Posted on Jul 05, 2016
Posted on Jul 03, 2016
Ramadan is quickly coming to a close. As I write, the 28th day is starting to wane. I always feel melancholy as Ramadan prepares to leave us. The abstaining from food and drink is not always so pleasant, but we learn to patiently deal with it as we move through the month. The pangs of hunger, continuously reminding us of the state we are in, become dull and we don’t notice them so much by month’s end. We start to turn inward and work on our spiritual-selves. We pray more. We read the Qur’an more. We reflect on our shortcomings and work on becoming better humans. We seek forgiveness from our Lord. We give charity to those who are less fortunate. We feed people. The community comes together each night. Camaraderie builds. Old friends become new again. The relationship with our Creator becomes stronger. We become more grateful for what we have. By month’s end, the heart is overflowing with love, compassion, gratitude and hope.
So, it is only natural that one would feel sad to see all of this vanish with the close of the month.
The month of Ramadan also brings with it some amazing opportunities for what is to come once we leave this world. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) stated that the beginning of Ramadan is Mercy, the middle of Ramadan is Forgiveness and the end of Ramadan is Freedom from the Hell-Fire. Likewise He (peace be upon him) stated Woe to those who fast Ramadan and are not emancipated from the Fire. This brings on a great urgency as Ramadan closes with increased worship in the hopes of finding that freedom.
This year, 2016, we find ourselves planning to search for the new moon of the month of Shawwal, marking the end of Ramadan, on July 4th! Here in the United States of America, of course July 4th is Independence Day, the day the founders of this great country liberated themselves from the tyranny of King George III of England in 1776. From the location where I normally sight the new crescent moons, I can see nearly the entire San Francisco Bay Area. It will be interesting to see all the firework displays from there all happening at the same time, at a great distance however, but nonetheless that will be a lot of fireworks!
It struck me odd this year that we are ending the month of Ramadan with increased effort to find freedom from the Fire, and we will be closing out the month celebrating freedom with fire. I’m sure there is something deep to think about there but I have some more spiritual work to tend to.
So to all my readers, a pre-Eid Mubarak and have a safe and happy 4th of July!
Until next time, Peace.
P.S. Please remember to go out and search for the new crescent on July 4th. I’ll be at Russian Ridge, my usual place, if anyone is interested in joining me.
Posted on Jun 16, 2016
I want to be open and clear in my endeavors about moon sighting. I do not want anyone to feel any doubt or lack any certainty about the reports that I give regarding the sighting of the new moon.
Let me start by noting that I have been involved in sighting the moon since 1993, and I have gone out nearly every month since then. I have studied the moon and its motion in the sky. I am well-read on the science behind its motion and the mathematical technique employed today on predicting where the moon could be seen. Over the years, I have developed my own set of criteria as to whether or not I think the moon will be seen. I also contribute to making final decisions almost every month as to the beginning of the Islamic months with other moon sighters and committees across the United States.
Over the years, I have noticed that the following minimum parameters are needed to easily see the new moon:
Age: more than 18 hours old
Lag Time: 40 minutes or more
Elongation: 12 degrees
Altitude at Sunset: 5 degrees
Crescent Width (or Percent Illumination): 19 arc seconds or 1% illumination
The parameters for the new crescent on June 5th were as follows at the time of sunset:
Age: 27.5 hours
Lag Time: 42 minutes
Elongation: 14.8 degrees
Altitude: 6.5 degrees
Percent Illumination: 1.7%
The moon was not going to be easily seen because the lag time and the altitude at sunset were very close to the minimum values needed to see the moon easily.
Predicting the visibility of the new crescent moon has been an endeavor that dates back thousands of years. In 1997 and then updated in 1998, B.D. Yallop working for the HM Nautical Almanac Office, surveyed the methods used historically and those used in the twentieth century and developed a new criteria to predict new crescent moon visibility. if interested, Yallop’s paper can be obtained HERE. Every numerical moon prediction method used today works off of the Yallop method. Among the parameters that I mention and use above, Yallop determined that there was a mathematical functional relation between the geocentric difference in altitude between the center of the sun and the center of the moon for a given latitude and longitude on the earth, ignoring the effects of refraction, and the topocentric width of the crescent moon. In fact, Yallop found that the difference in the altitude was a cubic function of the topocentric crescent width. Let me explain some of these terms.
First, let me explain the altitude. Altitude is a measure of a celestial objects distance above the horizon as seen by an observer on the surface of the earth. There are two ways to calculate it, geocentrically and topocentrically. The geocentric calculation assumes that one is at the physical center of the sphere of the earth and the line connecting the center of the earth and the moon. This altitude is measured off of the equator of the earth. The topocentric calculation assumes one is standing on the surface of the earth and the line connecting the location on the earth and the moon does not necessarily pass through the center of the earth. The following diagram shows the two different angles.
