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)

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!

Leave a Comment: Comments (63)

Humble Beginnings – Ramadan 1433

I was out last night and this evening in search for the new crescent moon that marks the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.  Last night, that would be July 19th, 2012, the moon was not seen.  It was only 12 minutes behind the sun and at the same time we had some fog to contend with.  Similarly, the moon was not positively seen anywhere in the world on the evening of the 19th.

This evening was a different story.  The conditions were perfect and the moon was easily seen.  Not that it made much difference, as the 19th was the 29th day of the previous month and was the critical day in determining when Ramadan would start.  However, it is my “thing” to be out there photographing the new moon, so out I went again this evening.

The moon was easily seen and a thought suddenly occurred to me.  For the longest time as I can recall the moons of Ramadan have appeared in a lack-luster entrance.  Quiet, humble and just there.  Suddenly it all made sense to me.

“Oh you who believe, Fasting has been proscribed upon you as it was proscribed on those who were before you so that you might increase in piety” ~ Quran.

Piety, this month is about piety.  Piety is never flashy.  Its not glamorous or forward or vain.

Its about humility, being patient, reserved, and quiet.  This evening it was quiet out there.  Few people, mild temperatures, slight breeze, very unassuming.  The moons of Ramadan have arrived showing us the very qualities that this month is designed to foster in all of us.  I am in awe.

Ramadan Moon

Ramadan Moon

To all my Muslim Readers – Ramadan Mubarak!  Make use of this month to come out as humble and pious as the moon.

To all Peace.

Leave a Comment: Comments (2)

Tick, Tock….Tick!

Time has been in very short supply in my life as of late.  Teaching has consumed almost all of it.  It has had me so tied up that I failed to post the new moon of last month and only realized it this evening when I began preparing the image taken earlier this evening.

Last month, however, the moon was not seen on the critical 29th day due to bad weather, but none the less, I did photograph it the following day.  So for those of you interested in it here is last month’s new moon taken on January 24, 2012 marking the beginning of Rabi Al-Awwal.

New Moon of Rabi Al-Awwal 1433

Rabi Al-Awwal 1433

Today was a hectic day but I did manage to secure the afternoon off and make it out to see and capture the new moon of Rabi Ath-Thani.  With my four assistants in tow, we made it to the top of the local mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean just after the sun dropped below the horizon.  The usual quiet was broken this time by the peals of laughter and tom-foolery of my assistants.  It was not long before we spotted it.  The particulars: initially seen at 6:13 pm PST with an altitude of 6 fingers above the horizon (approximately 9 degrees) and just over the sunset point or possibly just to the right of it (a rare occurance here in northern hemisphere for the moon to be to the right of the sun at sunset).  Its limbs were at 4 and 8 pm as best as we could tell with our naked eyes.

Within twenty minutes of the first sighting, this is what we were fortunate enough to witness.

New Moon of Rabi Ath-Thani, 1433

Rabi Ath-Thani, 1433

I would have had this photo up here on the journal much sooner, however about four hours after being up on the hills my oldest son, one of my four assistants, notices a bump on his right arm and goes to inspect it by lifting his sleeve.  To his surprise and all of ours as well, we discover a tick has sunk it ugly head into his arm and is feasting.  An adult female deer tick was the specimen as best as I can tell.  It was not engorged at all, as far as I can tell.  We pulled out our tick removal tools from our first aid kit and began working.  Those buggers really hold on tight.  It took a couple of minutes, but we finally got it to let go, only leaving a small mouth part still in the skin.  A few more minutes of work and we think we got all of it out.  However, this is nothing to take lightly and tomorrow we do plan on a visit to the doctor to make sure everything is ok.

As I worked, a sense of urgency came over me.  Time was of the essence in removing the tick.  The fear of infection with a myriad of illnesses, the least of which Lyme Disease, made it imperative that it be removed quickly and cleanly as soon as possible to avoid any infection.  We kept the bugger in a moist paper towel in case a test needs to be made on the tick to determine if it indeed is a vector for any disease.

Be vigilantly aware regarding the safety of what you love.  It does not take much, physically or with respect to time for your beloved to be taken away due to oversight or neglect.  While we live on a perfectly peaceful planet, there are elements that can bring great hardship and in some cases in very small packages.  Take care and make sure to stay safe while wandering.

Peace to you All.

