Archive for the 'Reflections' Category

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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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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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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A Moon So Fine!

Ramadan Mubarak!

The new crescent moon of Ramadan 1437 (2016) was seen this evening by a group of crescent chasers on top the northern Santa Cruz Mountains in Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.  The sky was somewhat foreboding as it laced itself with clouds right where we expected the moon.

At about 8:45 pm, one of the chasers thought he saw it but he lost it in the clouds as the clouds moved.  Then at about 8:55 pm we re-established its sighting as it once again re-emerged from the clouds.  Several in the group of about 15 to 20 onlookers were able to see it.

A fine a moon as I have ever seen, it was incredibly thin in a dim sky.  Once we had it in our sites, I trained the camera on it and made four images.  This one shows it best.

A Fine Moon

The sight of the new moon never ceases to amaze me.  This one literally took my breath away when I saw it.  I wish the photo could convey what I felt.

Ramadan Mubarak!

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Here We Go Again

It has been too long since my last post.  Much has transpired since then, but more on that later.  For now, the moon sighting for Ramadan is again quickly approaching.  To prepare for what is coming and to ensure, or try to circumvent any confusion for Ramadan, sighting the moon of the preceding month, the month of Sha’baan, becomes necessary.

Astronomically, the probability of seeing the new crescent was very good.  All the parameters needed to easily see the new moon were to be met.  I had put a plan in place to take my astronomy class on its last field trip to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton just south east of San Jose.  The weather outlook was good for most of the preceding week and early in the week of the planned trip.  However as we approached our sighting day, May 7th, the weather took a turn for the worse.  The skies clouded over and rain was forecast.  In fact on the morning of the trip it was raining throughout the S.F. Bay Area!  The hopes of all the students, and mine as well, were washing away with every rain drop that fell from the sky.

In spite of the weather, we continued on with our planned trip.  In addition to being at roughly 4200 feet in elevation atop Mount Hamilton for the sighting, I had also arranged for a tour of the observatory.  So even if we did not see the moon, we were in store for a great tour of many of the telescopes used up there.  When we arrived at the observatory we were actually in the clouds!  We could not see the sky, the mountains, or the valleys below, a near total whiteout condition, and it was cold, very cold.

Our tour guides met us with over-flowing enthusiasm.  It was infectious and soon we were all excited about seeing the various telescopes.  The one disappointment was that due to the high humidity the observatory was most likely not going to allow us to view anything through the telescopes.  I learned, even though I kind of already knew, that with a humidity above 91% the telescope lenses would fog over with condensation and then later require a costly and laborious cleaning.  I’ve been in conditions where the humidity was very high at night and seen what it does to my camera lenses.  But I was still surprised and saddened that viewing something like Jupiter or Saturn that night was not going to happen.

As we finished the day time portion of the tour we were headed back to the original observatory building when suddenly the cloud we were in started to break and blue sky was seen for the first time that day!  Everyone on the trip turned to me and asked if I thought seeing the moon at least would be possible.  I was hopeful.  By the time we arrived back to the main building, the cloud we were in had completely dissipated and we could see the fog that had settled in the valleys below.  However the sky was still covered with patchy high clouds, and the portion of the sky where I had expected the moon to be was covered as well.

I told everyone to just be patient.  We wait until we are sure the moon has set before we give up.  Sunset occurred around 8 pm that night.  We prayed our sunset prayer as a group and then we ate our evening meal that we had brought with us.  The clouds kept playing with us as they moved across the sky allowing for openings where we would search intently and then to just have that portion of the sky close up once more.  Then it happened!

Just a few minutes pat 8:30 pm the moon suddenly broke out of the clouds and the gasps of excitement rang out!

Peek-a-Boo

It was very refreshing to finally see the new moon after months of failed attempts this spring.  The weather was a hindrance each time I had gone out his spring.  The rain was very important this year here in California and while I am grateful for it, it was starting to weigh on my patience.  But finally we saw the moon!  It was a nice capstone to the end of the astronomy class that I was teaching.

The following day I sat down to edit the photos I had made of the Sha’baan moon.  While I was working on the image made with my 400mm lens, I noticed a small white spot very close to the crescent itself.  Intrigued, I opened my star charting software and set up the location and time when the photo was made to determine what star it might be or if it was just an artifact.  To my surprise it was actually a star!  It was Hyadum I, or otherwise known as Gamma Tauri, a star in the constellation of Taurus the Bull and it is only 158 light-years away from Earth!

