Archive for the 'Inspirations' Category

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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Here We Go Again

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!

Peek-a-Boo

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!

Shabaan and Hyadum I

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.

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Never Give Up!

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.

Never Give Up!

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!

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This Beginning is Real

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.

Measuring Distances In The Sky

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.

Shawwal After Sunset

2. Some time after sunset and after the moon entered the clouds.

Shawwal Crescent in 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)!

 

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!

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Something Unexpected

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.

Venus, Jupiter and Moons?

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.

Composite photo highlighting the moons of Jupiter

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.

 

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Conjunction Junction…..

….What’s Your Function?

That is the opening line of a little musical cartoon I remember growing up with that taught grammar through songs, as well as other elementary school topics like math and history.  The series was called School House Rock and could be found today on DVD as well as being online.

This past Thursday an event took place in our skies that goes by that very name, a conjunction.  In this case it was the coming together of the Sun and Moon.  As a matter of fact, the Sun and Moon enter into conjunction every 29.5 days.  When referring to the Sun and Moon, conjunction occurs when the centers of the Sun, Moon and Earth are all in line with regards to the plane of the Ecliptic, that plane that defines the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.  Even though conjunction occurs every ‘month’, the Moon might not be on the Ecliptic and so the conjunction goes unnoticed.  A day or so after conjunction, we see evidence of its occurrence with the appearance of the new crescent Moon, which you will find many fine examples on this site.

Then there are those times when all three bodies are on or sufficiently close to being on the Ecliptic and in such a case a solar eclipse results.  On this past Thursday just such an event took place.  The moon was only approximately 0.5° above the Ecliptic and because of that, as conjunction approached, the Moon began to obscure the sun from our view, essentially casting a shadow on the surface of the Earth, and dimming the sunlight.  Thursday’s eclipse was a partial solar eclipse with about 50% of the sun obscured.  This photo below was made near the peak of the eclipse.

Partial Solar Eclipse of October 23rd, 2014

Conjunction Junction

One of the more striking features of this eclipse is the huge sun spot nearly in the middle of the sun.  This sun spot, AR 2192 is nearly the size of Jupiter and emits huge solar flares and other intensely high energy particles.  Other smaller sun spots can also be seen in this photo.

It is remarkable to see such events in our sky.  Being the scientist that I am and having studied the motions of the heavenly bodies in no way diminishes the wonder, exhilaration and awe that is felt when witnessing such an event.  Being the man of faith that I am and having studied the theology of my faith as well, only further reaffirms how great our Creator is in creating and sustaining such a perfect universe and has given us the faculties of thought, reasoning and measure, that we can predict with exact precision when these truly Divine moments will occur.  With that foreknowledge we can bear witness to the greatness of God not just because such an event occurs, nor that we can predict when it will occur, but because it is an act of God.  Such an event happens because the Creator is just that, the event is created into existence, it is perpetuated through time by its creation, annihilation and recreation at every instance. At one moment it is as shown above and then it is destroyed and then recreated spatially and temporally in a new configuration, but done so at an unfathomable speed that it is not only unnoticeable to us, but also immeasurable.  What we perceive as an analog universe, is in reality universe that is in existence one moment and then nonexistent and then existent once again repeating ad infinitum until the Creator decides that something no longer needs to exist and then it just ceases to be recreated and likewise can bring something into existence through creation that an instant ago did not exist and perpetuated forward.  Phew, enough mind bending for one day.

What is the function of this Conjunction?

Well I know my answer, what is your answer?  Leave it below as a comment.

Until next time, Peace to all.

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From Darkness…

..And into the Light.

That is how the moon appears.

Dhul Hijjah Crescent 1435

It emerges from apparently nowhere and appears before our eyes basking in the light of the sun and guiding us on our journey through time.  We stand under it on this evening in submission and hearing the call to return to the Ancient House, where so many have returned over the millenia.  For those able, the journey of a lifetime begins and will culminate cleansed and given the chance to start anew, freed from the darkness of the self and allowed to enter into the Light of the Divine.

Safe travels and Godspeed, Oh Guests of the Compassionate.  Do not forget us in your prayers.  May your sacrifice be accepted.

For those of us who stay behind, get busy; for the best ten nights of the year start now.

Peace to All.