The angle delta, δ, indicates the Geocentric altitude and the angle phi, φ, indicates the Topocentric altitude. The topocentric altitude is of course easier to measure as one stands on the surface of the earth. The difference in the geocentric altitude between the sun and the moon requires that this quantity be measured, or calculated, for both the sun and the moon and then the difference between those two values determined. If the sun happens to be on the horizon it will have essentially a zero altitude by definition. If the moon happens to still be in the sky above the sun then the difference in the altitudes will be a positive number. If the moon had set before the sun, then the moon will be below the horizon and the difference in the altitudes would be a negative number. Thus, the difference in the altitudes is always computed at the time of sunset for any given location on the earth. The resulting number is then just the actual altitude of the moon above the horizon.
The altitude is measured in degrees and one can use a clinometer to easily measure the topocentric altitude of any celestial object, including the moon. Check here if you would like to make your own clinometer. To determine the geocentric altitude of the object one would need to employ trigonometry and some algebra, which is beyond the scope of the article at this time, but can be found by searching for it online if one desires.
Next is the topocentric crescent width. This parameter measures the width of the visible portion of the moon. The width of the moon is measured by an angle that subtends the moon as measured from earth. In the figure below it would be the angle given by W. From the earth the moon’s width measures approximately 0.5° or 30 arc minutes. It varies slightly from month to month depending on the distance between the earth and moon as the moon follows an elliptical path around the earth, sometimes a bit closer and sometimes a bit farther. The width of the crescent is of course less than the 30 arc minutes and will continuously grow from zero to a full 0.5 degrees when the moon is full. In terms of arc seconds, the moon is 1800 arc seconds wide (60 arc seconds in every arc minute). A one percent (1%) illuminated moon corresponds to a crescent width of only 18 arc seconds wide, and a 19 arc second wide moon corresponds to roughly 1.05% illumination.
The crescent width is directly related to another parameter mentioned above and that is the Elongation. The elongation is also an angular measure that determines the position of the moon relative to the earth and sun. At conjunction the moon lines up with the earth and sun along what is known as the earth-moon-sun conjunction line. The diagram below shows the new moon orientation with the moon on the conjunction line, as well as showing the moon in two other positions later in its orbit around the earth. As the moon continues to move away from the conjunction line, the elongation angle continues to grow. As the moon moves along in its orbit past conjunction, the visible portion of the moon gets larger as more reflected light from the sun can bounce off and find its way down to the earth where we can view it.
Yallop had also discovered a mathematical functional relationship between the difference in the geocentric altitudes and the elongation and the difference in the azimuths of the moon and sun. With this other relationship Yallop was able to come up with quadratic function that related the difference in the altitudes to the difference in the azimuths of the sun and moon. So how are the probability curves generated?
Using a data set of 295 sighting reports in the past, the locations of where those sightings occurred were plotted on a map of the earth based on their latitude and longitude. Then for a given date the necessary parameters, altitudes and azimuths are computed using astronomical calculations. Given the values of the altitudes and azimuths along with the result of each individual sighting from the data set, whether the moon was seen or not seen, and whether it was seen by the unaided eye or with an optical aid, a parabolic curve is plotted on the map to fit the data as best as possible. The parabolic curve is used as it will best fit the quadratic function determined by Yallop. The technique used is called Least Squares Curve Fitting and it is a statistical method that uses pre-existing data to fit a line or other curve, such as a parabola in this case, to the data that gives the best possible fit while minimizing errors. The larger the data set used the more accurate the curve fitting becomes. Yallop initially used 295 data points and from that set determined six visibility zones; Zone A – Easily Visible to the Unaided Eye, Zone B – Visible Under Perfect Atmospheric Conditions, Zone C – Visible to the Unaided Eye After Found with Optical Aid, Zone D – Only Visible with Binoculars or Conventional Telescopes, Zone E – Not Visible with Conventional Telescopes and Zone F – Not Visible Below Danjon Limit of 7°. The Danjon Limit is the minimum elongation angle that will allow sunlight reflecting off of the moon to reach the earth. Below a 7° elongation there is not enough light reflecting off of the moon that it could be seen by any means.
Numerically the six zones are determined by the following values: Zone A – q > +0.216, Zone B – +0.216 ≥ q > -0.014, Zone C – -0.014 ≥ q > -0.16, Zone D – -0.16 ≥ q > -0.232, Zone E – -0.232 ≥ q > -0.293, Zone F – q ≥ -0.293.
Note that in moving from one zone to the next, the values of the determination parameter have common borders. Zone A and B have a common border along the 0.216 parabola line, Zone B and C along the -0.014 parabola line, Zone C and D along the -0.16 parabola line, Zone D and E along the -0.232 parabola line and finally Zone E and F along the -0.293 parabola line. Even though the above inequalities are designed to ensure any given location can be in one and only one zone, there is no margin of error between the zones and this raises many questions. What if one was standing exactly on one of the parabola lines that delineates one zone from the next? What prediction does one rely on? How far into any given zone must one move to ensure that the zone one is in will be the predictor of the probability indicated?
Again, the Yallop criteria, a statistical method using past sighting data to predict probable future sightings and the larger the data set the better the curve fit and the better the prediction of probable sighting.
