HAL News / Star Party and Outreach Reports
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- 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.
- Face coverings are encouraged for non-vaccinated people while participating outdoors.
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Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/17/2021
This past evening, Ken Everhart and I hosted HAL's monthly public star party, and it was obvious
that a few thunderstorms cannot keep local astronomy enthusiasts indoors. I led a group of 12
and their parents in a program under the pavilion where we explored the origin of the solar
system, and the families were able to handle and learn about meteorites from my collection. It's
amazing how perceptive 7-year olds can be with their questions and observations. While I was
speaking with the scouts, Ken, Bob Savoy, and Phil Whitebloom were greeting and answering questions
from 12 other guests who came and went along with the clouds and rain for the next hour or so.
Everyone left during the the final downpour around 9:00 except me, Phil, and the scouts under the
pavilion. When the rain stopped and the moon peaked out from behind the clouds, Phil and I walked
the group over to HALO for a tour of the observatory and short discussion about different
telescopes. As the tired and happy scouts were leaving, a couple arrived from Silver Spring who
heard about HAL and had some questions about purchasing the "right" telescope. Phil and I offered
our 2 cents for a bit, and we all left together and locked up the park around 10:15.
Next month, y'all need to start your clear sky dances a little earlier in the week
Joel Goodman, HAL Treasurer and star party co-host
Members Only Solar Observing and Imaging (Astro School) 7/17/2021
I want to thank everyone who came out to our Solar Observing class and event. We has over 20 people in attendance. The one thing we all will
agree on is that it was HOT outside. We had 12 solar observing stations including white light filtered telescopes, hydrogen alpha telescopes, filtered
binocular, and a Sunocular. We covered information from safety measures for observing the Sun (including remember your sunscreen), observing tools, and
observing techniques. All was capped off by actually observing the Sun. The Sun was showing sunspots. There was not much activity in the way of
prominences. There were some nice filaments and plages visible in hydrogen alpha. As a result of the extreme heat, we did not do the solar imaging part of
the class. It was going to be tough on the cameras and laptop computer. Also, it would have been tough on us humans going in and out from under the cover
to see the screen. We will save that for a time when the temperature is more reasonable in the Fall. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed being out with
you this morning. It was totally enjoyable. I appreciate your support and comradery. I am looking forward to the next time we are together. If you have
pictures from the event, please email them to me and Ken Sall. Ken will add them to our website and I will show
them at our August monthly meeting.
Jim J. posted his imaging of the Sun
from this event (with some sunspot activity visible).
Members Only Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 7/03/2021
Unfortunately, last night's member star party got rained out. I arrived at Alpha Ridge Park almost an hour before sunset
and was greeted with almost clear skies overhead but dark foreboding clouds along the western horizon. I was hoping
those clouds would miraculously clear away and allow us a decent night of observation. Alas, that was not to be as
it appeared we were right in line of the approaching deluge. I counted atleast 13 members who swung by for the
party before it was canceled. It was great to see some familiar faces and exciting to see new members come to experience
a member star party. It started to drizzle well before 8.30pm and forecasts showed the worst was yet to come.
The decision to cancel the party was made just in time as the deluge caught up with us leaving the park.
For the last few minutes before calling off the party,
members were huddled by the observatory.
By around 9pm, the park was locked and we were on our way home. Here's hoping we are blessed with better weather for
the next public and member star party. Hope to see you all out soon.
Your host, Neville Fernandes
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 6/24/2021
We had a very good turnout for last night's impromptu star party at
Alpha Ridge Park: eight or nine HAL members and their guests enjoyed the
cool summer evening under the
Strawberry Supermoon. Conditions were
not perfect, with thin clouds passing through on occasion, but they
never stopped anyone from observing. A couple of people remarked about
one cloud, in particular, that they first thought they were seeing Milky
Way, but alas, with the moonlight that wasn't possible, and it was in
the wrong place. Several people were observing the Moon and other
objects visually, while others were imaging. Most people were gone by
about 12:30, but Anthony, Bert, Jared, and myself continued observing.
Jared and I finished up at about 2am and started packing up, and I
closed the gate at about 2:50am. Despite the full moon, or perhaps
because of it, it was a nice night for observing and spending time under
the Maryland skies. Thanks to everyone who came out, and hopefully we
can do it again in the not too distant future.
