Archive for the 'Inspirations' Category

The Year That Had No Hajj…Almost

This evening I went out to seek the new crescent moon of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar and the moon that marks the beginning of the Hajj – the Pilgrimage embarked on by Muslims around the world to the Sacred Ancient House, the Kaba, in Mecca.

As I stood there looking into the sky the crescent appeared all alone in the sky, a sky that was void of any other thing, not even the colors of sunset really accompanied this moon. It was somewhat underwhelming.

Crescent moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
All Alone

Normally seeing the new moon brings me much joy. However today I was a little sad. The emergence of this evening’s moon brought in the Islamic month known as Dhul Hijjah, or the possessor of the Hajj, because it is in this 12th month of the Islamic calendar that the Hajj takes place. However this year, because of the global pandemic of COVID-19, the authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the caretakers of the sacred mosque in Mecca decided that it would more prudent to limit the number of pilgrims allowed to make the Hajj this year. In fact, they closed the Hajj to anyone not residing in Saudi Arabia and are limiting the number of pilgrims to only a few thousand.

For Muslims, the Hajj is the fifth pillar of the religion and is an obligation on all able-bodied adults who have the physical health and the financial ability to make the journey. Depending on where in the world a person lives, it is a once in a lifetime trip and some will save for decades before making the journey. I was greatly saddened to hear that the authorities were not granting any Hajj visas this year. But the reason for doing so was well justified. Annually, between 1.5 to 2 million pilgrims will congregate in Mecca and the surrounding area to fulfill the rites of the Hajj. Illness during the Hajj is not foreign and it is expected that one will come down with some type of illness during or afterward. I became very ill immediately after I made the pilgrimage as well as most of my friends that traveled with me. We all had a high fever and chills, followed by severe respiratory infection in the sinuses and lungs. I was ill for almost two weeks. A few of my companions needed to go to the hospital there in Suadi Arabia before we traveled back home. I shudder to think of what might occur if 2 million pilgrims were to contract COVID-19 during the Hajj and then travel back to where they came from. The pandemic might become something that could decimate millions around the world.

So while we might have not been able to visit the Sacred Ancient House, those few Guests of the Compassionate, as the pilgrims are known, will have to carry that community-wide communal obligation for the rest of the world population of the Muslims who will not be making the trip. And while we might be prevented from making Hajj and will probably have to celebrate the Holiday of Sacrifice alone due to social distancing guidelines, we are not alone in spirit.

Crescent Moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
Not Alone At All

While we may look up at the moon and think that it is all alone, it looks back down, if it could, and it sees all of us below here on earth, as well as all the trees, mountains, oceans, and animals and together we all glorify our Creator, the Most Compassionate. So this year, in ten days, when the Holiday of Sacrifice is upon us, know that the small sacrifice that we have to make as we socially distance ourselves for the protection of all humanity in trying to quell the spread of this virus that has turned our lives upside down, that it is not an insignificant sacrifice at all.

With that, I wish to all those who will be performing the Hajj this year a blessed and accepted Hajj, and to all the rest an early greeting of Eid Mubarak!

Till next time, stay safe, stay well, protect yourselves and your fellow neighbors and community. Peace to you all!

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New Wisdom from an Old Soul

On March 27, 2020, a new comet was discovered. It was the third comet discovered in the year 2020, however the first two comets, SWAIN and ATLAS, disintegrated as they approached the sun. As this third comet approached, hopes were that this comet just might make its transit around the sun intact, and sure enough it did.

On July 5th the comet, now designated as C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, reached perihelion, the closest point to the sun along its path and given the dynamics of how comets become visible, reached its peak brightness, a brightness level high enough that the comet became a naked eye object. From that point on the comet will be moving away from the sun, losing brightness, and on or near July 13th, it will make its closest pass by Earth.

c/2020 F3 NEOWISE
C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at first sighting 4:40am, July 10, 2020.

On July 10, in the predawn hours I ventured out in the hopes of seeing and photographing C/2020 F3 NEOWISE. As I stood out there in the dark scanning the horizon and checking my notes on where the comet was supposed to appear and then scanning the horizon again I started to wonder if I would see it at all. Suddenly I look up and see the comet’s tail has appeared above the horizon and slowly grew in intensity and breadth. It was awe inspiring seeing something made of ice glowing in the night sky.