The Yallop criteria for the moon on June 5th indicated that my area was in Zone C; that sighting the crescent was possible after using an optical aid to first locate the moon, however my location was very close to the border line of Zone B, crescent visible under perfect atmospheric conditions. Aside from some wispy high clouds in limited portions of the sky, we had great atmospheric conditions for sighting the moon as I had ever seen.
So what happened this past Sunday evening? Our group arrived at our viewing location, Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve along the Ridge Trail, with the following coordinates 37.3247 N 122.2087 W at an elevation of 2359 feet around 7:45 pm to 8:00 pm local PDT. We waited for the sun to set before we started to look. I knew the moon’s azimuth would be about 10 degrees to the left of the sun, approximately 1 hand span, and 6.5 degrees above the horizon, approximately 2 to 3 fingers above the horizon at the time of sunset. I directed everyone to concentrate on that location of the sky. We all looked intently.
The prime time to see the moon occurs at a time that is 4/9 of the lag time after sunset, a time determination that was also discussed by Yallop in the same above mentioned paper. At our location sunset occurred at 8:26 pm PDT. The moon set was at 9:08 pm PDT, and 4/9 of 42 minutes is 18 minutes and 20 seconds. This placed the best viewing time at 8:44 pm. Hence, as soon as it was 8:44 pm, we all started to double our searching efforts. One from the group at this time thought that he saw its lower limb poking out from the clouds that were perched right where the moon was supposed to be. Then, a few moments later, another of the onlookers thought he saw it as well. The first person though had lost sight of it. Neither could confirm with certainty. At about 8:50 pm PDT, I pull out a pair of small low power 7 x 35 binoculars (see note below), and I search the sky along the bottom edge of the clouds that obstructed our view. Within moments, I confirmed what the other two had seen with their naked eyes: the bottom limb of the moon was indeed sticking out from the clouds. I moved the binoculars from my eyes, and I could clearly distinguish that the lower limb was visible and directed others to where it was. Within 5 minutes, the moon had completely dropped out of the clouds. At this point, I was able to see it clearly and at the same time faintly. It was a very thin moon and one that was difficult to spot. However, when I directed the rest of the group to where it was in relation to clouds around it, the first two who had seen it, were able to see it once more, and they were followed by a third onlooker, then a fourth and then a fifth in addition to myself. It was then that I trained my camera on the moon and made four photos, starting at 8:58 pm. By that time the moon had dropped to about 1 or 1.5 fingers above the horizon, approximately 3 degrees above the horizon in altitude.
In all we were about 15 in number; most had a difficult time seeing it, but those of us who did see it, were certain we had seen it. We continued to watch it until just about 9:05 pm PDT when it had dropped so low that haze along the horizon was now obscuring the view.
I made the first photo of it just as it dropped out of the clouds at 8:58 pm; however, I did not set the camera controls correctly, and the moving reflex mirror in the camera caused a vibration that blurred the moon. I then made the second of four photos immediately afterwards, this time locking the mirror in place before tripping the shutter. That second photo was the photo displayed on the June 5th post. The third and fourth photos were made in the same manner however, the second photo showed the moon best. Furthermore, I have been photographing the new crescent moon with a digital camera for the last 8 years. I set the camera to photograph in RAW mode. A RAW file is not actually an image file, rather it is a file that records the CCD image sensor data as it was captured. An additional piece of software is needed to read the RAW file and covert it to an image file. In the RAW converter, I have control over the data, and I can set the exposure, brightness, contrast, highlight and shadow levels, color temperature as well as the saturation so that the image appears as best as I can recall at the time I made the photo. I cannot however, add an object that was not there, nor can I remove something that was there. Those operations can be accomplished, if so desired, in an image editing program like Photoshop. When the RAW file is opened in the converter it is very dull and with very low contrast and, in most cases, looks nothing like the actual scene. This is by design to ensure the darkest part of the image and the lightest part of the image contains actual detail. Pure black and pure white in a digital image contain no details at all. The four photos shown below are the four that I made on the evening of June 5th, without any adjustments made to the RAW files other than opening the files in the converter and then saving them as JPEG files for displaying on the web.
Note on Binoculars: I have not used binoculars to search for the new moon since September of 2003. On that particular occasion, I was able to see the moon with a pair of 10×50 binoculars, but I could not see it with my naked eyes. I had a group with me at that time as well, and they could not see the crescent even with the binoculars. It put me in a difficult position, as according to the Shari’ah, the sighting obligated me to start the new month but not so for any others. I was instructed by one of my teachers to stop using optical aids in searching for the new moon. Hence, this past Sunday night, on June 5th, was the first time I had used binoculars in thirteen years. My children have grown up with moon sighting, and while they were all to young to understand the use of binoculars thirteen years ago, they grew up with hearing about that incident 13 years ago and have been with me consistently over this time. Three of my four children are all considered adults now under Shari’ah and these three were all among the five besides myself that saw the crescent on June 5th. As I pulled the binoculars out, they all urged me to put them away. They all said, “Don’t cheat!”