Shabaan and Hyadum I

It was a fabulous evening that resulted in a great capture of the moon and this time with a star!  I think this is the first time that I have captured the crescent moon with a star in the same image.  Seeing stars on the western horizon at the time when the crescent becomes visible is very rare.  Venus, yes. Mars, yes and maybe even Mercury or any of the other five naked-eye planets but stars not so much.  The coolest part is that I did not see Hyadum I when we were out there, but the camera did.  I am still to this day, more than 20 years after picking up a camera to ‘see’ the world, still get floored at its ability to capture things that slip by our own eyes! It is quite humbling.  I think it is imperative that we reflect on that.  What we see with our eyes is not all that is there.

Until next time, Peace.

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Never Give Up!

Today was very uncertain with regards to the weather.  Mostly cloudy all day long with small pockets of rain all over the Bay Area.  Given that today was a moon sighting evening the weather made for some tense moments leading up to sunset.  As the day came to a close, I rushed to one of my back up locations to search for the moon, however I had little hope.  The sky was quite thick with clouds but as the sky grew darker the clouds started to break up.  I searched intently all alone.  Suddenly my phone beeped.  It was a friend about 40 miles to my north east, also searching.  He sent a photo of the sky from his location in the Bay Area.  His photo showed some dense cloud cover, similar to what I was seeing. I reply with a photo of the sky I was seeing and a message that I could not see the moon.

Not more than a few minutes had passed when he sends another message containing just two words; Got It.

I ask, “you see it!” but before I could hit send, I glance up and from behind a dark cloud bank I see that fine sliver of light emerge from behind the clouds!  And to think I almost threw in the towel and called it a night.  Then appended to the above, I write “I see it too!” and send the message.

Never Give Up!

Obscured by the clouds, the moon played hide and seek with me for about 5 minutes before it dropped down below that lower cloud deck hugging the mountains.  It moved so fast.

And so that moon marked the beginning of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.  An endeavor that challenges men and women of all ages, cultures, languages, financial status, and backgrounds to ten days of rigor in the Arabian Desert, all for one reason; answering the call of God to come and visit the Ancient House, to stand there on a desert plain and seek Divine forgiveness and mercy.  Not everyone can go at the same time.  Physically Mecca could not hold the entire Muslim population on the planet.  It reaches its bursting point at just about 2 million people!  And yet, Muslims will intend to go all their lives until they finally get the chance, never giving up year after year as they save what they can to afford the trip.  Some will make it when they are young if they are fortunate, others will wait a lifetime and only make it there in old age.  Nonetheless, once there they strive to accomplish the rites irrespective of the challenges and again never giving up until they complete the rites or die trying!  Having gone myself and experienced it first hand, it is an awe inspiring event that has no equal in all the world.

The reward always comes at the end, and it is a sweet reward, made even sweeter when one arrives knowing that they did not give up.

May God accept the pilgrimage of all the pilgrims there in Mecca this year!

Till next time, Peace to you All!

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What Happened?

Yesterday, July 16th, was the 29th day of Ramadan in the Islamic year 1436, or common era year of 2015.  It was a day of great anticipation.  Will we see the moon and end the fast or will it go on for another day?  This Ramadan started without any contention at all!  It was a refreshing respite from all the drama that is usually associated with the starts and stops of the Islamic months due to the confusion about seeing the new crescent moon.  But as far as I could tell, the entire Muslim world began fasting on the same day!  One week into the month, I started looking forward to the end of the month not to determine the if the moon would be seen or not, but to get a handle on if we would face a chaotic evening of chasing down errant reports all over the world.  I researched two primary topics: crescent visibility probability curves and weather history.

The probability curves for July 16th are shown below.  How they are generated is a topic on its own and is based on regression models and requires oodles of data from past sightings.  The more data you have the more accurate the curves will predict the probability of seeing the new crescent.  The curves are broken down into various regions shown by the different colors indicating how easy it will be to see the crescent.  Zone A: easily visible to the unaided eye, Zone B: visible under perfect atmospheric conditions, Zone C: visible to the unaided eye after found with optical aide, Zone D: only visible with binoculars or conventional telescopes, Zone E: not visible with conventional telescopes, Zone F: below Danjon Limit (7°). Click on the image for a larger view.

Sighting Curves for July 16th, 2015

Now before I go on let me qualify something.  I started sighting the moon over 20 years ago.  I have gone to look for it every month.  I have seen many moons.  The majority of those 20 years of sighting were made with no prior astronomical or probability prediction knowledge.  I would always just based the sighting day 29 days later from the previous day I saw the moon.  That is all one needs to know.

However over those years one gets to know what the moon looks like, where it will  be in the sky in any given season, what orientation the moon will have and so on.  Slowly as crescent moon sighting became more contentious I began to bolster my empirical knowledge with astronomical and probabilistic tools.  I also started to teach astronomy, first at the elementary public school level and slowly moving up to higher levels until now at the college level.  Now coupling both the 20 years of empirical knowledge and with some science it is not difficult to predict if the crescent will be seen, especially in one’s own locality.