As a frozen chunk of matter approaches the sun, the ice start to sublimate into a gas and the radiation and heat from the sun causes the gas to start glowing. A comet’s journey begins from as far off as the Kuiper Belt or even further from the Oort Cloud, the physical limit of where the gravity from the sun ceases to be effective in holding anything in orbit. The journey is fraught with peril as along the traverse through space a comet could end up hitting a planet, or possibly an asteroid and never make it even close enough to start glowing. If it makes it close enough to the sun to start the sublimation process, now it must survive the force of gravity as it accelerates the comet to even greater speeds. This is a crucial time for a comet as it could start breaking up into smaller pieces and just vanish, or it could get pulled directly into the sun and vanish into the all-consuming ball of plasma that is the sun.

I’ve had the good fortune of seeing comets in the night sky before. I witnessed Haley’s Comet the last time it appeared in 1986, as well as Comet Hale-Bopp in 1995 and the Comet Hyakutake in 1996. I even tried to photograph Hyakutake, with little success, as I was only a fledgling photographer then. All three of which I will probably never seen again in my lifetime. So when I learned about comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, I thought I had better make an attempt to capture it. I think what struck me first was how odd its name was given all the other comets I had seen had names associated with either the astronomer(s) who first witnessed it, predicted its arrival or studied its orbit. I think the most intriguing part of the name is NEOWISE, I thought what could it mean? Well, today the modern naming convention is based on what observing telescope was used to first observe the comet. Therefore comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE was first discovered using the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The first letter of each word in this instrument’s name makes up the acronym NEOWISE. The F3 indicates that it was first seen in the second half of the month of March. Each month of the year is broken down into two halves. The letters A-H and J-Y are then distributed among the months. The month of March has the letters E and F, E for the first half of the month and F for the second half. Next is the ‘3’ in F3. This number indicates the that he comet in question was the 3rd comet discovered in the given year. Next, the year is part of the designation, in this case 2020 since this comet was first seen this year. Finally the C designates that this near earth object is a comet.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at 4:52 am on July 10, 2020

This comet will probably never be seen from Earth ever again. It is an ancient traveler from deep space. Its approach orbit was on the order of 4500 years and its outbound orbit on the order of 6800 years in an almost perfect parabolic path. It is definitely an old soul. Old souls usually have much to share with those who are younger if they are willing to listen. When I was young, I used to go to a retirement home to help out. I was always transfixed when I would sit with certain people as they told their stories. There was so much to learn, so much life to understand, so many different perspectives. The wisdom of the of the elders is priceless, it can’t be bought, it can’t be stolen, it can only be earned by painstaking patience through life and as each day passes we could only hope that more wisdom is accumulated. However there is one way in which we can attain that wisdom quickly; we can humbly sit at the feet of our elders and listen to what they have say, what life lessons they have learned along their journey, what advice they can give us. Times may changes but people do not. The problems we deal with now are the same perennial problems humanity has faced for its entire existence. In truth, we would have perished as a species on this planet long ago if we did not listen and learn from those who preceded us.

But I digress… So we have in our midst this ancient visitor to our skies. A visitor that is much older than any of us. Does it have any wisdom that it can impart to us? What does it have to say? What has it learned along its multi-millennial journey across the cosmos to meet us now in this most confusing and tumultuous time?

When we look out into the night sky we see darkness, a fathomless dark emptiness. This universe is not very dense at all; most of space is practically empty. On average the density of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is 0.1 neutral hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter! To put it another way, if you had a cup the size of a small Starbucks coffee in space with you, your cup would be holding about 24 hydrogen ATOMS! That is a pretty empty cup. At the same time, your body alone contains over 7*10^27 atoms (that’s a 7 followed by 27 zeros or 7 billion billion billion atoms)! And of all those atoms in your body 2/3 is Hydrogen, 1/4 is Oxygen and 1/10 is Carbon, and the combination of all those make up about 99% of your body. So yeah, space is empty.