First 2021 Public Star Party (Alpha Ridge) 6/19/2021
We had a very successful public star party last night! About two dozen visitors and about a dozen HAL members attended and about half a
dozen telescopes were set up. It looked like we'd be sure to be clouded out, but to our surprise and delight just after sunset the clouds
suddenly parted to show a clear view of the Moon, which lasted about half an hour. I didn't get too much of a look myself as I was showing
it to the public, but the view of Copernicus was stunning even through my 3.5" scope.
Joel was also kind enough to conduct tours of HALO for our visitors, one family at a time with everyone wearing masks. I saw some old friends
again after far too long and met some new members and soon-to-be members and I think we all had a wonderful evening. Although it clouded over
again and we only got glimpses of the Moon after that, many people stayed until 11 PM when Phil and I finally sent everyone home and locked up the park.
Our next members-only star party will be July 3, and our next public star party will be July 17. We'll also have impromptu star parties as
conditions warrant. I hope to see many of you there!
Clear skies,David S.
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 6/10/2021
This morning I viewed the partial solar eclipse at Carrs Mill Park. I was the only one there.
I decided to go visual other than imaging after I found that I forgot to bring the computer charger and my old laptop battery only lasted about half an hour.
There were patches of clear skies but with horizontal clouds in the East most of the time. The Sun rose at about 5:50 with approximately 60% eclipsed.
I was fortunate to observe an integrative view for just 5 minutes before the sun was covered by the cloud at 5:55.
After that till 6:30, there were only about 5 minutes in total the eclipse was partially visible between the clouds.
I packed up at 6:35 and left the [gate] unlocked as the Park Ranger suggested.
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 6/05/2021
We had a great turn tonight with about 13 members joining us. So old and new faces enjoyed a night that start with some cloud cover but ended with a decent view of the night sky. Cygnus was up in the East and Sagittarius was in the South, the summer is here.
The other plus for tonight was only the noise from members chatting instead of the daytime teenage Cicadas screams for attention.
Looking forward to more clear skies ahead.
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 5/18/2021
Last night four of us braved the beautiful weather at Alpha Ridge to enjoy spectacular views of the 6-day-old waxing crescent Moon.
Coincidentally, Phil and I both brought out our 90mm Maksutov scopes. This was fun, but I ended up wishing I'd brought out something
bigger as the seeing turned out to be as good as I've ever seen it at AR and for once I'm sure it could have supported more magnification
than I was able to use on such a small scope.. Unlike my past experiences of great seeing there, the night was pleasantly cool without
being cold and the humidity was low with no sign of dew. On the Moon, the Sun was rising over the Montes Apenninus range providing
great shadows, and the view of Rima Hyginus was crystal clear. I enjoyed watching the terminator move across Aristillus and Autolycus
craters during the evening. We finally packed up and left about 11:00 PM.
Members Only Remote Impromptu (Little Orleans, MD) 5/13-14/2021
The two night "Impromptu" out at Little Orleans turned out fairly well. I was solo on Thursday night and joined by Jim Johnson on Friday the 14th. The weather was cool (in the 40's) and humid with excellent seeing but poor transparency. Galaxy season is in full swing and I spent time imaging M51, NGC 5033, and the Draco Trio (NGC 5982 & pals). Jim's target of choice was M86 / Markarian's chain.
We both struggled with some gremlins and the conditions weren't the best, so it remains to be seen if any good data was collected, but Jim and I enjoyed being out there and chatting and we also had some good binocular and naked eye views including the open cluster Melotte 111 and the Leo Trio. We also were treated to a particularly bright ISS pass and a shooting star or two each.
I'll be keeping my eye on conditions and will call for another road trip if/when "the stars align". Cheers,
Jim J added:
I finally managed to make it to Little Orleans Camp Ground with Victor Sanchez for a remote impromptu star party last Friday evening, and I really enjoyed being out there.
I was not able to image because autoguiding did not want to function correctly. Before giving up,
I took this image [of Markarian's Chain of Galaxies]
to see if my polar alignment was sufficient
to get decent images without autoguiding. Finding elongated stars, and knowing that the elongation would be even worse in the longer exposures in the RGB channels,
I gave up at about midnight. Looking forward to going back again soon.
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge) 5/07/2021
Just a short report of last Friday's impromptu party.
When I arrived around 7:30, Ken was already there and the party was just two of us.
We all know that the Black Brant XII rocket launch was postponed to today.
My mount was malfunctioning on Friday night and because Ken is also a key holder, I left early around 10 pm, when the sky was still clear.