Leave a Comment: Comments (3)

One or Two, the Moon is Still New

Sunset on Christmas Day

Sunset on a Quiet Day

I have always been amazed when I awoke on Christmas day to find it to be peaceful and quiet.  Today was no different.  Everyone and everything just stops on this day and because of that, its is intensely quiet.  For that reason, I like this day.

Today also happened to occur on a new moon.  As I do every month I go out to find the new crescent moon and to record it, as it used to be on film, but now with pixels.  As quiet as it is on any other day, today it was even more so.  As I stood out there on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the silence I felt like I was very far away from the things of man.

I waited a while before the moon made itself visible as it emerged from behind the clouds.  It was a fine moon, crisp and clean in the sky.  As I worked photographing it my cell phone broke the silence.  I was called for a sighting report about the new moon.  I replied “I am looking at right now as we speak”.  I was asked “who else is with you?”, and my reply “I am alone”.  “You know two people are needed for a valid report”.  “Yes I know” was my reply and the call ended.

New Moon of Safar 1433

Safar 1, 1433

I suddenly thought, one person or two, the moon is still new.  I laughed, finished up and drove home alone in the revelry of beautiful silence.  I started this 20 year odyssey of looking for the new moon when no one else would, and now I still go out alone most months, only now with a reputation of the Moon-Sighter following me.  And whether I see it or not, the moon waits for no one or two.

Enjoy the coming winter.  Peace.

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

It Starts Anew

This evening as the moon made its appearance once again, I was out along the Skyline Highway.  It was a smashing way to greet in the new Islamic Year.  This evening the year 1433 Hijri started.  Without any fanfare or incendiaries the year came in silence, exactly how I like it.  Sublime moments bring there own grandeur to share with those open to seeing and recognizing them.  I was fortunate to be among the audience.

Muharram Crescent 1433

Muharram Crescent & Venus 1433

The year has gone by very fast, faster than I could have imagined.  Endings and beginnings are always times of retrospect and introspect.  As I look back over the past year, I find that I have some regrets and some gratitude.  It also brings hope and resolve to continue on.  Much has changed over the past year both internally and externally.  Nonetheless we have no choice but to accept the changes and move on, hopefully attaining growth as a human being.

I have much to share with you, my dear readers, in the weeks to come, and I just hope I can find the time, a commodity that has been in short supply with me lately, to bring out many new and exciting photographs and to share some interesting developments with Organic Light Photography.  Its never boring here, so stay tuned.

Muharram Crescent 1433 and Venus

Sunset # 1, 1433 AH

One thing that you can be certain of is that the beauty of our fragile world will continue to grace the pages of this web journal and its parent website.  And along with them my reflections that will hopefully keep us growing as individuals leading us to the nexus of love and action that will change the tide that is rapidly eroding our home.

To all my readers, Happy Islamic New Year and Peace to you all.

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

Shabaan 1432 Begins

Shabaan 1432

Shabaan 1432

This evening the new crescent moon of the 8th month of the Islamic calendar known as Shabaan was sighted marking the beginning of the month.  It was not a very young moon, thus making it very easy to see, but none the less it was a beautiful moon.  Every month has its appeal and its beauty, and this moon is no different.  The light was sublime and thankfully again, I did not need to go far to see it.

Shabaan is also known as the Month of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) and it was in this month that he fasted the most of any of the months other than Ramadan, which begins on the next new moon.

Make this a special month of remembrance and peace.

Leave a Comment: Comments (1)

What We Can’t See

The new moon is upon us once again.  As I write this post, it is about 6 hours before it will be visible in the western sky provided the sky is not cloudy.

Last month I photographed a new crescent moon that moved through the sky in varying light over a twenty minute period.  As elusive as the new crescent moon is in its own right, making it difficult to see,  some times the camera manges to pickup light that our eye just cannot perceive.

Pictured in the photo below is the new crescent moon of February 3rd, 2011 taken 10 minutes after the photo that was posted in the Rabi Al-Awwal Begins post.  It was a toss up for me as to which photo to actually post for that entry in the journal.  I chose the former due to its sharpness, as the photo below used a shutter speed that was a bit longer than I normally like to use and the moon blurred ever so slightly due its motion in the sky.

The shadow of the Moon

Ghost Moon

However, what fascinated me about this image was that after I had processed the RAW file, I could actually see the entire shadow of the moon in the sky.  There was just enough variation in the light from the moon to be recorded by the digital sensor.  Now this is not unique to digital cameras as I have recorded the shadowed moon on new moon nights before using film, however what is intriguing is the fact that my eyes could not see these subtle variations in the light.