However space is not all dark. There are these little twinkling lights, we call them stars, that adorn our night sky and they are ancient as well. Not only do the stars adorn the night sky but they are there as guiding lights in the darkness of night. We as humans have learned from them the skill of navigation, moving from one place to another without getting lost along the way. The stars guide us by the light that they send our way. On the other hand, during the day the stars seem to vanish from our sky. In fact, they are still there however they are eclipsed by the brightness of the sun. The sun is also a star, the closest star to earth and the most important star of all the stars. Without the sun, life on earth would not be possible. The light of the sun is the energy source that literally powers the earth. From its light, plants produce glucose through the process of photosynthesis. The plants in turn feed the majority of creatures on this planet. We too survive off of plants and on some of the other animals that rely on the plants. Likewise, it is from the plants and animals that lived tens of thousands of years ago that have become petroleum deep within the crust of the earth that we now use to fuel the machines of the world and build our infrastructure.

Without the sun, the land would remain cold and dead. When the sun appears over the horizon it starts to warm the land, causing the surrounding air to warm as well and start rising. This rising air in turn creates a pressure differential in the atmosphere that causes wind to start blowing. The blowing wind in turn moves moisture from the oceans and onto the land and as it continues to rise over mountains starts to condense into clouds and from the clouds, life giving rain comes down to the earth to quench the thirst of all that lives on it and enlivens the earth itself, bringing life back to dead land. The light of he sun is truly life giving and one of the greatest blessings we have.

So what does all this have to do with comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE? What wisdom does this ancient traveler have for us? Comets only become visible when they are close enough to the sun to both start sublimating into a gas and start glowing by the light of the sun itself. The tail of a comet always flares out away from the sun, or in other words, the head of the comet, the part of the comet that is still a solid, is always pointing towards the sun. It is as if the comet is pointing in the direction of what gives life, reminding us that life will only thrive in the Light. Life cannot exist in darkness. Of course I do not only mean that light sustains physical life, but light also sustains life metaphorically and spiritually as well.

The year 2020 has so far been fraught with many dark days. We entered in to 2020 with the entire continent of Australia on fire. And then the SARS-CoV-2 virus which emerged in China in 2019 but suddenly started to spread with pandemic proportions throughout the world infecting nearly 13 million and killing more than half a million humans worldwide at the time of this writing. It not only has taken life, but in our attempt to slow the spread, we have shut down both our societies and our economies further exasperating the trials of life on earth. And then, to add insult to injury, civil unrest has broken out in the United States over the oppressive behavior that some of our law enforcement officers have exhibited to the African-American community resulting in mass protests not only in the United States but across the world as well exposing a disease that no vaccine can ever prevent, the disease of racism. All the while the number of infections and deaths continue to rise and the ugly face of racism continues to fester in our communities. The future certainly seems bleak and full of spiritual darkness. What is the cure?

Enter our ancient traveler, comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the old one with new wisdom, well actually, its old wisdom. The cure that NEOWISE is pointing us to is Light! The comet is pointing to the sun, the source of light and life on earth. The sun can be taken as a metaphor. When we look at the sun, what are we actually seeing? Are we seeing the sun, (by the way do not look directly at the sun with your naked eyes, they will be damaged), or are we seeing the light emanating from the sun. In fact we are only seeing the light coming from the sun. And the light from the sun is not the sun, it came from the sun but its not the sun. Just as physical light from the sun can dispel the darkness of space, the Guiding Light of our Creator, who has as one of the 99 Glorious Names, An-Noor, which is Arabic for The Light.

The Light of our Creator is there to guide us to what is good and life giving. From among the guidance that has come to us from our Creator is, by way of the Messenger Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him, to love for your brother what you love for yourself. Or by the way of the Messenger Jesus, peace be upon him, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or by way of the Messenger Moses, peace be upon him, Love your neighbor as yourself. And even outside of the Abrahamic Faiths, we find the same message. In Hinduism we find, one should never do that to another which one regards injurious to one’s own self. In Buddhism we find, hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

No matter where we turn we will find the Golden Rule that has come from the Light of our Creator to guide us to what is good and life giving. We are all human beings, all 7+ billion of us, regardless of the language we speak, the food we eat, the entertainment we enjoy, and most of all the color of our skin. We all desire that same things, good health, full bellies of food, warm clothing, a safe place to rest our heads at night, and the tender embrace of our loved ones. I know that is what I love and I also love those same things for my brothers and sisters, my fellow humans on this planet.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at 5:00 am July 10, 2020 pointing the way to salvation.

