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!

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

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!

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

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!

Leave a Comment: Comments (2)

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!

Leave a Comment: Comments (11)

Color and Light

Each month my team and I go out to look for the new crescent moon.  We never know what we will find.  Some days the sky is very bland, the moon appears, we make a photo and go home.  Other times we go out to be met with clouds.  The clouds might be thick and dense carpeting the sky with no hope expecting them to let the sky come through.  Sometimes the clouds are broken up teasing the eyes with glimpses of sky and raising the hope of seeing the new crescent.  The reward of seeing the moon with skies like that becomes greater.  Then there are days when the sky is hazy.  When it is filled with what you can tell are a light veil of clouds high up in the atmosphere.  You know the sky will put up a great show, but with that show comes the possibility that the atmospherics will obliterate seeing the moon.  It has happened many times to me.  The sky of May 29th, was just such a sky.

Cirrus Clouds After Sunset

Wispy Sky

Shortly after sunset, the western sky came to life with an abundance of cirrus clouds that just danced in the expanding color.  Faint crescent moons are difficult to see on their own without the help of little wisps of condensed water shimmering in the evening light adding confusion and deception to the mix.  After the sun set, my team starts to ask for the particulars about where generally the moon should be in the sky, its orientation and how long before it sets.  They impressed me by asking all the right questions.  Given that the moon was not to set until nearly an hour after sunset they continued to goof around until the searching became serious.

As the evening unfolded, the colors in the sky began to change and intensify. The thin veil of clouds began to stratify the color as they tend to do and a soft gradient of pastel colors lit the sky on fire.  Watching it unfold, its hard not to be impressed by the colors, and it mystifies good judgement as to why one would and would not make a photo of it.  In the end I made the photo anyway and I am glad I did.

Color Gradient at Sunset.

The Color Of Light

The color soon started to fade away with the sinking sun as it continued moving away from the horizon.  As the sky darkened we all became more intent on looking for the moon.  We searched across the sky and then suddenly my phone chimes. A text message flashed across it with a note that the moon was seen in southern California or Arizona.  I quickly reply asking for details and then continued to search.  Suddenly a cry goes out, “I think I see it!”  We all thought we did.  Hiding there amidst the clouds we all thought the lower limb of the moon was poking through.  Yet it did not seem to move as it should have been.  We dismiss it and continued to look.  I started to get worried that we were just to far north this month to see it on this evening.  How was it seen in the south?  I needed more details.  My phone rang.  I did not answer it and chose to continue looking when all of a sudden, my younger son calls out – I see it! Allahu Akbar!

We all came to him and within moments we all had seen the delicate thread of curved light in the sky!  Even my youngest team member, the 8 year old, who always needed help seeing it, saw it as quickly as the rest of us, very impressive given the faintness of this month’s moon.

New Crescent Moon of Shabaan 1435

First Sighting – Shabaan 1435

As the evening waned on the variations in the colors were subtle but certainly there for those willing to stay and enjoy the show.  The clouds start to change in both appearance and color as well.  The entire sky takes on a completely different feel.  Placing the moon in these photos is sometimes a chore.  How many different places can the moon be placed in a frame and not have the photos become completely repetitive?  Rarely do I place the moon in the lower portion of the frame, but for this one I did.  It gave the impression of the moon feeling from a darkness chasing after it.

New crescent Moon and Dark Clouds

Fleeing From Darkness

With the complaints now mounting as my intrepid team members lost patience now that the deal was sealed, I continued to track the moon and photograph it as it approached the horizon and mingled with trees that now were merely silhouettes against the now dark crimson sky.  I finally called it quits when the moon settled in between this V-shaped notch between some pine trees.

Crescent Moon Between Trees

In The Notch

The monthly appearance of the crescent moon has occurred far before we have ever been here on Earth and will continue until the end of time.  It has been my endeavor for the last 23 years.  It ceases to bring me great joy each month, and each time it is like I am seeing it for the first time.  Its vision expands my chest and lifts the weight of my world off my shoulders.  Knowing that we have a divinely ordained celestial clock as our guide in time is a great succor in my life and my hope is that it can be for you as well.

Ramadan is just on the horizon.  May we all reach it in good health and host it in our lives once more.  Peace to all.