Our eyes do not accumulate light the way a camera does.  As light enters our eyes the cones and rods on the retina become activated and immediately send their impulses down the optic nerve to our brain where in interpret what we “see”.

In contrast a camera opens its shutter to allow light to enter it.  The light hits a piece of film chemically treated to react to light, the longer the shutter is left open the more chemical grains on the surface of the film become activated and retain visual information.  The same is true with digital sensors however in this case the sensor is electrically active and starts to record light as charge build upset up when the photons of light cause current to flow through the micro-sized photo transistors on the digital chip.  The longer the shutter is left open the more charge is built up and interpreted as brighter light. In this manner the camera is able to “see” things in dim light that our eyes can never see.  As long as there is some visible light the camera can record it given enought time while the shutter is open.

Darkness has always been symbolic of mystery, the unknown and all that these ideas bring with them, like fear, terror, evil and so on.  And while there is nothing out there in the dark that does not exist in the day, our inability to see in the dark conjures up fear of the unknown.  Today however, with modern digital camera technology night time photographs have never been easier to make.  And for those brave enough to venture out into the darkness of night to make such photos, we can all marvel and rest assured, there are no monsters in the dark and to know that what we can’t see won’t hurt us.

Peace.

Leave a Comment: Comments (2)

I Can’t See It

Every month for the last 20 years I have gone out to look for the new crescent moon.  Sometimes I see it and other times I don’t for one reason or another.  It has become a family tradition and my kids love to go out to look for the moon as much as I do.  Hopefully they will continue on with this monthly tradition after I am long gone and that they will will pass it down to their kids.

Shabaan Hilal, 1431 - July 12, 2010

This evening we went out to sight the new moon for the Islamic month of Sha’baan. It is the 8th month in the Islamic year and it is a crucial moon to see as it helps mark the beginning of Ramadan, the 9th month and the month of fasting. I saw it first among my family this evening as the kids were playing around. When I called out ‘There it is!’ of course they all ran to me and started probing me so they could see it. One after another, like dominoes, the lovely sound of “Ahhh, I see it I see it!” All but one. My youngest daughter, only 4 years old, and so determined to see the moon cries out – “I can’t See it!” “Where is it?!” After about 2o minutes of pointing to it, and helping her find landmarks where she could cast off into the sky to see it, we still were no better off.

I told her to relax, it will get brighter and you will see it. As we sat there, she suddenly asked, “what’s that black thing up there?” She had noticed a jet liner coming into the Bay Area to probably land at the San Francisco International airport. It was flying directly at the moon. I told her to, “keep watching the plane, and it will fly right next to the moon and when I tell you, look real hard.” Suddenly I say – “Now!” “I see it, I see it!” she yells out in glee.

It is the strangest thing, seeing the new moon. It brings great joy to my heart, and to everyone who has ever come out with me and saw it. One moment you are looking at blank sky and then the next, there it is, as plain as day itself. Its as if it suddenly comes into existence from nowhere, its born into the world – somehow almost miraculously.

Next month, for the month of Ramadan, we are expecting the moon to be seen on the evening of August 11th. Go out an experience a miracle. Your heart will thank you for it.

Peace.

Leave a Comment: Comments (3)

New Islamic Year – 1431

New Crescent - Muharram 1431

New Crescent - Muharram 1431

This evening, in silence, the new Islamic year – 1431 began.  Now I don’t live in the Muslim world so I have never experienced what takes place upon seeing the new moon that ushers in the new Islamic year, but here in the United States, it goes pretty much un-noticed.   In fact if it is not the moon for the start of Ramadan or the moon that ends Ramadan, most Muslims never look into the sky or even bother to notice what the Islamic date is.  For me the new moon is an awaited monthly friend that I have been faithfully visiting for the last twenty years.  For me it is always a joyous event.  And although the moon never seems to be any different, every time it comes around it comes with a different sky as its backdrop.  And so it is always something new to look at.

Muharram Crescent and Clouds

Muharram Crescent and Clouds

So on this eve of the New Year, I wish all the Muslims a Blessed Muharram, and may the year 1431 be a safe, prosperous, and beneficial year.

Peace to you all.

Leave a Comment: Comments (9)

Next Page »