So take heed my fellow brothers and sisters. C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has come to point the way back to our salvation, metaphorically pointing to the Light of Guidance from the The Light – to love for your fellow human what you love for yourself. Until next time, may you all find the Guiding Light.

Peace.

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One Million Dollars

Imagine walking along a California beach on a mild mid-spring day. Its mid-morning and the fog is just breaking allowing the gentle rays of sunshine to stream through and you feel its warmth on your skin. As you walk along hand-in-hand with your loving spouse, your children are buzzing around like bees jumping and splashing about in the surf with sudden peals of excitement as they bolt out of the water to avoid a crashing wave, the ocean breeze tickles your cheeks and the aroma of the salty air transports you to a state of calm and tranquility without a care in the world.

Imagine all that, just for a moment.

I did not have to imagine it, because I found myself in just such a state. Would you trade that for a million dollars? Would you trade that state of joy for a million, or any amount of money?

As we walked along on that sun swept beach, I suddenly spy a sand dollar lying there in the surf. The sand dollar is a species of extremely flattened, burrowing sea urchins belonging to the order Clypeasteroida. Their test, the hard skeletal shell that makes up their body, exhibits radial symmetry that is five fold. An amazing example of one of the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence of numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…), appearing in nature. Well it was not long before I found a second and then a third and so on. As we continued to walk along the beach we happened upon a somewhat large depression in the sand. In that depression there were more sand dollars there than I could count. Most were shattered pieces of test. However among the detritus, hundreds of sand dollars of all sizes were found. MOre than I could carry, so out the call went to my assistants and before long we had an impressive collection of sand dollars.

Well, given to the recent fascination with collections of found things on beaches, we arranged the sand dollars and made the fourth installment in the series.

One Million Dollars
One Million Dollars

What are precious family moments worth? What about walks on the beach? The mysterious nature of Fibonacci Numbers and how they appear throughout nature? Could they be replaced with one million dollars? two million? maybe a billion? Could any amount buy you a moment as rich as those spent in the love of family, nature, and the world?

These sand dollars depicted had already succumbed to their natural demise, as is the case with every living thing. But like any echinoderm, the changing environment in the oceans is wreaking havoc among their populations and no amount of money could ever bring them back. We need to think long and hard about what we find valuable in our lives and strive hard to preserve them.

Until next time, Peace.

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Emotive Moon

Every 29 days I can be found somewhere looking into the early evening sky after sunset in search of a tiny sliver of light. I have been doing this so long that it has just become a part of who I am. I have seen many moons and have made photographs that are to many to count. Some were just documentations of the moon and proof that I had seen it. Some have been very colorful as the thin crescent appeared in a fiery sunset, while others have been quite and contemplative.

One thing is for sure though that every time I see and photograph that thin new crescent a feeling of gratitude and joy washes over me. How amazing it is that I have been so fortunate to be a witness of the emergence of the hidden unseen moon into the visual world. One moment the moon is not there in the sky and then suddenly, just in the blink of an eye, it appears!

Rajab 1, 1440
Rajab 1, 1440

However this time around, as I stood there in awe of this moon, I became very excited about the light and how it danced with the moon among the misty clouds of a breaking storm. I continued photographing the moon until it was no longer visible as it slipped behind a thick veil of clouds. It was one of the most evocative moons that I have seen.

