Sparks Of Light – 11/22/17

Look up
Look down

Look Down

Look all around
And miracles can be found.

Layers

Even in a leaf 
No longer in The Crown 

Miracle

Now adorns the lowly ground.

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Blue Is Peace

New Crescent of Rabi Al-Awwal

Blue Is Peace

Color is a fascinating subject to study.  Apart from the physics of light itself and the wave lengths of the various colors that we can see, colors have a profound psychological effect on us.  Blue is an interesting color in that it can effect us in many positive ways.  Blue is a color that suggests peace. It’s the color of the calm sea and the clear sky, both of which are linked to inner serenity, calm and clarity. Blue was also shown to slow heart rate and breathing, so it can be a good color to aid in meditation or relaxation. Blue is associated with intelligence. It has been proven that different shades of blue can improve concentration, stimulate thinking and provide mental clarity. It also improves productivity. This is a good color for study and work, as it offers relaxation and stimulation at the same time.  Blue is a color that is linked with confidence. Unlike red, which shows aggressive dominance, blue is related to a calm authority. Blue inspires trust, it is non-threatening and shows persistence.

Blue inspires many of the characteristic qualities of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.  I found it interesting that this month the moon came in with the color of blue, in the Month of the birth of the Prophet.  If there was one thing the Prophet came to spread in this world it was Peace.  If there is one thing that we need more than anything else in our modern world it is peace.  From mass shootings perpetrated by those who have become totally unhinged from reality to sexual assaults on our youth by depraved and debauched individuals to attacks on our security both physically and identity, our world is in chaos and turmoil.  

So in this month of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Rabi Al-Awwal, let’s honor him by carrying the torch of his mission of spreading peace, by doing the same.  For he, peace be upon him, said, “Spread Peace, Feed people food, and pray in the night while others are sleeping and you will enter into paradise”.  In this next month, Go around and just say “Peace To You” to those you meet and let them know that as a Muslim, you are committed to spreading peace in the world.  Maybe, just maybe, we can succeed in bringing peace to a troubled world.

Til next time, Peace to you all!

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The Secret Life of The Moon

Did you see this last evening after sunset?  If I was a betting man, I would bet that most people on this planet did not see it, in fact I would be willing to bet most did not even know that this fine crescent was something that was even visible, or that it cycles.  This is not an uncommon occurrence, it happens every month and has been doing so probably longer than humans have been around, and will continue to do so far after we cease to exist.

Unseen Beauty

The moon goes through its monthly journey around the Earth, for the most part, completely unnoticed.  It does not appear with great fanfare or make some big announcement that it is about to appear.  It is one of the most beautiful objects in our sky.  It’s subtle.  It illuminates our nights with its moonshine.  It is our celestial clock, and knowing its phase as well as knowing where it is among the zodiac will tell us the time of the year.  When I look at the moon I only see beauty.  And even though it is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is also understood that beauty is universally recognized.  One hallmark of beauty, according to James Thurber, is that “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention”.  If you ponder upon this statement for a while I think you will come to the conclusion that the moon is certainly one of those things, and as it runs through it’s secret life, it does allow us to see it’s beauty, if we are willing to look.

Until next time, 

Peace!

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Totally Awesome

The total solar eclipse on Monday August 21st, 2017 was an incredible thing to witness. From the slow and steady progression of the partial phases, to seeing the moon totally obscure the sun and the land going dark, to seeing the corona and the diamond just as totality ended, to the throngs of viewers who came out to watch, it was in all aspects totally awesome!

I have finally finished processing my photos of the eclipse and I am sharing them below. I will further write a more contemplative reflection in the days to come so stay tuned. For the meantime enjoy…

A time lapse composite showing several partial phases and the famed diamond ring phenomenon. 

Prominence – Time Lapse Composite with the famed Diamond Ring Effect

A more accurate orientation of how the sun and moon moved in relation to one another.  The sun in this composite photo is moving from the bottom left corner to the upper right as it climbed in the morning sky, while the moon was moving from the upper right to the lower left corners as it was passing through its descending node of its orbit (more on that later), and the two met in the middle.  Just before they parted ways the Diamond Ring effect happens as shown in the middle.  All that glitters is not just gold.

All That Glitters. (time progression from bottom left to upper right)

The crowning photo (pun intended) is of the Corona during totality.  It was the processing of this photo that caused my delay in presenting these to you.  I made dozens of exposures of the totality in an attempt to capture detail in all parts of the corona itself.  Eight separate exposures were combined through a variety of digital imaging techniques to bring out the detail throughout the corona and produce an image that to my eyes looks as close to what I recall seeing at the time when totality took place.  The moon wearing the crown of the sun, completely overshadows the now lowly star Regulus, “The Little King” as it is known, hanging out just below and to the left of the union in total awe like the rest of us.

Wearing The Crown

You may click on the images above to see larger versions.  If you would like to see these photographs in person, I will be showing them at the Campbell’s Farmers Market on Sundays in downtown Campbell.  Please come by if you are a local!

Till later, please enjoy the photos and let me know what you think.

Peace to all!

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Hajj Begins

On Tuesday August 22, 2017 the new crescent moon, now devoid of the crown it wore just a day before while it was in union with the sun, appeared quietly above the horizon.  It is a special moon, marking the beginning of the Hajj or Pilgrimage to Mecca for the world Muslim community.  As I write, millions of people from all nationalities, races, ages, social and economic status the world round are making their way towards Mecca on foot, on animal, by car, boat or plane.  Seeking one goal.  Heeding the call of the Creator and hoping for His Mercy and Forgiveness.  A spectacle unlike any other in the world.

Dhul Hijjah, 1438

May all the Pilgrims have a blessed and accepted Pilgrimage.  And if any of you are going and are reading this, please keep me and my family in your prayers!

Peace to you all!

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Crescent Moon of Shawwal 1437 Sighted in Bay Area

The new crescent moon of Shawwal 1437 (2016) has been sighted in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Check Crescent Watch for up to date information.
Eid Mubarak!

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Freedom From Fire

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!

Freedom?

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.

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To Be Clear…

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.

Diagram showing Geocentric and Topocentric altitude.

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.

Measuring the Width of the Crescent

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.

Elongation Diagram

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.

Initial Photo with Blurred Moon, 8:58 pm PDT

Photo used on June 5th post, 8:58 pm PDT

Third photo made on June 5th, 9:00 pm PDT

Fourth and final photo of June 5th; 9:03 pm PDT

 

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!

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A Moon So Fine!

Ramadan Mubarak!

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.

A Fine Moon

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.

Ramadan Mubarak!

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Ramadan 1437 Moon Sighted – Bay Area

The new crescent moon of Ramadan 1437 (2016) has been sighted in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Details and photos to follow shortly.  Check Crescent Watch for up to date information.
Ramadan Mubarak!

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