So as I looked into where the moon might be seen yesterday what I noticed was that the best place on the planet was out in the South Pacific.  Should not be a problem, no one lives on the water.  However South America could have reports.  In the last several years we have had some very strange and unverifiable reports coming from the south especially from Chile.  But most of South America was in the Zone B, and given perfect atmospheric conditions – meaning the skies needed to be totally clear we very well could receive reports from there.  So I looked into the weather history of the region in Chile where we have some contacts that have given us reports in the past.

In the month of July South America is in the midst of winter and in Chile 67% of the month of July is under cloudy and overcast skies.  I did not think a report from Chile would come in this year.  However, yesterday evening, Chile had clear skies!  The interesting result is that Chile had a negative sighting as well as all of South America, except for one report coming out of Bogota, Columbia, and that sighting was with a high-powered telescope.

Why is that important?  For one it was made with a telescope and that does not constitute a valid sighting according to Islamic Law.  Second it was a high-powered telescope.  Why?  If you look at the lunar age of the moon in the best location in Zone A it is only 23.11 hours past conjunction.  And in Zone B, where the telescope sighting was made it was only 19.03 hours old past conjunction. Conjunction is the instant of the birth of the new moon.

A 23 hour old moon is very difficult to see by the unaided eye, if at all.  Here is just such a moon from ten years ago.  The Islamic month was Rajab, and it took place on August 5th, 2005, almost ten years ago to the month.  Click on the image to see it in full.

A 23.5 hour old moon

Last night, the contentions for the sightings did not come from where we expected them, South America.  They cropped up from my own backyard here in the San Francisco Bay Area and a couple other places in California.  In California, the age of the moon was roughly 24.8 hours old.  Not much older than the moon shown in the photo above. In San Diego, it was 24.35 hours old.  In San Francisco, 24.88 hours old.  In the middle of the state 24.82 hours old.  This time of the year, the orientation of the crescent is as shown in the photo.  The limbs should run from about 2:00 to about 7:00 o’Clock on the clock dial.  This orientation of the moon’s limbs changes through the seasons.  In the summer and winter it is oriented as shown in the photo, with some slight variations, while in the spring the lit portion is on the bottom and the limbs point upwards and in autumn a bit more steeper running from 1 o’Clock to about 6 o’Clock.  This is important as we will see below, so keep this in mind.

The sighting curves are based on five parameters that need to be met in order for the moon to be seen easily by the unaided eye.  Those parameters are, age of the moon beyond conjunction, the time between sunset and moonset (known as the lag time), the elongation (a geometric orientation of the Earth, Moon and Sun past conjunction), the % illumination of the moon and the altitude of the moon at sunset above the horizon.  The criteria for sighting a moon with the unaided eye are as follows:

Age: 18 hours

Lag time: 40 minutes

Elongation: 12°

% Illumination: 1%

Altitude: 5°

Let me further qualify what these values indicate.  Neither one is more important than another.  The probability of the moon’s visibility cannot be determined by just one or two of these parameters.  Each parameter needs to be met.  The values given here are the absolute minimum values that are needed for the moon to be seen by the unaided eye.  Now just because the age of the moon is greater than the minimum 18 hours  will not alone make it visible, especially if for example the lag time is less than the 40 minutes.  Likewise, if the moon’s age was, for example, 28 hours old, but the lag time was say 15 minutes or that altitude was only 2°, the moon will still not be seen by the unaided eye, or it will be very difficult at best.

The conditions for the moon shown above from 10 years ago were:

Age: 23.5 hours

Lag time: 46 minutes

Elongation: 11°

% Illumination: 1%

Altitude: 8.1°

With 4 out of the 5 criteria met, and the 5th, elongation, very close, I still could not see this moon with my unaided eyes.  How then did I get this photo you ask?  I had a general idea of where the moon should have been in the sky and I pointed my camera lens in that area and tripped the shutter.  I actually made several photos panning the sky making sure I had sufficient overlap.  I was amazingly surprised to have caught the moon in the photo!

Yesterday in the SF Bay Area, in the same location as where the Rajab photo of 2005 was made, the moon had the following conditions:

Age: 24.85 hours

Lag time: 20 minutes

Elongation: 13.3°

% Illumination: 1.3%

Altitude: 3°

Yesterday’s moon only meets 3 out of the 5 criteria.  The above pictured moon met 4 out of 5 and was still not visible with the unaided eye.  I am not sure how yesterday’s moon was seen.  In the areas where the moon was claimed to have been seen, the same 3 out of 5 criteria as well were met.