Among The Mist
Among the Mist

I was expecting to see the moon on Wednesday March 6th, the 29th day of the previous month. Unfortunately, the first 6 days of March here in the San Francisco bay are were completely cloudy and raining. On that evening, no moon was seen. So I waited one more day. Sighting it was not necessary as the announcement that the month of Rajab would start on Friday March 8th had already been made. No, this month, seeing the new crescent was just for me. On March 7th, the day had been mixed with clouds, passing cloud bursts and the sun peeking out here and there. As I stepped out that evening to search, the sky was cloudy with breaks here and there. It was doubtful that I would see it. As I moved to my sighting location, I searched the sky but no moon was to be found. When I arrived, at the lookout, my foot still had not reached the ground as I stepped out of the car, when my eye caught the sliver dancing in the misty sky among the clouds. It was a wonderful few minutes. Minutes that I wish everyone could experience. Minutes that would cause the people on this world to just be in awe of something greater than themselves. Minutes that just might bring some humility to us creatures that are filled with such hubris.

Go out next month and look for the new crescent moon. It will not be time wasted.

Until next time, Peace.

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Drama-less

It strikes me how calm things are for most of the year when it comes to sighting the moon.   It shows up every month in complete silence in the sky after the sun drops below the horizon.  The winds stop.  The birds go quiet and silence descends upon the earth.  Most months during the year no one even cares about the new moon.  No one calls asking if the moon was seen.  No one calls or sends emails or messages by some means reporting that the moon was seen.  No debates, no arguments, no drama at all.  Its a nice reprieve from that madness, however then my mind starts to wonder why?  Why is no one debating our recent sighting?  Why is no one sending in reports?  Did anyone go out and look for it?  It worries me that this beautiful tradition might be slipping through our collective fingers.

No Fanfare

And yet, with no fanfare, that beautiful sliver of reflected light makes its self known every month and for those who are willing to just go outside and look, it will enamor them.   So, for those lovers of light who might be out there reading this simple and short post, this quiet drama-less photograph of the new crescent moon is for you.  Keep the vigilance and watch out for the next new moon as this month, Rab’i Ath-thaani, winds down.  And may the Beloved, peace be upon him, know that we are still here keeping his traditions alive.  

Until next time, Peace.

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Crisp And Clean Confirms Our Deen

Yesterday, May 15th 2018, was the 29th day of the Islamic month of Sha’baan.  It was the critical day to go out and site the new moon for the month of Ramadan.  Unfortunately, no one saw the crescent moon last evening.  Even more disappointing, was that there was a claim that the moon was seen through a telescope down in Southern California.  The claim was incredulous and by 9 pm last night many organizations had announced that based on no valid sighting reports that Ramadan would start on Thursday May 17th.

Then this evening, after sunset this was the view in the western sky.

New Crescent of Ramadan 1, 1439

Without a doubt what you are seeing in this photo is the first day moon of Ramadan.  And without any doubt I know there will be people who will make the assertion that this is a second day moon.  One only needs to compare this moon too any of the other first day crescent moons on this site like the moon from earlier this year in the article titled Blue Is Peace.  You can compare for yourself and tell me if this evening’s moon is not a first day moon.

New Crescent of Rabi’ Al-Awwal 1, 1439

What is more phenomenal, is that those who claim it to be a second day moon, probably have never gone out to see a new moon in the first place!  The audacity!

Ramadan has finally started.  We begin fasting tomorrow.  Ramadan Mubarak to all my Muslim readers, and Peace to all.

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In The Nick Of Time

Today was the 29th day of the Sacred month of Rajab in the Islamic Calendar. It is the the 7th month in the Islamic year and proceeds the Holy month of Ramadan by two months.  Sighting its new crescent is first in line to accurately determining the start of Ramadan as it sets up the correct sighting day for the 8th month known as Shabaan.  Today was that crucial day for sighting Shabaan.

It was a touch and go day if the new moon of Shabaan would be seen at all.  As the afternoon unfolded for us here on the West Coast, I received reports from further east that the sky was clouded over by other moon sighters.  It was looking grim for us as well.  We had on and off rain all day and as I pulled up to our new sighting location in the Santa Cruz mountains, it was not looking good.

First Sight – Not Looking Good!

My close friend and fellow moonsighter was about 50 or so miles north standing on Mount Tamalpais had much better conditions and I was hoping that at least he would see it.  Here is the sky he had.

Looking Good!