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

Countdown Begins – Shabaan 1435

This evening the new crescent moon for the 8th month of the Islamic calendar, Shabaan, was sighted in San Jose, CA.  This puts everything in motion and the countdown begins for the approach of the Ramadan, the month of fasting.  It was first seen this evening at 8:42 pm PDT.  At an azimuth of close to 274° with an altitude of about 8° above the horizon.  It was very faint.  Beautiful as always however and always a bringer of great hope.

New Crescent Moon

Shabaan 1435 Crescent

A more detailed account of the unfolding evening light and colors is coming, stay tuned.

Peace to All.

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

Speaking In Silence

Each month this lone natural satellite of ours cycles through its phases always returning to the waxing crescent and appears in its performance after the sun has gone down. Each month, it seems, that its performance falls increasingly on an ever growing number of deaf ears.

Crescent Moon of Dhul-Hijjah Setting over the Santa Cruz Mountains

Speaking In Silence

Now you might be asking, how can we hear the moon when it is a visual experience? And to that I would reply, do we really hear with our ears? I had a teacher once who gave me advice. Be careful about what you do, people are listening to you with their eyes. In an age that is filled with imagery, actions speak much louder than words. And in an age where truth has been tipped on its head such that lies are believed to be truths and truth taken as lies, it is becoming harder to ascertain the truth. Nothing man touches anymore is free from the corruption of lies.

Twenty years ago I ventured out with a camera in my hand determined to vindicate the veracity of my tongue by photographing the new crescent moon as solid proof that I was seeing it. Along the way I became enamored by the natural world and have pointed my lens at much of. The world is vast and it has kept me occupied in preserving the moments it presented to me. In all that time, however, I never stopped photographing the moon. I rarely, if ever, shared the photos of the moon with many as I thought they would be of little interest; to simple for the sophistication of the modern mind, to boring for the eyes vexed by the virtual chicanery of our time. Yet in the past couple of years I have started sharing the photos of the new crescent moon and to my surprise they have been welcomed with a refreshing enthusiasm. Perhaps simple is best. After all was it not Albert Einstein who said “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler”?

These photos of the moon cannot be any simpler with regards to the subject and still call them photos of something. A sliver of reflected light set against a colorful post sunset sky. As simple as they may seem, they are a far cry from having nothing to say.

At times the color of the sky is vibrant while at other times quiet and tame. The color moves the eye up and down the frame touching upon all the emotions associated with the spectrum from passion to power to peace and sadness, stopping only for the pearly-white glow of the small sliver of light that interrupts the flow. The subject is always the same but placed in the specific context the photos take on many levels of complexity. At times I am treated with a varied sky mixed with silhouetted clouds giving the photo a sense of mystery or a dastardly ominous presence and the crescent provides a glimmer of hope that balances the image.

I also see the moon as a marker of time.  Each day it waxes larger until it becomes full and rises as the sun is setting and then wanes away into a crescent once more before it vanishes for  day or two as it interludes with the sun hidden to our naked eyes.  Its mansions in the sky remind me of the passing of time, or more starkly the running out of time.  I only have a fixed amount to time in this life as do each of you.  Once my time, and your time for that matter, runs out, we cease to exist here.  Our ability to do something to effect change for the better comes to an end.  So it reminds me each month to get busy and not waste the precious amount I have left.

The Moon, Venus and Spica

The Trio

Rarer still, are those times when the moon is hanging in the sky next to other celestial travelers, such as Venus or Mars or other orbs of light that reach out from deep in the galaxy or from other galaxies that are light years away. These little sparks of light not only grace the image with another point of light to aid in giving the eye a place to rest but also giving us a glimpse into the past. For many of the stars that do show up, are so far away that their light reaching us now left those stars long before we ever existed and in some cases their light is as old as the universe itself. For us, looking up at the sky, these celestial beacons all appear the same distance away. Light reflected from the moon however, reaches us in a little over 1 second. From Venus, a regular companion of the Moon in the sunset sky, its reflected light reaches us in as little as 2 minutes or as long as 14 minutes depending on where it is in its orbit around the sun relative to where we are in our orbit. Light from the sun, which on average is 93 million miles away, reaches us in just over 8 minutes.  The next closest star to us is Proxmia Cantauri which is 4.3 light years away, meaning light from that start reaching us tonight left that star 4.3 years ago.  The additional star that showed up on the evening that “Trio” was made, Spica in the constellation Virgo, is the 15th brightest star in the sky and the light that left that star did so 250 years ago!  That was before anyone of us reading this article right now was even born!  And the faintest object that we can see by the naked eye under a sufficiently dark sky is the Triangulum Galaxy M33 which is 3 million light years away from Earth.  Its light seen tonight left it 3 million years ago!  When we look up at sky we are seeing the ancient past.