Here is the interesting result.  In Chile, where it could have been seen, the criteria were:

Age: 20 hours

Lag time: 46 minutes

Elongation: 11°

% Illumination: 0.9%

Altitude: 9°

3 of the 5 criteria were met and the other two were very close to meeting the limits, and yet it was not seen!

What is more concerning is that the majority of the reports that we obtained by speaking directly to the claimants, did not describe the moon as the moon seen above in the photo of what a moon of this season and timing should look like.  One description given was a line that was flatter, oriented more towards the bottom with limbs more like 4 o’Clock to 7 o’Clock.  Two of the reports said that what they saw suddenly became very bright and shiny when they saw it.

All the of the claimants giving reports mentioned that they saw it very shortly after the sun set, within 2 to 7 minutes after sunset.  One of the claimants, reported that what he and his group saw appeared before the sun set.  Before sun set!

The first question that needs to be asked is does a person engaged in sighting the moon need to versed in astronomy and in particular the details related to the moon?  The answer is no.  I did not have that knowledge when I first started looking for the moon, but with experience these particulars become second nature.  Having knowledge about what the moon looks like in the sky, where in the sky it will appear, and its orientation will serve the seeker in not making erroneous sightings.  Any person can become a skilled moonsighter whether they are an upright Muslim or not.  The character of an upright Muslim is not a shield that prevents erroneous sightings from being made.  At the same time an erroneous sighting made by an upright Muslim does not in any way imply anything about the person’s character.  Inexperience and ignorance of the details about the nature of the moon is what brings about the erroneous reports but does not put the person’s character in question.

Moving on, the optimal time of crescent visibility on the evening of a new moon occurs when the the contrast between the moon and the evening sky reaches its maximum.  Two things need to happen for this maximum contrast to occur.  First, the sky needs to darken and at the same time as the sky darkens, the moon starts to brighten.  Maximum contrast takes place at 4/9ths of the lag time.  That is, the lag time is taken and divided into 9 parts.  Then adding 4 of those parts will indicate when the best viewing time occurs.  Last night here in California, with lag times of 20 minutes, 4/9ths amounts to 8 minutes and 53 seconds after sunset.  And for an easily seen moon, with a lag time of 40 minutes this amounts to 17 minutes and 45 seconds.  So, one would need almost 18 minutes for the moon to reach the optimal contrast in the sky for a moon that is easily seen by the unaided eye.  Last night, the moon only had a lag time just slightly longer than the optimal time.  Far from ideal.  At 2 to 7 minutes after sunset, the sky would be so bright and the crescent so dim, that it is nearly invisible at that time.  And before sunset, if the sun itself does not blind the eyes, its brightness will certainly limit anything you can see in the sky near the sun.

We live in a time in which our skies are filled with many flying objects.  Objects that did not exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and not for more than 1000 years after His time.  Those flying objects leave many traces in the sky that can easily be misconstrued as the crescent moon to the inexperienced and unskilled seeker of the moon.  Here is a link to a small gallery of photos of just such traces that can easily be mistaken for the moon.  And in fact, many times when interviewing claimants, these are the exact items that they describe to us.  Here is the link

I do not know what those claimants saw on Thursday evening.  I am not accusing anyone of anything.  They saw what they saw and they reported it as such.  They were honest and sincere, and may they be rewarded accordingly by our Creator.

What concerned me in this whole affair is why were their reports not examined with more scrutiny by those who were charged with making a decision about breaking the fast?  There were more details involved than I have mentioned that needed to be addressed.  I and another friend working with me did.  Before we even had spoken to half those claimants who had a report, the decision to break the fast, based simply on that those reports were made, had already been made by most mosques and organizations.  Confusion was rampant all night long.

So what happened last night?  I am not entirely sure.  I was content and certain the moon had not been seen.  My Ramadan did not end last night.  I was not even going to voice my concerns as over the years I have learned this only stirs the drama pot and makes things worse.  That was until I saw this…

A Minion Eid

This is, in a sad and hilarious way, what I feel is happening.  My pressing question though is, the Minions of Who?  Minions of the One Eye, the Nafs…Who?

Later tonight I will be heading out once more to seek out the new moon.  I will of course be photographing it and it will, insha Allah (God willing) be posted here on Organic Light Pan.

I wish everyone, and I mean everyone, a most Blessed Eid, filled with love, laughter, family, friends and joy, and may you receive all the rewards of fasting the month of Ramadan.  May our Creator forgive us all for our mistakes and trespasses and bring our hearts together in love and brotherhood and sisterhood.

To all, Eid Mubarak and Peace!

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Conjunction Junction…..

….What’s Your Function?

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

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

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

Partial Solar Eclipse of October 23rd, 2014

Conjunction Junction

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

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

What is the function of this Conjunction?

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

Until next time, Peace to all.

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