. Thank you to Shakeela for sharing these pictures. Harrini imaged the moon and M3.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/13/2024

(The One with Two Keyholders and Lots of DSOs)

This evening an impromptu was called. The weather forecast called for clear skies to turn cloudy between 8-10 pm. One other member said they would join us but at the last minute was unable to come. The 28% Waxing Crescent Moon was beautiful in the north-west sky at dusk.

Chris Todd and I met-up at HALO at 7pm and went through the newly revised/updated protocols to open HALO and start up the Illig Telescope with no problems. We were able to observe the Moon during early twilight deep into dusk. The clouds graciously stayed away and we then turned the Illig Scope to look at and capture images of the Leo Triplet (M66, M65 and NCG 3628). We looked at some of the many Messier Objects in Cancer and Leo including: the Black Eye Galaxy (M64), Coma Berenices (M85 and M53) and the Golden Eye Cluster (M67).

After this we then shut-down the Illig Telescope and closed up HALO and locked up the park at 11pm.

Cheryl Kerr

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/12/2024

(The One with a Happy First-Time Keyholder)

I hosted my very first Star Party last night at Alpha Ridge Park. I arrived at the park around 7:45 pm while there was still some sunlight so I could take my time to get everything ready. Before any other members arrived a little bit after sunset, a few families started to come to the park as I left the gate open for HAL members. I had to politely ask them all to leave and at some point when I was certain no one else would come I closed the gate.

The members who arrived were Cheryl Kerr, who tried taking some pictures of Aurora, Dana Porter, and Michael (whose last name I forgot to write down), and we also welcomed a new member, Ramani, who joined on the spot thanks to Dana and Cheryl's encouragement.

As for observations, the night was mostly cloudy and chill. We were not able to spot the Aurora and I forgot my dew heater ring so my scope was completely covered in dew, however, the night was very pleasant filled with geeky conversations about Auroras, astronomy equipment, and space.

I closed the park around 11:45 pm after we decided we would not see Auroras.

Finally, I want to add that I am really happy to have become a keyholder as most of you must have seen me asking for someone to open the park before. I am always eager to go to Alpha Ridge when the weather is nice enough as I don't have a backyard or a place dark enough to use my telescope otherwise, so if the conditions are good, expect me to offer an impromptu.

I will also write this as a reminder whenever I call for an impromptu, but I will be closing the gates (not locked) from now on after sunset so no unknown people come there, so you will have to move the chain, open the gate and close it behind you. This is for everyone's safety so we can focus on observing or doing our activities rather than wondering who is accessing the park and what they are doing.

Thank you for your attention and keep looking up!

Jose Urias

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/04/2024

(The One with May the Fourth)

Well... as you can imagine... it wasn't much of a star party tonight as the skies were overcast and we had precipitation, ranging from light rain to a fine mist, all evening at Alpha Ridge. Three members came out and socialized for a while within HALO and we wrapped up shop around 9:30 pm. Let's keep our fingers crossed for better weather at our upcoming events. Best regards and clear skies,


Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 5/01/2024

(The One with a Cool, Clear Sky)

Six of us enjoyed some time out under the stars last night at an impromptu at Alpha Ridge. The weather was cool but not cold and the sky was clear with average transparency. Three people were working with big SCTs on German equatorial mounts with varying degrees of success, one had a 5" reflector, one had a pair of binoculars and I had my 2" Seestar. I saw very nice views of M3, M13 and M81/M82 visually through the other scopes and I took a couple of pictures. It was a weeknight so no one wanted to stay late and I locked up at 11 PM. A very nice way to start May!

David Stein

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/28/2024

(The One with a Very Lovely Evening)

Upon arrival yesterday evening at approx 7:20 pm high thin clouds were present over the western and north western skies. These clouds began to break up and thin out just as Polaris became visible at dusk. From then on the skies improved and became clear. Temps were very lovely all evening.

Five HAL members joined me for a very lovely evening among the stars: Gary Richardson came specifically to work on a new mount and tighten-up tracking. Grace Coventry spent time focused on gathering nebulosity in Orion and practising with her new move-shoot-move updated tracker as she gets ready for an upcoming trip to Namibia. Alvin Savage spent the evening tracking and gathering data on NCG 4495, a lovely galaxy. Jose Urias spent the evening tracking and gathering data on M81-Bodes. Ernie Morse spent the evening visualizing various Messier objects and the Eskimo Nebula.

My purpose for the evening was to attach a polar scope to the AVX mount and work on tracking. Gary was a life saver for me and helped me align which enabled me to track and photograph M61.

We closed up at 11:45 pm and locked the gates at 11:55 PM.

Cheryl Kerr

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/13/2024

(The One with a Separate Page of Post-Total Solar Eclipse Excitement)

See Krystal's report with photos submitted by 2 members/officers.

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 4/06/2024

(The One with a Relaxing Evening)

Member star party tonight turned out to be a nice relaxing evening. We had 5 folks join us, and while the night started off looking pretty clear, it got cloudy by 8:30 and we left the park around 10pm.