Earlier that evening I was in contact with other colleagues that I work with in determining how to respond to other sighting claims from the United States and abroad. Positive sighting reports had come in from Peru and Chile but did not include the details that would have allowed us to evaluate the sightings. I was fairly certain that we would get reports from either Arizona or South Texas based on the Yallop probability curves for those areas, and sure enough, we did get a report from Frisco Texas. I personally interviewed the man who made that report, and it sounded like a valid report. He was not alone but had his wife and his adult daughter with him, and all three saw it. Furthermore, he did indicate to me that there were others in his area that had seen it as well. In discussing this report with my colleagues, we had decided to declare a positive sighting had been made but that we would wait until after sunset PDT to make the final call once we had a chance to search for the moon. I was already convinced that the month had started, and thus my “cheat” was more of a self edification than anything else. Once I established its location with the binoculars, I was able to direct others to seeing it, and once I pulled the binoculars from own eyes, the moon was there, faint, but clearly there, seen with my naked eyes, just as the Yallop curves had indicated. The other naked eye sightings were just that – naked eye sightings, as they did not use the binoculars, something the Yallop curves did not indicate.
Finally going back to my criteria based on my sighting experience. The moon of June 5th at the location of our observation met all the criteria indicating that we should have been able to see the moon. Since the lag time was very close to the minimum of 40 minutes and that the altitude of the moon was very close to the minimum of 5 degrees needed, it was going to be a difficult moon to see. Indeed it was a very difficult moon to see. However, had we not had clouds to contend with that covered the portion of the sky at 8:44 pm where the moon should have been, we might have seen it earlier while it was at its optimum contrast. The first of the sighters who did think he saw the lower limb but then later lost it, did think he saw it at just about the time of optimum viewing of 8:44 pm.
I would like people to understand that I would not have made the claim of seeing the moon if we did not actually see it with our naked eyes. The responsibility of making such a claim when it is not true carries a great burden; in fact, any time I make a claim to have seen the moon, a great burden comes along with it. I do not take moon sighting lightly. The worship of billions of Muslims sometimes rides on my sightings, and I am very careful with it.
I hope this post settles any questions anyone might have had with the sighting that we made on June 5th. I ask that you all keep me and my team of moon sighters in your prayers and pray that we can continue to keep this Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) alive and well and that we can once again re-establish it as the dominant method of determining our religious months and holidays.
Until next time, Peace to All and Ramadan Mubarak!
Posted on Jun 05, 2016
The new crescent moon of Ramadan 1437 (2016) was seen this evening by a group of crescent chasers on top the northern Santa Cruz Mountains in Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve. The sky was somewhat foreboding as it laced itself with clouds right where we expected the moon.
At about 8:45 pm, one of the chasers thought he saw it but he lost it in the clouds as the clouds moved. Then at about 8:55 pm we re-established its sighting as it once again re-emerged from the clouds. Several in the group of about 15 to 20 onlookers were able to see it.
A fine a moon as I have ever seen, it was incredibly thin in a dim sky. Once we had it in our sites, I trained the camera on it and made four images. This one shows it best.
The sight of the new moon never ceases to amaze me. This one literally took my breath away when I saw it. I wish the photo could convey what I felt.
Posted on Jun 05, 2016
Posted on May 14, 2016
It has been too long since my last post. Much has transpired since then, but more on that later. For now, the moon sighting for Ramadan is again quickly approaching. To prepare for what is coming and to ensure, or try to circumvent any confusion for Ramadan, sighting the moon of the preceding month, the month of Sha’baan, becomes necessary.
Astronomically, the probability of seeing the new crescent was very good. All the parameters needed to easily see the new moon were to be met. I had put a plan in place to take my astronomy class on its last field trip to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton just south east of San Jose. The weather outlook was good for most of the preceding week and early in the week of the planned trip. However as we approached our sighting day, May 7th, the weather took a turn for the worse. The skies clouded over and rain was forecast. In fact on the morning of the trip it was raining throughout the S.F. Bay Area! The hopes of all the students, and mine as well, were washing away with every rain drop that fell from the sky.
In spite of the weather, we continued on with our planned trip. In addition to being at roughly 4200 feet in elevation atop Mount Hamilton for the sighting, I had also arranged for a tour of the observatory. So even if we did not see the moon, we were in store for a great tour of many of the telescopes used up there. When we arrived at the observatory we were actually in the clouds! We could not see the sky, the mountains, or the valleys below, a near total whiteout condition, and it was cold, very cold.
Our tour guides met us with over-flowing enthusiasm. It was infectious and soon we were all excited about seeing the various telescopes. The one disappointment was that due to the high humidity the observatory was most likely not going to allow us to view anything through the telescopes. I learned, even though I kind of already knew, that with a humidity above 91% the telescope lenses would fog over with condensation and then later require a costly and laborious cleaning. I’ve been in conditions where the humidity was very high at night and seen what it does to my camera lenses. But I was still surprised and saddened that viewing something like Jupiter or Saturn that night was not going to happen.