My assistants  standing with me on that wind blown ridge started to lose hope as it started to rain on us.  I took off my jacket and covered the camera on the tripod and said, “we wait it out”.  There is always hope.  The rain slowly subsided.  The clouds started to break and I became even more hopeful, while the others not so much.  Slowly the breaks in the clouds became bigger and then smaller.  Gaps would open and our eyes played tricks on us as we thought we saw it and then not.

The all of a sudden at 8:02 pm PDT my phone rang, it was a text from my friend up north.  He saw the moon with 2 other adult males and one adult female for a total of 4 witnesses.  I was both elated and saddened at the same time as it was starting to look grim for us again.  But we pushed on.  The moon was still in the sky and if we needed to we would stay there until moon set.  We kept searching, the clouds kept passing in and out leaving gaps where we needed to look.  Then my oldest assistant cried out, “I think I see it Allahu Akbar,…No…maybe…I don’t know”.  Then one of my other assistants said the same.  I was still “in the clouds”.

Then both of those assistants cry out “There it is, Allahu Akbar! I see it”.  The other two “Where, where?”  There is confusion as I and the other two tried to find it.  Descriptions were not clear as to where to look.  Then all of a sudden, right in a gap between the clouds, I see it. “Allahu Akbar!!!!”.  I quickly point the camera at it, and I snap off one exposure.  Then I try to point it out to my other two assistants.  While I try to get some more exposures.  The moon sank quickly behind the clouds below it, allowing only one good exposure of the new moon of Shabaan.  We sighted it at 8:07 pm PDT with about an azimuth of 280 degrees and an altitude of just 3 fingers above the horizon.  

Shabaan 1, 1439

Not as artistically placed as usually try to do, but this time I caught that moon just in the nick of time.  In the end we were elated.  We went out and fulfilled our Sunnah of seeing the new crescent moon.  We are taking back this sunnah.  We will not let it be lost.  One month from now, that is in 29 days, count them and go out and look for the the moon of Ramadan and take back the sunnah for yourself.  You will not be disappointed.

Until next time, Shabaan Mubarak and Peace to all!

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The Eye Of Night

Eons ago, light appeared.  It gives us the ability to see.  The light alternates with darkness giving us day and night.  During the day the source of light, a star that is 93 million miles from the Earth, is so strong that we cannot look into it without harming our eyes.  The sun that illuminates our world is not considered a very bright star among the myriad of stars that exist in the universe and yet it is the brightest entity in our sky.

However, as the sun drops below the western horizon at the end of each day the sky that was illumined blue turns dark and then a dazzling display of stars fills the night sky.  For millennia the night sky has piqued the curiosity of humanity as we gazed out into the universe, and it still does the same today.

At any given moment, when looking at the night sky we only see that myriad of stars as points of light.  What we cannot see is that the stars do move across the sky.  Yes, we can tell they move as we see them rise in the east and set in the west hours later.  However, at any given moment they are just fixed points of light, each slightly different from the other in either color, brightness, or twinkle.

We experience light with our eyes. However, as remarkable as our eyes are, they do not have the ability of persistence of vision. Our eyes function more like sieves than buckets. Photons, the tiny particles of light, that enter our eyes will either instantly be absorbed passing the information they hold to our brain if they happen to be photons in the visible range or they are just ignored. In either case the photons do not persist in our eyes as if they were captured in a bucket.

This lack of persistence limits us in seeing the history of motion that objects undergo. While at the same time it is fortunate that our eyes do not have persistence as our vision would be quite cluttered and possibly very confusing.

Yet with the proper tools we can experience the night sky in ways that elucidate it’s phenomenal nature. With technology at hand, we can augment our vision and see things very differently. The camera is that said tool. One might think that the latest and greatest camera would produce the best photos. While that may be true for most types of photos, modern cameras are starting to behave to much like our own eyes in that they start to fail in capturing light that shows persistence. If the camera keeps “looking” too long, then the physical limitations of the light sensor become apparent and the resulting image will be of very poor quality. The solution to the problem lies in older technology: film.