Then there are those times when I decide to not only include the moon’s neighbors in the sky, but also Terra Firma.  I will place it as an anchor at the bottom of the frame, silhouetted against the colorful sky.  Most times I will wait until the moon is close to the horizon allowing the diffraction effects of the atmosphere to play its magic in making the moon appear bigger than it really is.  And yet, by doing so I emphasize the size of the moon to indicate that it is much more important than we esteem it to be.  Without the moon, the tides on the oceans would not exist as they do.  The variation of high tide and low tide would not be present.  And although the sun and wind would still send waves onto our shores they would be tame compared to what we now see, and coastlines for the most part would remain static, much like those of any lake.  By virtue of the orbiting moon, we have dynamic oceanic coastlines that team with a variety of unique life accustomed to the cyclic nature of the rising and dropping tides.

Further yet, the moon was the first means of marking time beyond a day, ushering in calendars into the human civilization that were used to mark sacred days as well as the counting of years.  Through the discovery and understanding of the cyclic nature of the moon, the cyclic nature of the rising and setting locations of the sun and stars soon followed allowing our ancestors to learn about the changing and cyclic seasons – giving rise to the understanding of agriculture of knowing when and when not to plant.  The relationship of the Moon and Mother Earth is one that runs very deep and the two are intimately connected through an invisible force now known as gravity.  It was the sight of the moon up in the sky and simultaneously seeing an apple fall from a tree that prompted Sir Isaac Newton to question – if an apple falls from a tree to the ground, why does the moon up in the sky not fall to earth as well?  It led him to the rationalization of what we now call Newton’s Laws of Motion which describe the very nature of the motion of our world and those objects in it as well as the motion of heavenly bodies. Through Newtonian mechanics, the motion of objects described by Newton’s Laws of Motion, humans have walked on the surface of the very moon that prompted Sir Isaac Newton to formulate those laws some half a millennium ago.  And yet, to this day, we still do not know what gravity really is.

Yes these photos of the new crescent moon are simple, but by no means are they empty.  The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, spoke succinctly with few words but with much meaning.  His blessed face was described to shine more than the full moon on a dark night.  He changed the world for the better and left for us in the moon a tradition of going out each month in search of it.  Each month the moon appears is a reminder of the character building lessons that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, came to teach us.  I see the moon as his final lesson.  If he spoke succinctly in his lifetime he is now speaking to us in silence – through the silence of the moon.  These photos of the moon as simple as they may be, speak volumes, without even saying a word.

New Crescent Moon

More Than Words

Till next time, peace.

 

Leave a Comment: Comments (5)

Sha’baan 1433 Starts

This evening ended the Month of Rajab by the completion of 30 days.  Sighting the moon was not a necessity and yet it is still enjoyable.  Even more so with an afternoon like the one we had today.  Absolutely perfectly clear skies, moderate temperatures up on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking a fog covered coast and the San Francisco Bay.  The conditions were perfect for sighting the new crescent moon.

Sunset was at 8:31 pm PDT and by 8:41 pm I saw the first glimpses of the moon. Incredibly faint, it faded in and out of my sight for a few moments until it became stable.  By 2o minutes in, it was a vivid white streak and an ever increasing colorful sky.

New Crescent Moon of Sha'baan 1433

Sha'baan 1433

This moon marks the beginning of the month of Sha’baan 1433 AH.  It is an important month that precedes Ramadan and is a month of preparation mentally, physically and spiritually.  To all my Muslims readers, Sha’baan Mubarak!

Peace to you All.

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)