Archive for the 'Moonsighting' Category

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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Better Late Than Never

Tuesday October 9th was the 29th day of the month of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar and the evening of the first moon sighting in the Islamic year of 1440.  I was teaching my astronomy course that evening at Zaytuna College and was planning on taking the class out to search for the new crescent there on the hilltop campus.  By 5 pm that evening, fog had rolled in from the San Francisco bay and completely enveloped the campus.  Sighting the new crescent moon from the campus was not going to happen.

Fellow moonsighter and colleague at Crescent Watch, Zakariyya, sent me a text message, at about the same time the fog had rolled in, indicating to me that we on the west coast might again be the only people to sight the moon.  The probability map for that evening showed that most of the southern half of North America would be in a visibility zone that required perfect atmospheric conditions to see the crescent without an optical aid.  I replied to him and informed him that he alone might be that person as I was fogged in.  He was on his way up to the western face of Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco in the Marin Headlands.

Sighting Probability, October 9th, 2018

I quickly sent messages to my four assistants that they needed to make a concerted effort to meet at our near-home sighting location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  All four managed to congregate at about 7 pm at our normal viewing location.  At 7:07 pm, I receive a phone call while in the middle of class.  It was my oldest assistant contacting me to let me know that the moon was nowhere to be seen and asked for some additional guidance as to where they can expect to see it.  There was some confusion among the team as to where to look.  At that point in time the sun had already gone below the horizon 30 minutes prior and the moon, although a hand span or so above the horizon at the time of sunset, would now be much closer to the horizon itself.  They had at that point possibly 20 minutes before the moon would drop below the horizon.  I suggested looking about 2 finger widths above the horizon.  No sooner did I finish that instruction to him that he exclaims “Allahu Akbar! There it is!”  The entire astronomy class becomes gleeful as they all heard his exclaim coming through over the phone speaker.  Suddenly two more voices rip out from the phone as the other two assistants saw it, and then voices clamoring as they pointed it out to my youngest assistant and suddenly all four are witnesses!

It was a joyful moment for all of us.  I quickly sent a text message to Zakariyya, who by that time was on Mount Tam, that we had a positive sighting by three adults, 2 male and one female, in the south.  His reply was one of relief as he informed me that Mount Tam was covered by clouds as well.  Within the hour it was clear that no other sightings had been made and my four assistants, to the best of our knowledge, were the sole witnesses in the entire world!  I was very proud of my four assistants for coming together and making the effort to keep this crucial tradition alive.  However, within that same hour, we received word that another crescent sighting organization had announced that the crescent had not been seen and the month of Safar had not commenced.  We quickly had to rally to correct the misinformation by passing along the sighting report to that organization.  We had no doubt that they would want to interview my assistants on the sighting details.  

I called my oldest and informed him that he and the others were about to be the object of scrutiny and to be ready for it and answer honestly.  For the most part the interviews went well and all was done.  However, on the next day my oldest received one more call from an obscure person who was not so interested in the sighting itself but in the character of my son.  He questioned why his name had never come up before as a sighter even though my son claimed to be a veteran of moonsighting with more than a decade of experience.  When my son informed me of this I was taken aback at first.  My son was quite agitated by the man’s line of questioning.  I counseled my son to learn how to grow a thick skin and that if you choose to be a guardian of this tradition that from time to time you will be the object of such behavior towards you.  I will say this now, in my son’s defense, he has been with me at nearly every outing to sight the moon ever since his birth.  When he became an adult, and I made a sighting report, he was my validating witness, even if his name never made it into the records.

But it made me think of the numerous times that we received sighting reports from unknown people and the line of questioning that we had to put them through.  The interesting thing is that even though we did ask about their experience, we never questioned their veracity.  Albeit I suppose someone could be lying about seeing the moon, but for the life of me I can not fathom why a person would do so of their own volition.  Many times what they saw was clearly not the moon and such mistakes are not uncommon, but every time we saw a new name pop up on our radar it brought with it a sense of hope that this tradition is being revived.  If we treated every sighting claim made by a new person with skepticism and questioning the character of that person making the report, we would alienate the community from carrying out this beautiful monthly tradition.

Finally, as I checked in on our social media outlet to see if the announcement of the start of Safar had been made, I came across a comment left by one of the followers of that account.  It started off with “Pff.  Is there a photo…”.  I was shocked and at the same time felt somewhat guilty.  For years I have been reporting the sightings of the new crescent and in almost every case I have always included a photograph of the crescent.  I asked myself, have I created a culture of seekers that will only take as proof a photograph?  The fact is the proof of the sighting comes only by the claim that it was seen by at least two credible male witnesses.  Of course the more witnesses the better and when the sky is clear and the moon could be easily seen, even  more witnesses are expected.  For some, the claim of the sighting is taken without any additional questioning as to the veracity, not of the person, but of the details of the sighting itself, regardless of how incredulous the report could be.  However, in this modern age where many things leave traces in the sky that could be mistaken for the crescent moon, some questioning of what was seen is necessary to corroborate the sighting against scientific data of the moon’s condition at the time of the sighting.  Other than that no additional evidence is needed.  Photographs do help if the sighter has one, but it is not necessary, nor is it proof that the moon was seen.  If I was a deceitful person, I could pull out any of my myriad of crescent moon photos from the last 25+ years of sighting and claim it was the moon of the current month.  How would one know the difference?  Granted, today’s technology makes it a bit harder to falsify such things with the attached meta-data that is tagged with digital images, but nonetheless, it could be done.

We have to learn how to trust one another in an age when lying is believed to be true and truth is believed to be a lie. It is unfortunately a sign of the end of time as the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, foretold us about in his many prophecies of the future.   If nothing else I hope that this tradition of sighting the new crescent moon to establish the starts of months in this living Islamic calendar, will help build trust between us in the Muslim community here in North America and worldwide.

Given all that I have mentioned above the beauty of the new crescent moon still shines through.  And even though I did not have the good fortune of seeing the crescent when it first appeared on the horizon, I went out the next night to capture a photograph of it.  I did not have to go far, as I only had to step out of my front door to see and photograph it as it poked through the redwood trees surrounding our home.

Safar 1440, Day 2 Crescent

If you have never seen the new crescent moon on the first day when it is visible, then make the intention to go out next month to search for it.  You most likely will not have to travel far at all, probably just out our front door as well.  In case you wish to do so, mark Wednesday November 7th as that day.  It will be the 29th day of the month of Safar and the day that searching for the next new moon will occur.

With that I wish all of you a Safar Mubarak and 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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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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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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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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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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