Film has the uncanny ability to work like a light bucket. Exposing film to light for a brief time causes a photo-chemical reaction to take place in the emulsion that is spread on the surface of the film itself. If exposure is continued for longer periods of time more reactions take place until all of the emulsion has reacted and the film goes clear; producing what is called an over-exposure. However, if the source of light used to expose the film is moving during exposure, especially in the dark of night, the film will not become overexposed even with very long exposures. The film will record where the light source is and through persistence, since once a chemical reaction takes place on the film it cannot be undone, we can see the history of the light source as well.

The Eye Of Night

It’s the perfect tool if one wishes to see how the night sky moves. As the stars move across the night sky, the film’s persistence of vision allows one to see the trails the stars took as they spanned our night sky. The great astronomers of past millennia had great imaginations that allowed them to see such trails in their mind’s eye. We however, due in part to the prevalence of technology, have lost that skill. Our mind’s eye has become dull and untrained. And while we rely on modern technology to see what our ancestors imagined, we still have the blessing of actually seeing the fantastic phenomena the moving stars are.

With the use of a camera and film, the trails taken by the stars as they move across the night sky become readily apparent. The trails themselves will appear different in a geometric sense depending on where the camera is pointed. Point the camera at the pole star Polaris and something amazing appears. Polaris does not move very much at all yet the stars near it seem to sweep out perfect circular arcs. Expose long enough to build the persistence and we start to see a structure that appears to be an eye itself.

I never reflected before on this apparent eye structure that appears in this photo even though I have taught astronomy for years and have watched the sky for many, many more and have imagined how the stars move. Now as I look up at the pole star and the stars that circumnavigate the sky near it, I can’t help but think that I am staring into the eye of night itself.

I further wonder, that as we have been looking up into the night sky for millennia marveling at the stars and the universe, that the universe has been looking back at us as well with one big eye. And if not the universe itself, maybe it’s Creator.

Until next time keep looking and pondering.

Peace.

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Is That All?

The year of 2018 started off with the rising of the year’s first full moon.  It was also the rising of the first of two full moons in the same month giving the first month of the year a Blue Moon, or so its called now when a given month has two full moons in it.  Not only that, but given that the moon was close to its perigee, the closest point in its orbit around the Earth, this full moon was also called a Super Moon.  The full moon on January 1st of 2018 appeared 14.1% larger than average.  So of course, it was a unique moon and what better way to bring in the new year than to go out and photograph it.

As I stood on a ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains not far from where I now live, I looked to the east in great anticipation waiting for the moon to appear above one ridge line east of my location.

Anticipation Rising

As the sky dimmed I could see clouds building to the east and hope of seeing the first full super moon of year started to wane.  Then suddenly a dim glow started to appear behind the trees.  It was coming!  My shutter started to fly.  Exposures changing.  Compositions changed as well.  It was clear though, the moon was rising behind clouds.  I nearly gave up.  But then, a definite arch suddenly appeared between the trees.  The brightness of the moon penetrated the thin veil of clouds and made itself apparent in the sky.  There is a reason it was called a super moon!

Super Moon Rising

That moon was phenomenal!  As large as I think I have ever seen it, and so bright and full of contrast, just hovering there in the sky with the swirls of clouds surrounding it in a magical mist.  I continued photographing it rise varying my exposures to hopefully develop a composite image the would faithfully convey to my readers what I was seeing.  Expose for the moon, and the subtle clouds lit by the moon vanish in darkness.  Expose for the clouds themselves, and the moon becomes nothing more than a pure white orb in the resulting capture.  The dynamic range was so wide that I did not think a realistic image could even be developed.  Nonetheless, I continued.

Later that evening, as I sat in my studio struggling with the exposure I had to make a composite, it became evidently clear to me that I just might not be able to convey what I saw.  Not happy with my results, I shut down my workstation and retired.  I turned my attention towards the end of the month when not only would I get a chance again to capture another Super Moon, although only 12.9% larger than normal, it would also be a Blue Moon, and furthermore, it was to coincide with a total lunar eclipse – A Blood Moon!