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 5/01/2021
Six or seven HAL members enjoyed the mostly clear skies of Alpha Ridge
Park on Saturday night. Despite some clouds blowing through on
occasion, the air was clear and the viewing conditions, including the
absence of the Moon, allowed some good deep-sky observing on this galaxy
season night. I spent most of the night working on some guiding issues,
but took a few luminance images at the end of the night on M104
(Sombrero Galaxy) and M3 (globular cluster). The other members were
imaging or doing some visual observations, including one finding a comet
that was on their list to observe. It was a pleasant night of
observing, and most members were gone just after midnight. I closed the
park just after 3am, after extensive cloud cover arrived.
Thanks to all the members who came, and I'm happy they had a good
observing session! Hopefully we can do it again soon.
Second Virtual Public Star Party (your device) 4/17/2021
Our second Public Star Party of 2021 was a great success. And it was virtual.
An overcast situation prevented our backyard astronomers from sharing live views with the participants. Normally,
I would be very disappointed by this situation. However, it turned out to be a tremendously successful event.
We had over 20 participants that stayed just short of 3 hours. I want to thank Chuck Cynamon, Brad Martin, Jim Johnson,
and Gene Handler for their preparations, presentations, and leading discussions. The topics ranged from image processing
(multiple aspects), to photometry, to imaging a solar eclipse, to demonstrating a backyard observatory, and more.
The interactions were excellent. I am very excited on how well the night went. We did record the event.
It [has been posted] on the HAL website [and is]
available for viewing and downloading for a limited time.
Stay tuned for some exciting activities that I am going to launch in the very near future.
I am looking forward to seeing everyone at our May events. Clear Skies!
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/29/2021
I was the only person at Alpha Ridge Park last night, which is too bad
because it was a nice one. The weather was fine for late March, with
only a touch of dew (which did turn to frost on the car roof), and the
transparency and seeing were both quite good. While collecting more
data on the variable star AE UMa, I did a little poking around with my
5-inch Celestron SCT. The Moon provided a nice target, albeit a rather
bright one. There was a spectacular terraced crater right near the
terminator that showed a cluster of central peaks with a prominent rille
cutting from the central peaks to the eastern edge of the crater -- this
was Petavius. Not far from Petavius was a shadow complex that resembled
a backward "E", at least in my SCT with a star diagonal. I also
observed a few double stars, including Castor and Polaris. Castor, with
a separation of about 6arcsec, was easily split at 50x. Polaris was
actually more difficult given the faintness of the companion, but the
blue-hued 9.2-magnitude star was definitely there at about 150x. No
deep sky observing was even attempted given the bright Moon. I ended up
closing the park at about 3:45am EDT.
Virtual Public Star Party (your Zoom device) 3/20/2021
Our first Public Star Party of 2021 was a great success. And it was virtual.
First, I would like to thank Gene Handler, Victor Sanchez, Jim Johnson, Chuck Cynamon, and Brad Martin for sharing their telescopes, views, expertise, and information about what they were using, how it works, and educating us on the deep sky objects and the moon. You guys were great. I also would like to throw a shoutout to Cheryl Kerr for talking about how she does her imaging.
People came and went throughout the night. We started at 8:00PM and ended about 11:30PM. We had on average approximately 42 connected devices participating most of the night. Early on there were families sharing a single connected device. They got to see the moon, open clusters, globular clusters, a planetary nebula, super nova remnants, emission nebulas, galaxies, and even a solar image I captured earlier in the day. There were many questions as well as discussions.
I learned that even when we can get back together for in-person public star parties, there is still a role for virtual star parties. There are great many things that a large number of people can experience virtually that could never be accomplished while standing in lines behind telescopes for a short time viewing through an eyepiece. At the same time, there is nothing like looking directly through the eyepiece at the planets, the moon, bright nebulas, and bright star clusters. That is why I say our future will include both venues.
Thanks to everyone who joined in tonight. It was great to have all of you there and I hope you got a great deal of enjoyment out of the event.
Keep an eye on the HAL calendar for upcoming events and activities and watch for my emails.
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/20/2021
The skies were spectacular last night, and five HAL members enjoyed them
from the relative darkness at Alpha Ridge Park (that would be relative
to my backyard, of course). After the last of the public departed the
park just as darkness arrived, I turned off the park lights, eliciting a
request to flip the switch on the moon, too. David Glasser, Shrikant
Gajengi, Mike Lee, Kurt Bauch, and I enjoyed the not-too-cold
temperatures, low humidity, and calm air to enjoy the sights of the
early spring sky. The transparency was good and the seeing was very
good. David was using his binoculars and planisphere to study the sky
and learn his way around, while Kurt was working with his Questar 3.5 on
a new tripod. I'm not sure what Shrikant was actually doing, but he
said he had a successful and enjoyable evening as he was leaving. Mike
Lee was working with his new Zhumell 130mm Newtonian with a
cell-phone-based push-to system and was tuned in to the simultaneous and
highly-successful HAL Virtual Public Star Party. I was making RGB
observations of the variable star AE Ursa Majoris with my 8-inch RC and
poked around for fun with my Stellarvue SV80ED refractor to pass the time.