Jared Case

Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 3/16/2024

(The One with 2 Separate Pages of Photos)

See Mike's report with 2 pages of photos submitted by 4 members/officers.

Members-Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 3/09/2024

(The One with a Thunderstorm)

The rain turned into a thunderstorm when I arrived at Alpha Ridge about 5:50 pm.

Two other members joined me today when I did a dry run of the Illig. All the gears were running smoothly and are ready for next week's public star party.

I locked the observatory at 6:30.

Richard Ren

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 2/19/2024

(The One with a Bright Moon, Freezing Temperatures, but No Frost)

The forecasts were pretty much right on the nose, and six HAL members trekked to Alpha Ridge Park for an impromptu star party last night. The temperature started close to freezing and dropped to about 27F by the time I closed up. The wind was calm all night, but the humidity was OK and the frost stayed off windows for almost the entire night -- optics also fared well. The only real issue was the very bright Moon very high in the sky -- deep-sky objects like nebulae and galaxies were very difficult targets.

Mayurika and her daughter did some viewing with binoculars and saw a few objects in a fairly short observing session. Alex Grant used his 10-inch Newtonian for a sky tour, with one highlight being splitting the triple star Castor in the constellation Gemini. Jose spent some time working with his new Celestron Nexstar Evolution SCT and observed M42 and several other objects; he was very satisfied with the scope and his time under the sky.

Kurt spent a couple of hours imaging the Orion Nebula with a dual-band narrowband filter with his Askar V 60mm refractor, stopping early because of an early start the next morning. I spent the night imaging the open clusters M37 (in Auriga), M67 (Cancer), and NGC 188 (Cepheus) and some star fields so that I can hopefully do photometry of the clusters. I have attached the image of M67 that I collected and made into a pretty picture.

After a long night of observing, I locked the gate at 2:40am. Thanks to the HAL members who came out to enjoy the near-perfect conditions!

Wayne B.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 2/03/2024

(The One with 10 HAL Members Enjoying Cold but Clear Skies)

We had a sizable turnout for last night's impromptu star party at Alpha Ridge Park with 10 HAL members taking advantage of the cold, clear skies. Temperatures were cold, but not terribly so, and the wind was calm all night. A handful of clouds blew through at around 9pm but they didn't interfere with observing. The combination of cold temperatures and calm winds led to some frost on the cars but it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.

Dana came to check out the library -- she took a couple of books home with her -- and just to enjoy the evening. Peter brought his 12-inch Meade SCT on his new Losmandy mount so that he could work out the process for using the mount with some visual observing; Victor assisted him with some of the more obscure aspects of controlling the mount.

The remainder of the observers were imaging, and we had a veritable sea of SeeStar S50 imaging scopes. William (Peter's son) was using a SeeStar to image some of the scopes best objects of the night, while David was imaging M33 (Triangulum Galaxy) with his. David started out with success but then experienced some issues with tracking objects. Steve and Bob were also using SeeStars and spent some time familiarizing themselves with their systems.

Benjamin spent the night imaging the Christmas Tree cluster with his Apertura 75Q refractor with a couple of dual-band narrowband filters to get a complete Hubble palette set. Victor measured his filter offsets on his 130mm AstrPhysics refractor using a RST135E harmonic drive mount. He also used the Illig scope in HALO to image the Horsehead Nebula in Orion and start learning NINA's advanced sequencing capability. Finally, I used my 8-inch RC to obtain narrowband images of the Jellyfish Nebula (IC 443) for the January/February Discord group Object of the (Two) Month(s) activity.

After a long night of delightful observing, I locked the gate at 2:45am. Thanks to the many HAL members who came out to enjoy the near-perfect conditions!

Wayne B.

Impromptu Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 1/02/2024

(The One with 7 Cold Deep Sky Imagers to Kick Off 2024)

The temperature hovered at freezing all night, but seven HAL members came out to Alpha Ridge Park for our first impromptu star party of the year on Tuesday, January 2, 2024. Skies were clear, winds were calm, and the transparency and seeing were about average. It was mostly an imaging night, with Alex the only visual observer doing a sky tour with his 10-inch Newtonian. Peter and his son imaged several objects with their ZWO Seestar S50 imaging scope, and David did likewise with his Seestar scope. Benjamin imaged the Elephant Trunk Nebula with his Apertura 75Q refractor and an Askar D2 filter (OIII and SII dual-band for one-shot-color cameras). Kurt imaged M33 (Triangulum Galaxy) with his Askar V APO refractor at 80mm aperture; a quickly-processed version of his result is attached to this email. I imaged the Orion Nebula (M42) in both narrowband and RGB images to work on a high-dynamic range image of the bright object. Clouds began approaching from the southwest just after 11pm, and everyone was done imaging by midnight. After packing all my gear I closed the park at 1:15am.

Thanks to all the members who came out and shared their night with everyone. Hopefully we can do it again soon!

Wayne B.

2023 Event Reports

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Last modified: July 08, 2024 @ 19:04 EST