As we finished the day time portion of the tour we were headed back to the original observatory building when suddenly the cloud we were in started to break and blue sky was seen for the first time that day! Everyone on the trip turned to me and asked if I thought seeing the moon at least would be possible. I was hopeful. By the time we arrived back to the main building, the cloud we were in had completely dissipated and we could see the fog that had settled in the valleys below. However the sky was still covered with patchy high clouds, and the portion of the sky where I had expected the moon to be was covered as well.
I told everyone to just be patient. We wait until we are sure the moon has set before we give up. Sunset occurred around 8 pm that night. We prayed our sunset prayer as a group and then we ate our evening meal that we had brought with us. The clouds kept playing with us as they moved across the sky allowing for openings where we would search intently and then to just have that portion of the sky close up once more. Then it happened!
Just a few minutes pat 8:30 pm the moon suddenly broke out of the clouds and the gasps of excitement rang out!
It was very refreshing to finally see the new moon after months of failed attempts this spring. The weather was a hindrance each time I had gone out his spring. The rain was very important this year here in California and while I am grateful for it, it was starting to weigh on my patience. But finally we saw the moon! It was a nice capstone to the end of the astronomy class that I was teaching.
The following day I sat down to edit the photos I had made of the Sha’baan moon. While I was working on the image made with my 400mm lens, I noticed a small white spot very close to the crescent itself. Intrigued, I opened my star charting software and set up the location and time when the photo was made to determine what star it might be or if it was just an artifact. To my surprise it was actually a star! It was Hyadum I, or otherwise known as Gamma Tauri, a star in the constellation of Taurus the Bull and it is only 158 light-years away from Earth!
It was a fabulous evening that resulted in a great capture of the moon and this time with a star! I think this is the first time that I have captured the crescent moon with a star in the same image. Seeing stars on the western horizon at the time when the crescent becomes visible is very rare. Venus, yes. Mars, yes and maybe even Mercury or any of the other five naked-eye planets but stars not so much. The coolest part is that I did not see Hyadum I when we were out there, but the camera did. I am still to this day, more than 20 years after picking up a camera to ‘see’ the world, still get floored at its ability to capture things that slip by our own eyes! It is quite humbling. I think it is imperative that we reflect on that. What we see with our eyes is not all that is there.
Until next time, Peace.
Posted on Sep 14, 2015
Today was very uncertain with regards to the weather. Mostly cloudy all day long with small pockets of rain all over the Bay Area. Given that today was a moon sighting evening the weather made for some tense moments leading up to sunset. As the day came to a close, I rushed to one of my back up locations to search for the moon, however I had little hope. The sky was quite thick with clouds but as the sky grew darker the clouds started to break up. I searched intently all alone. Suddenly my phone beeped. It was a friend about 40 miles to my north east, also searching. He sent a photo of the sky from his location in the Bay Area. His photo showed some dense cloud cover, similar to what I was seeing. I reply with a photo of the sky I was seeing and a message that I could not see the moon.
Not more than a few minutes had passed when he sends another message containing just two words; Got It.
I ask, “you see it!” but before I could hit send, I glance up and from behind a dark cloud bank I see that fine sliver of light emerge from behind the clouds! And to think I almost threw in the towel and called it a night. Then appended to the above, I write “I see it too!” and send the message.
Obscured by the clouds, the moon played hide and seek with me for about 5 minutes before it dropped down below that lower cloud deck hugging the mountains. It moved so fast.
And so that moon marked the beginning of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. An endeavor that challenges men and women of all ages, cultures, languages, financial status, and backgrounds to ten days of rigor in the Arabian Desert, all for one reason; answering the call of God to come and visit the Ancient House, to stand there on a desert plain and seek Divine forgiveness and mercy. Not everyone can go at the same time. Physically Mecca could not hold the entire Muslim population on the planet. It reaches its bursting point at just about 2 million people! And yet, Muslims will intend to go all their lives until they finally get the chance, never giving up year after year as they save what they can to afford the trip. Some will make it when they are young if they are fortunate, others will wait a lifetime and only make it there in old age. Nonetheless, once there they strive to accomplish the rites irrespective of the challenges and again never giving up until they complete the rites or die trying! Having gone myself and experienced it first hand, it is an awe inspiring event that has no equal in all the world.
The reward always comes at the end, and it is a sweet reward, made even sweeter when one arrives knowing that they did not give up.
May God accept the pilgrimage of all the pilgrims there in Mecca this year!
Till next time, Peace to you All!
Posted on Jul 18, 2015
So yesterday afternoon I ventured out as I do every month to sight the new crescent. I lead a group of students from Zaytuna College up to the Lawrence Hall of Science on the U.C. Berkeley Campus with the hopes of leading a lesson on moon sighting and to sight the moon. Unfortunately fog blew in off the bay and washed over the observation deck at the hall of science. Texts had started to arrive from one group that I normally lead in the Santa Cruz mountains that they did not see the moon. Likewise world wide. However, before we even drove down the hill the confusion erupted. Multiple sightings from California, and even in the Bay Area, were being reported and accepted to commence Eid Al-Fitr. Well, you can read about some of what transpired last night in my previous post.