The seeing was so steady in the 80-mm scope that the terminator of the
Moon looked like a grainy B&W photo because of all the tiny black specks
along it. The Alpine Valley was particularly interesting since it
looked like a linear extension of the shadowed part of the Moon sticking
into the lighted portion -- the floor of the valley was in darkness
while the walls were illuminated. I also eventually located M51, and
M81 and M82 in the 80mm scope. Castor was easily split at 65x, and
Polaris' companion (mag 9.2 at a distance of 18arcsec) was just visible.
Just before 12:30, I was standing near the southeast corner of the
observatory looking up high in the south, when all of a sudden the world
turned green. Not a stroke, but a meteor somewhere in the sky was
illuminating the sky and ground with its brilliant green glow. I turned
to the northwest see it, only to see the dome backlighted by that bright
green light -- the dome was blocking my view of the meteor itself, and I
never actually saw it. However, from the effect on the sky and the
ground, it had to have been brighter than the Moon, which was still up
in the west-northwest, for those few seconds. That's one I really wish
I had actually seen. I waited, counting off the seconds, for the sound
of its passing but I never heard anything.
Everyone but myself had left by midnight, and I stayed until about
4:30am, when the park gate was closed up for what little remained of the
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/13/2021
Last night was a great night to be out. It started with cloud cover but once twilight began the clouds began to
disappear and stay out of our way for the evening. We had imagers and observers enjoying the evening and a few
people stopped interested in knowing when HAL will be back to hosting star parties. Ken helped me host as he
worked on an asteroid moving on a "close" approach with Earth. I worked on using my ASI Air Pro to polar align
my AVX mount. By the time I had everything setup I was getting solid 10 minute subs of IC2177 in H-alpha
It was a great social distanced star party and I look forward to another before the Cicadas come.
Phil wrote: "It was good to see some old and new faces at the event. As long as you were not trying to observe anything low in the sky,
it was nice and clear last night. As a reminder to all key-holders, please make sure that when you lock-up HALO that you
lock both the door knob and the the deadbolt."
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/07/2021
Last night at Alpha Ridge Park was virtually perfect: Richard Orr, David
Glasser (new member, first impromptu), Cheryl Kerr, and myself enjoyed
cold temperatures but very good transparency, acceptable seeing, no
wind, and fairly low humidity to make observations of numerous celestial
sights. David was there with binoculars learning his way around the sky
and viewing various deep sky objects with the aid of his Sky Safari
phone app. Richard was observing and sketching northern objects
including a difficult nebula and a galaxy in Draco. Cheryl spent some
time photographing Mars and the Pleiades with her signature expertise in
nightscaping, and I imaged the Crab Nebula in narrowband and M82 in
LRGB. The night was about as good as they come at Alpha Ridge, with sky
brightness measurements as faint as 19.9 mag/square arcsecond. Everyone
had a great time and enjoyed the cold temperatures, and each other's
socially distant company. I closed the park at about 4:45am; wish they
were all like this!.
Members Only Remote Impromptu (Little Orleans, MD) 3/05-06/2021
Well, it was a glorious, if frigid, weekend for stargazing out in Little Orleans, MD.
Friday was cold, dipped down to around 30 degrees F in the middle of the night. It was off and on windy until around midnight and the moon came out at 2 AM. I spent the night imaging, or trying to image, NGC 1975 (running man nebula), then M81/M82, and then finally M106 and friends (other nearby, in angle, galaxies). I got off to a rocky start as a tree branch just happened to block my view of Polaris, but a small shift in my mount's position allowed me to go through with my polar alignment (side note: I use the Polemaster camera but am looking forward to the upcoming talk on alternative techniques).
Saturday was more of the same with good transparency and poor seeing. (Fine for the deep sky stuff of interest to me). Everything went more smoothly since I was all set up from the previous day.
While imaging I spent a lot of the time huddled in my tent for warmth reading or watching Netflix (gives a whole new meaning to "Netflix and chill"). But I did spend some time scanning the skies with my Canon 12x36 IS binoculars and could very distinctly make out M81 & M82, and I swear I could (or thought I could) see the entirety of M42.