Fast forward three weeks.  The moon slowly wanes to full.  One week until January 31st and I arrive home not feeling well.  I wake in the morning feeling the full brunt of influenza, I have contracted the virus and its wracking my body to shreds.  I start fearing that I just might miss the Super Blue Blood Moon as it is now called.  The moon on the evening of January 30 would be rising only 12 hours from being at 100% full.  It will pass through midnight here in the Pacific timezone and then start its descent to the western horizon.  Then approximately 4 hours before setting it would enter into Earth’s outer shadow, known as the Penumbra, and then approximately an hour later, into the inner shadow known as the Umbra and into totality.  The peak of totality would occur at 5:31 am PST.  I slept most of the day on January 30th, exhausted by the flu.  That night sleep was light yet fearful of daring to trek out in the middle of the night as ill as I was to try to see the eclipse let alone try to capture it with the camera.

My oldest assistant, the one who accompanied me last August to see the total solar eclipse, was as eager as I to come along, but of course not at all afraid, and I was very happy to have someone of able body to accompany me.  Normally, I would have witnessed and photographed the entirety of the event, however, given my condition, I was satisfied to see and capture just totality.  We set our alarms for 4:30 am, giving us 1 hour to position ourselves along the same ridge I used earlier in the month to capture the New Year’s moon.  It was a ridge that had good visibility to both the east and west.

We arrived with plenty of time.  There was a slight breeze blowing at our arrival.  It was not very cold at all, and bundled up as I was in my winter clothing I fared well out in the night air.  We saw the moon enter into totality and carefully exposed the moon and then quickly exposing for the night sky as well to capture the stars that appeared in its vicinity.  It was an event, a Super Moon, A Blue Moon, and A Blood Moon all occurring on the same night.  It was an event that had not been seen in 150 years, and would not be seen again until January 31st of 2037!  As 5:31 am approached I asked my assistant to keep me apprised of the time.  I wanted to make sure I captured the moon at the peak of totality.  As it occurred, I called out to my assistant and said “there it is, peak totality!”.

“Is That All!?”, asked my assistant, in a very disappointed tone.

“What Do You Mean, Is That All?, were you expecting a Corona or something?” 

“It’s not a solar event, its much more subtle and quiet and most people would not even make the effort to go out in the dead of the night to see it. You should consider yourself fortunate to have seen it.”

And although it was a much photographed event due to the hype mustered about the rarity of this moon, most images I have seen left me flat.  There is one special thing about a moon in the totality of the Earth’s shadow, and that is that it is dim and allows us to see the stars that are near the moon.  Stars that we normally cannot see on a full moon evening because the moon is so bright that it extinguishes out such nearby stars much like the sun does in the day.  Therefore, when I photograph the moon in a total lunar eclipse, I am as interested in the surrounding stars as I am in the moon itself.  So without anymore delay, The Super Blue Blood Moon along with it’s accompaniment of stars in the constellation Cancer.

Super Blue Blood Moon and Stars of Cancer

Each star in the field was verified as an actual star and not a digital artifact using the Stellarium Ephemeris.  I’ll just mention a few of them.  The closest star to the moon at approximately 10 o’clock is HIP 43613 and is 673.88 light years (ly) away.  The bright star in the upper left corner, HIP 43742 and is 514.44 ly away.  The bright star to the lower left is 54 Cnc and is 124.96 ly away.  The oldest star is HIP 43206 and is 856.05 ly away and is near the lower right but second from the edge.  Several of the stars are unnamed so if anyone wants a star, contact the star registry!

Upon completing this image, I thought about the first New Year moon that I photographed and mentioned above.  I yearned to actually develop a composite that would convey what I saw.  So I opened those exposures and got to work once again.  This time, I found the necessary ingredients needed to combine both the exposures of the moon with that of the clouds and came away with what I remember.  There is a reason it is called a Super Moon.  Heck, even if it is not “super” it is still a stupendous entity in our night sky.  No wonder so much in the way of poetry is written about it, no wonder that it is used as an adjective to describe the radiance of the face of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, it is truly a wonder to behold.

Truly, A Super Moon!

We started this year with Light.  That is a good way to start! 

Until next time, Peace to you All!

 

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Sparks Of Light – 11/22/17

 

Look up

Look down

Look all around

And miracles can be found.

Even in a leaf

No longer in the Crown

Now adorns the lowly ground.

 

Look Down

 

Layers

 

Miracle

 

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