I went out this afternoon with my intrepid photo assistants and with a few more stalwarts who were not convinced by last nights claims. I decided to take a series of photos from the onset of sunset until the moon was sighted. I have included three of the over 45 photos I made in the span of about 30 minutes while we were out there watching the moon progress towards the horizon.
The moon this evening was 47 hours and 14 minutes old. Well beyond the necessary 18 hours. It had a lag time of 58 minutes. A true first day crescent moon can be in the sky for up to 90 minutes past sunset and it is still considered a first day moon. The elongation was 24.2°, double what is needed for an easy to sight moon. The percent illumination was 4.4%, four times that needed for an easy to sight moon. And finally the altitude above the horizon was 10.25°, again double what is needed for a easy to sight moon.
One very neat way of taking measurements of the moon in the sky is to use your hands to make the measurements of objects in the sky, like stars, planets and the moon. This small graphic should help.
Using these hand guides, the moon should have appeared about a hand span (or a fist span as shown) up from the horizon at the time of sunset. With 58 minutes of lag, the moon should reach its highest contrast at about 26 minutes after sunset. And sure enough, the moon sat on top of our fist when the bottom of the fist was placed on the horizon line when we first saw it.
So here is a portion of the series of photos I made earlier this evening.
1. Just after the sun set.
2. Some time after sunset and after the moon entered the clouds.
3. The Shawwal crescent then emerged from the clouds with about 30 minutes left before setting, and was joined by both Venus and Jupiter. Forming a pseudo smiling face in the sky ushering in an Eid Sa’eed (Happy Eid)!
This is what a new moon looks like. If you did not see this yesterday then you did not see the new crescent moon. It did not flop over, nor did it flatten out. It did not suddenly get shiny, nor did it rise up in the sky. The new moon emerges slowly. Dim at first and then slowly becomes more pronounced as the evening wanes. It maintains its orientation and only changes its orientation over the seasons. And as the night comes in, the new moon sinks towards the horizon, following the one thing that helps it shine, the sun. Yes the new moon sets in the west, just like the sun.
The seeking out of the new crescent moon is a rewarding activity. Standing out there looking at that small sliver of light is medicine for the soul. Its a reconnection with the Creator of all things and it teaches us patience.
I wish everyone a Happy Eid Al-Fitr and Peace!
Posted on Jul 17, 2015
Yesterday, July 16th, was the 29th day of Ramadan in the Islamic year 1436, or common era year of 2015. It was a day of great anticipation. Will we see the moon and end the fast or will it go on for another day? This Ramadan started without any contention at all! It was a refreshing respite from all the drama that is usually associated with the starts and stops of the Islamic months due to the confusion about seeing the new crescent moon. But as far as I could tell, the entire Muslim world began fasting on the same day! One week into the month, I started looking forward to the end of the month not to determine the if the moon would be seen or not, but to get a handle on if we would face a chaotic evening of chasing down errant reports all over the world. I researched two primary topics: crescent visibility probability curves and weather history.
The probability curves for July 16th are shown below. How they are generated is a topic on its own and is based on regression models and requires oodles of data from past sightings. The more data you have the more accurate the curves will predict the probability of seeing the new crescent. The curves are broken down into various regions shown by the different colors indicating how easy it will be to see the crescent. Zone A: easily visible to the unaided eye, Zone B: visible under perfect atmospheric conditions, Zone C: visible to the unaided eye after found with optical aide, Zone D: only visible with binoculars or conventional telescopes, Zone E: not visible with conventional telescopes, Zone F: below Danjon Limit (7°). Click on the image for a larger view.
Now before I go on let me qualify something. I started sighting the moon over 20 years ago. I have gone to look for it every month. I have seen many moons. The majority of those 20 years of sighting were made with no prior astronomical or probability prediction knowledge. I would always just based the sighting day 29 days later from the previous day I saw the moon. That is all one needs to know.
However over those years one gets to know what the moon looks like, where it will be in the sky in any given season, what orientation the moon will have and so on. Slowly as crescent moon sighting became more contentious I began to bolster my empirical knowledge with astronomical and probabilistic tools. I also started to teach astronomy, first at the elementary public school level and slowly moving up to higher levels until now at the college level. Now coupling both the 20 years of empirical knowledge and with some science it is not difficult to predict if the crescent will be seen, especially in one’s own locality.
So as I looked into where the moon might be seen yesterday what I noticed was that the best place on the planet was out in the South Pacific. Should not be a problem, no one lives on the water. However South America could have reports. In the last several years we have had some very strange and unverifiable reports coming from the south especially from Chile. But most of South America was in the Zone B, and given perfect atmospheric conditions – meaning the skies needed to be totally clear we very well could receive reports from there. So I looked into the weather history of the region in Chile where we have some contacts that have given us reports in the past.