As it turns out, the weather forecast is still looking good so I've elected to take Monday off from work and stay here one more night. My plan is to image the same 3 objects, so hopefully I'll be able to get something nice out of the data.
That's it. I hope to do this again when it's warmer and hopefully others will be able to make it out. Cheers,
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/05/2021
Richard Orr and I enjoyed a productive night under the starry skies of
Alpha Ridge Park on Friday night. Transparency wasn't as good as
predicted but the seeing seemed to be OK. Richard spent the evening
practicing with his new 4-inch binoculars and parallelogram mount,
seeking Messier objects the learn how they appear in the new optics. I
spent the evening observing a variable star, AE Ursae Majoris. Although
the evening started with a light wind, it picked up considerably by
about 10pm EST, and by 11pm it was interfering with my observing since I
kept losing my guide star. The night was ended at a little before
midnight when clouds came in, and I started finishing up. I closed the
gate at about 1:15am.
This stretch of relatively fine weather looks like it could continue, so
I hope more people will be able to come out if additional impromptus are
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/03/2021
Well, I had a quiet night at Alpha Ridge Park as nobody else showed up.
It was much warmer than last night (March 2); I never even put on my
parka and gloves. The transparency wasn't as good as predicted --
instead of average I rated it as below average. The sky brightness was
high early on, with measurements near 19.4 mag/square arcsecond, in
keeping with a lot of scattering centers. As the night progressed, it
did get darker, eventually reaching 19.8 mag/square arcsecond which is
actually pretty decent for AR; then the moon rose and spoiled that.
:) The clouds appeared a little later than predicted, about 1am, and
became very troublesome by 2am when I stopped and collected my flats and
packed up. I spent the night imaging the Crab Nebula in narrowband and
M82 in LRGB. I got the gate closed up at about 3:45am. Overall, it was
quite pleasant, and I enjoyed it very much. Hope to see you next time!
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 3/02/2021
Three HAL members, Mike Lee, Richard Orr, and myself, with a short stop
over early by Steve Rifkin, enjoyed the spectacularly clear skies from
Alpha Ridge Park last night. It was a bit on the cold side, but not too
bad, and there was little wind or humidity. The sky was nicely
transparent and the sky brightness was about 19.8 mag/square arcsecond
prior to moonrise (it increased to 19.3 mag/square arcsecond after the
moon was well above the horizon). Mike was working with his new
Celestron Star Sense Explorer with a cell phone attachment to guide his
observing for his first impromptu star party. He also took a few wide
angle (and super-wide 360-degree) images. Richard continued his
sketching of open clusters and a planetary nebula. He also was able to
see the E and F stars in the Trapezium in the Orion Nebula with his
110mm Williams Optics refractor, a testament to both the transparency
and seeing conditions, not to mention his telescope quality and
observing skills. I spent the night collecting data on some open
clusters for a project I'm just starting, using my 8-inch RC. Richard
and Mike left before midnight, and I finally closed the gate at about
It was a really nice night and we could have some more in the next few
Members Only Impromptu (Alpha Ridge Park) 1/09/2021
Five HAL members met at Alpha Ridge Park on Saturday night for what turned into a fairly spectacular night of observing.
The temperatures were somewhat cold with some light wind, but the wind and the relative humidity kept the dew/frost away.
Clouds moved through for about 30 minutes around 10pm, but then it cleared up beautifully for the rest of the night --
the sky brightness dropped to 19.9mag/square arcsec, which is about as dark as it gets at Alpha Ridge.
One interesting observation was that it got noticeably warmer as the clouds moved through and for a little while afterward, but then the cold returned.
The moonless skies allowed many deep sky object to be visible, but the Mercury-Jupiter-Saturn conjunction escaped us all --
Jupiter was visible but not the other two. Richard observed objects in the south with his telescope, then switched to binoculars.
Phil did not actually set up a scope and left early after talking to several of us about our scopes and more general topics.
The other three of us were imaging: Kurt was imaging the Horsehead Nebula, Anthony spent the night on the Orion Nebula, and I
extended my exposures of the Perseus Cluster and then moved to do some narrowband imaging of the Crab Nebula. The highlight of the
night for me was a very bright meteor, brighter than Venus that glowed a brilliant green color, falling toward the southern horizon
between Sirius and Orion -- Anthony was looking north while we were chatting and didn't see it; sorry!
The park was closed up at about 3:30am.
2020 Event Reports
Event Reports from Previous Years