No Doubt, No Doubt…

May 11th, 2021 marked the 29th day of Ramadan this year. As 29 days earlier, we were surprised by a very thin new crescent moon appearing in our sky when we were not expecting to see it on April 12th. Surprise! The moon appeared where the sighting probability maps indicated that it could not be seen except with an optical aid, however to be fair, my location was on the borderline between needing an optical aid and able to see it in perfect conditions.

So on May 11th, I was not expecting to see the moon. The probability of seeing was near zero. Given the moon was only several hours past conjunction and that it set a mere 10 minutes after the sun set, I had a very high level of confidence that we would not see it and that Ramadan this year would be competed as a 30 day month.

The Last Sunset?

As we waited for the sun to drop below the horizon we struggled not to look at it and developing the dreaded green spots that remain as phantom images burned into one’s retina, making seeing subtle things, like the new moon, very difficult. Was this the last sunset of Ramadan? Would something miraculous happen and the new moon become visible to us?

It was not long before I had no doubt, no doubt at all that Ramadan was not over.

No Doubt

The horizon was clear, and 10 minutes flew by very quickly and without a sight of the moon. But wait…. what is that?!

Oh Wait!…

Is that the moon?! So many times in the past, reports came in of something that looked like this condensation trail with claims of it being the moon. It is understandable, the excitement is high in anticipation of either starting Ramadan or ending it that we sometimes can fool ourselves into thinking we are seeing what we really are not seeing. I have “seen” moons in the sky that I wanted to see in my mind’s eye and it has confused me.

But in the end, we left for home grateful for another day of fasting. It is strange, we enter into Ramadan foregoing our food and drink in exchange for hunger and thirst because our Creator asked us to do so, and we obeyed. By the time Ramadan is nearing its end, the hunger and thirst for food and drink we experienced at the beginning of the month, has seemed to have vanished, and now our hunger can only be satiated by standing in prayer, and the thirst we find could only be slaked by the sweet recitation of the Quran. A deep longing emerges hoping that Ramadan never ends. But alas, time marches on.

Shawwal, the month that trails Ramadan, comes with its first day as the Festival of Breaking Fast. As with all the months in the Islamic calendar, the beginnings are marked with either a naked eye witnessing of the new crescent moon or the completion of the month as a 30 day month. Ramadan this year was completed as a 30 day month. Therefore, technically, sighting the new crescent of Shawwal was not needed, but hey that never stopped me before.

As I headed out to sight it, I was expecting a nice thick and bright crescent, as the moon would be 32 hours past conjunction. Ha! Was I wrong!

Shawwal 1, 1442 (seen on May 12, 2021)

As I stood there marveling at how thin of a crescent it was, I thought, after 30 years of looking for new crescents, the one thing that was predictable about the moon is its unpredictability. We humans have tried to nail down a method of predictability for literally thousands of years. We have yet to be successful. Even though our modern astronomical calculations are unbelievably accurate in determining the location of the moon in the sky, we have no method of predicting where or when the moon can be seen with any level of certainty. Our best effort so far, an extrapolation method using regression analysis of past data. Is it a good method? Well, in spite of centuries of observation data, the moon still surprises us.

So Ramadan this year comes to an end. As the moon appeared in the sky, it was accompanied by a familiar night traveler, the planet Venus.

Companions on the Path

As the moon and Venus hung there in the sky, a feeling of serenity and melancholy washed over me. It has always been a moment of great succor for me when I witness the moon in the silence that comes with the evening twilight. I almost need to experience it every month just to know that there is order in all the madness that ensues in the world. The moon returns each month, the sky still glows and time moves on, and with it Ramadan has left.

I already miss Ramadan; the struggle for something greater than myself, for a reason greater than myself, for the sweetness of breaking fast, for the comradery and closeness between family and friends when we sit together to enjoy our evening meal and the rush in the pre-dawn hours to prepare and eat with a looming deadline hanging over us, for the hours spent standing in prayer hoping for salvation from our less than perfect lives, for the melodic recitation of a Book that contains the speech not of anything or anyone of this world.

My closing prayer this Ramadan, Oh God, please bring me to another Ramadan!

The End is Just the Beginning

So as this Ramadan ends, I must remind myself that this is not the end, but just the beginning of another year. Armed with a renewed spirit and commitment to do better, be better, and live better, we part our time with this Ramadan and hope to meet it again in 12 more moons in a state better than we left it.

With that, I wish all of my Muslim patrons a heart felt Eid Mubarak!

And as always to all of you, until next time – Peace.