In the month of July South America is in the midst of winter and in Chile 67% of the month of July is under cloudy and overcast skies. I did not think a report from Chile would come in this year. However, yesterday evening, Chile had clear skies! The interesting result is that Chile had a negative sighting as well as all of South America, except for one report coming out of Bogota, Columbia, and that sighting was with a high-powered telescope.
Why is that important? For one it was made with a telescope and that does not constitute a valid sighting according to Islamic Law. Second it was a high-powered telescope. Why? If you look at the lunar age of the moon in the best location in Zone A it is only 23.11 hours past conjunction. And in Zone B, where the telescope sighting was made it was only 19.03 hours old past conjunction. Conjunction is the instant of the birth of the new moon.
A 23 hour old moon is very difficult to see by the unaided eye, if at all. Here is just such a moon from ten years ago. The Islamic month was Rajab, and it took place on August 5th, 2005, almost ten years ago to the month. Click on the image to see it in full.
Last night, the contentions for the sightings did not come from where we expected them, South America. They cropped up from my own backyard here in the San Francisco Bay Area and a couple other places in California. In California, the age of the moon was roughly 24.8 hours old. Not much older than the moon shown in the photo above. In San Diego, it was 24.35 hours old. In San Francisco, 24.88 hours old. In the middle of the state 24.82 hours old. This time of the year, the orientation of the crescent is as shown in the photo. The limbs should run from about 2:00 to about 7:00 o’Clock on the clock dial. This orientation of the moon’s limbs changes through the seasons. In the summer and winter it is oriented as shown in the photo, with some slight variations, while in the spring the lit portion is on the bottom and the limbs point upwards and in autumn a bit more steeper running from 1 o’Clock to about 6 o’Clock. This is important as we will see below, so keep this in mind.
The sighting curves are based on five parameters that need to be met in order for the moon to be seen easily by the unaided eye. Those parameters are, age of the moon beyond conjunction, the time between sunset and moonset (known as the lag time), the elongation (a geometric orientation of the Earth, Moon and Sun past conjunction), the % illumination of the moon and the altitude of the moon at sunset above the horizon. The criteria for sighting a moon with the unaided eye are as follows:
Age: 18 hours
Lag time: 40 minutes
% Illumination: 1%
Let me further qualify what these values indicate. Neither one is more important than another. The probability of the moon’s visibility cannot be determined by just one or two of these parameters. Each parameter needs to be met. The values given here are the absolute minimum values that are needed for the moon to be seen by the unaided eye. Now just because the age of the moon is greater than the minimum 18 hours will not alone make it visible, especially if for example the lag time is less than the 40 minutes. Likewise, if the moon’s age was, for example, 28 hours old, but the lag time was say 15 minutes or that altitude was only 2°, the moon will still not be seen by the unaided eye, or it will be very difficult at best.
The conditions for the moon shown above from 10 years ago were:
Age: 23.5 hours
Lag time: 46 minutes
% Illumination: 1%
With 4 out of the 5 criteria met, and the 5th, elongation, very close, I still could not see this moon with my unaided eyes. How then did I get this photo you ask? I had a general idea of where the moon should have been in the sky and I pointed my camera lens in that area and tripped the shutter. I actually made several photos panning the sky making sure I had sufficient overlap. I was amazingly surprised to have caught the moon in the photo!
Yesterday in the SF Bay Area, in the same location as where the Rajab photo of 2005 was made, the moon had the following conditions:
Age: 24.85 hours
Lag time: 20 minutes
% Illumination: 1.3%
Yesterday’s moon only meets 3 out of the 5 criteria. The above pictured moon met 4 out of 5 and was still not visible with the unaided eye. I am not sure how yesterday’s moon was seen. In the areas where the moon was claimed to have been seen, the same 3 out of 5 criteria as well were met.
Here is the interesting result. In Chile, where it could have been seen, the criteria were:
Age: 20 hours
Lag time: 46 minutes
% Illumination: 0.9%
3 of the 5 criteria were met and the other two were very close to meeting the limits, and yet it was not seen!
What is more concerning is that the majority of the reports that we obtained by speaking directly to the claimants, did not describe the moon as the moon seen above in the photo of what a moon of this season and timing should look like. One description given was a line that was flatter, oriented more towards the bottom with limbs more like 4 o’Clock to 7 o’Clock. Two of the reports said that what they saw suddenly became very bright and shiny when they saw it.
All the of the claimants giving reports mentioned that they saw it very shortly after the sun set, within 2 to 7 minutes after sunset. One of the claimants, reported that what he and his group saw appeared before the sun set. Before sun set!
The first question that needs to be asked is does a person engaged in sighting the moon need to versed in astronomy and in particular the details related to the moon? The answer is no. I did not have that knowledge when I first started looking for the moon, but with experience these particulars become second nature. Having knowledge about what the moon looks like in the sky, where in the sky it will appear, and its orientation will serve the seeker in not making erroneous sightings. Any person can become a skilled moonsighter whether they are an upright Muslim or not. The character of an upright Muslim is not a shield that prevents erroneous sightings from being made. At the same time an erroneous sighting made by an upright Muslim does not in any way imply anything about the person’s character. Inexperience and ignorance of the details about the nature of the moon is what brings about the erroneous reports but does not put the person’s character in question.