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In Awe Of Light

It has been about two weeks since I stood there on top of the highest mountain in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mount Hamilton.  In the last couple of months I have been up there three times.  Twice in the evenings after sunset as a visitor to the Lick Observatory.  In the summer the observatory has a great program with lectures and they open up two of the many telescopes and give normal folks like us the chance to look deep into the  universe to see the past.  My third trip was for the rising of this full moon.  It was dubbed a “Super Moon” because it was a full moon at perigee.  Perigee is the point in the moon’s orbit where it is closest to the Earth.  This causes the moon to appear larger than normal, for this moon it was 14% larger than normal.

Super Duper!

The light that evening was subtle.  It is that kind of light that I think is very awe inspiring because it forces us to look at the essence of objects rather than the flash and glitz that comes with bright and saturated colorful light.  Most people do not give this subtle light a second glance let alone really looking.

Further, with such an event as the “Super Moon” where many people world round go out with the intent of photographing it, the moon goes unnoticed.  The hype that surrounds the “Super Moon” is just that, Hype.  When you see a full moon rising it is usually quite dim as it pops out above the horizon shrouded in haze and pollution.  It is lack luster and even that evening it came up fairly unnoticed.  As I stood there on the mountain there might have been about 4 or 5 other people there as well trying to photograph it, and had I not said out loud “There it is!” most might have missed its rising.

For me however the sad part of the story is that no more than 10 minutes after it rose, it ducked behind a cloud bank and we list it for about 20 minutes.  Once it did reappear, it was to bright and the sky was too dark to make any decent photos with it and the Earth.

In a few short days I will be going out again for the new moon, something even fewer people notice.  What is so enticing about all this?  The light.  It simply amazes me how light can travel so far so quickly bringing information from these distant objects about what they are.  Light is all around us.  We are engulfed in it all the time and yet we rarely realize it because it is invisible until some of it goes into our eyes.  Why those particular photos went in and not some others is a question that has no real answer.  But I do know that none were for no reason. Every photon zipping through the universe that end up in your eyes were destined for your eyes and your eyes alone.  No other eye in the universe will “see” the photons you see and as soon as you see them they vanish forever.  Now that is awesome.

Till next time, Peace.

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The Joy of Fasting

Years ago I heard a fabulous Hadith, a tradition from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing s of God upon him.

Abu Hurairah (May God be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of God upon him) said: “Every deed of the son of Adam will be multiplied, a Hasanah (a good deed) will be multiplied to ten its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, said: ‘Except fasting. It is for Me and I shall reward for it. He gives up his desires and his food for my sake.’ The fasting person will have two moments of joy: Joy when he breaks his fast, and joy when he meets his Lord. And indeed the smell of his mouth is better to Allah than the fragrance of musk.” [The Book of Fasting: Sahih Muslim]

Today I experienced this first moment of joy when I broke my fast.  I was not particularly hungry or thirsty, but a little run down and tired.  However when I bit into that date my mouth danced!  And when I drank that cool water, my throat was beyond what words could explain.  A smile came across my face and I was so happy.  Not that I broke my fast, but that I was experiencing what God said would be one of the two moments of joy.  I can’t even imagine what the other must be like for the fasters.

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Here is Ramadan!

Last night we ventured out in search of the new crescent moon, not just my team and I, but countless number of Muslims all over the world.  There was not a single verifiable positive naked eye sighting.  Yesterday was the 29th day of Shabaan. Today it was the 30th and final day of Shabaan with no other option than to start Ramadan tomorrow.

While many people devised an abstract construct to signify the start of the months in the Islamic Lunar calendar, nothing can be as simple and beautiful as going out to search for the new crescent moon.  The sight of the new moon has significant spiritual value for the heart.  By its vision it ingrains in the heart a firm certainty that serves as the foundation for actions that make up the worship of the One who created us.  Through that certainty our hearts find ease, calm and peace and dispells difficulty, angst and chaos.

The need to go out once again to search for the moon on the 30th day is redundant, but to help those who still might question whether they should have fasted today or not and did not go out to settle their own hearts, I hope this photo will settle it.

Ramadan Crescent Moon

Ramadan 1435

Ramadan is a wonderful time where we are given the opportunity to look at our selves in its mirror and see our shortcomings and work towards making ourselves better.  Its an exercise in self-discipline and fortitude, a time for reflection and contemplation, and a means for forgiveness and salvation.  Welcome this month with open arms, grasp onto it and garner as much benefit from it as you can before it moves on.

Ramadan Mubarak and Peace to All!

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