Moving on, the optimal time of crescent visibility on the evening of a new moon occurs when the the contrast between the moon and the evening sky reaches its maximum. Two things need to happen for this maximum contrast to occur. First, the sky needs to darken and at the same time as the sky darkens, the moon starts to brighten. Maximum contrast takes place at 4/9ths of the lag time. That is, the lag time is taken and divided into 9 parts. Then adding 4 of those parts will indicate when the best viewing time occurs. Last night here in California, with lag times of 20 minutes, 4/9ths amounts to 8 minutes and 53 seconds after sunset. And for an easily seen moon, with a lag time of 40 minutes this amounts to 17 minutes and 45 seconds. So, one would need almost 18 minutes for the moon to reach the optimal contrast in the sky for a moon that is easily seen by the unaided eye. Last night, the moon only had a lag time just slightly longer than the optimal time. Far from ideal. At 2 to 7 minutes after sunset, the sky would be so bright and the crescent so dim, that it is nearly invisible at that time. And before sunset, if the sun itself does not blind the eyes, its brightness will certainly limit anything you can see in the sky near the sun.
We live in a time in which our skies are filled with many flying objects. Objects that did not exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and not for more than 1000 years after His time. Those flying objects leave many traces in the sky that can easily be misconstrued as the crescent moon to the inexperienced and unskilled seeker of the moon. Here is a link to a small gallery of photos of just such traces that can easily be mistaken for the moon. And in fact, many times when interviewing claimants, these are the exact items that they describe to us. Here is the link
I do not know what those claimants saw on Thursday evening. I am not accusing anyone of anything. They saw what they saw and they reported it as such. They were honest and sincere, and may they be rewarded accordingly by our Creator.
What concerned me in this whole affair is why were their reports not examined with more scrutiny by those who were charged with making a decision about breaking the fast? There were more details involved than I have mentioned that needed to be addressed. I and another friend working with me did. Before we even had spoken to half those claimants who had a report, the decision to break the fast, based simply on that those reports were made, had already been made by most mosques and organizations. Confusion was rampant all night long.
So what happened last night? I am not entirely sure. I was content and certain the moon had not been seen. My Ramadan did not end last night. I was not even going to voice my concerns as over the years I have learned this only stirs the drama pot and makes things worse. That was until I saw this…
This is, in a sad and hilarious way, what I feel is happening. My pressing question though is, the Minions of Who? Minions of the One Eye, the Nafs…Who?
Later tonight I will be heading out once more to seek out the new moon. I will of course be photographing it and it will, insha Allah (God willing) be posted here on Organic Light Pan.
I wish everyone, and I mean everyone, a most Blessed Eid, filled with love, laughter, family, friends and joy, and may you receive all the rewards of fasting the month of Ramadan. May our Creator forgive us all for our mistakes and trespasses and bring our hearts together in love and brotherhood and sisterhood.
To all, Eid Mubarak and Peace!
Posted on Jul 01, 2015
The delinquent photographer is back again. Hey, this time its only been 3 months! Anyway, this evening Venus and Jupiter were aligned with each other in the evening sky after sunset and for about two and a half hours they could be seen hanging over the western horizon. I thought it was an fairly unique occurrence and decided to photograph them.
I pulled out the Nikon D2x and the 400mm f/5.6 lens that I use to photograph the moon each month. I made the first photo at an ISO setting of 100 which required an 8 second exposure. I knew that was too long but wanted to see how much blur resulted in the photo. It was pretty bad. I raised the ISO setting several stops to bring the exposure time to 1 sec, the maximum that I can use for celestial objects with this lens. The resulting photo is below.
On the outset, other than Venus, the lower brighter orb, and Jupiter being so close together its not that interesting of a photo. However if you look closely at Jupiter you’ll see some other small lights next to it. That puzzled me for a moment as I looked at the camera’s LCD screen while zoomed in on Jupiter. Then I realized those must be the moons of Jupiter! A quick look at the StarMap application on my phone and it was confirmed those indeed were the moons of Jupiter. How in the world did this camera, with sensor technology that is at least 10 years old, capture them!
So to highlight those moons, I created an enlarged composite of Venus, Jupiter and Jupiter’s moons, which happen to be Ganymede (upper left), followed by Europa, Io and Castillo (lower right). Click on the image to see an enlarged view.
If you missed today’s rendezvous of Venus and Jupiter, then don’t worry, the will be together for the next several evenings as Jupiter passes Venus moving from the upper left to the lower right.
I apologize for my lack of posts, but I have been busy at work on some new custom equipment that will allow me to photograph the milky way using my 4×5 camera. I should have it done and working by the end of summer, and expect some interesting work appearing here in the Autumn. Until then, I will try to post more often.
Peace to all.