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

An Old Friend, Renewed Excitement!

Well, as I have done for the last three decades, I went out to look for the new crescent moon. This was an important moon to sight as it would mark the start of Ramadan, the month of fasting in Islam. The moon never disappoints, and from the photo below, I think you can see what I mean.

New Crescent Moon: Ramadan 1, 1442 – April 12, 2021

Now that is a pretty stark moon, but I must admit, it was not that easy to see. In fact, I did not see this moon with my naked eyes. I tried my hardest, but it was three of my assistants, as I lovingly call them, who have been my companions when I go out to photograph the moon and for that matter almost anytime I go out to photograph the beauty of our world. They saw it first and were able to track its movement in the sky for almost 10 minutes before I could make a photo. I did not deny that they were seeing it, it was just that I could not believe it. This moon is only 24.5 hours old past conjunction. Its probability of being seen was such that optical aids would be needed to see it, in our area. For me in fact, that was the case with my half-century+ old eyes. But thank God for young sharp eyes! they first caught a glimpse of it at around 8:00 pm PDT, and they were unsure at first. It kept coming in and out of view for them, they kept saying that they saw it, but then were not sure and did not want to commit. But by 8:12 pm, when this photo was made, they were 100% certain and their eyes were locked on it and directed me exactly to where I should point the camera, and sure enough, it was right there.

But that photo above is not what they saw. That is what I rendered from the digital capture to show the absolute grandeur of the moon. This is more like what they saw.

This rendition, which has just been touched up for removing dust particles on the sensor and a touch of sharpening for web presentation. Here you can see just how faint that moon was. I could not see this moon, and that made this sighting very exhilarating! For the first time, My kids were able to out-sight their father, and that made me very proud of what they are capable of. I don’t know how many more moons I will be given the blessing of seeing, and holding down this beautiful tradition has been a trying struggle against an onslaught of calculation-based soothsayers bent on dictating their own beginnings of the months, rather than reveling in the patience that comes with starting the months when God wants us to start it by giving us the gift of this amazing sight. Knowing that my children have the ability to keep this tradition alive is very reassuring and renews my excitement about moon sighting. I pray that they will be the standard-bearers once I am gone.

Anyone who goes out to look for the new crescent moon must know the blessing and joy that comes when it is seen. Just a little while ago, a colleague of mine sent me a message that his young five-year-old daughter started to cry because she did not get to see the new moon because of clouds blocking her view. This is how we should all react! In her still pure innocent state, she knows what a blessing it is to see the new crescent moon, and expressed her great displeasure that she was not going to see it on this night.

Why has the Muslim community forgotten this great blessing? Have we become so blinded by our own knowledge to think that an abstract calculation of probabilities of seeing the moon can be a surrogate for actually seeing it? Plato is reported to have said that he takes as quacks those who establish proofs from probabilities. Why did the ancients know what we have forgotten?

I think it is high time that, in spite of our advanced knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, that we humble ourselves enough to go outside once a month and look up into the post-sunset sky and just allow the blessings of the emergence of a new moon to penetrate our heart and soul so that we too can feel the elation that the new moon brings, and the increased longing when its beautiful sight is withheld. Do not let your self rob you of a great blessing. In 29 days, we will go out once more to look for the moon that is to mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking Fast. Make it point to feel, no one else can feel it for you and it just cannot be described, you just have to taste it for yourself.

To all my Muslim brothers and sisters, Ramadan Mubarak!

Until next time, Peace to you all.

Leave a Comment: Comments (4)

The Year That Had No Hajj…Almost

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

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

Crescent moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
All Alone

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

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

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

Crescent Moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
Not Alone At All

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

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

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

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

Mysteries of Moonsighting

Just over a week ago, on February 5th, the new crescent moon of the 6th month of the Islamic calendar (Jamad al-Akheer) appeared. I anticipated that it would be seen here on the west coast and specifically in the San Francisco Bay Area. That sighting came on the heels of the 5th Central Hilal Committee annual conference on the tradition of moon sighting. I, as well as my moon sighting colleague, Zakariyya Twist, were invited this year to present at the conference. We went in with the intention to emphatically lobby for better communication between moon sighting groups, better verification of sighting reports, and presenting a unified front in advocating for this beautiful tradition to the larger Muslim community. So when the day arrived to sight the moon, I was quite confident that we would get many reports from all over the country as the other participants of the conference were just as excited as I and Zakariyya were.

The morning of February 5th emerged in the midst of the coldest storm of the year in the Bay Area. We awoke to snow falling at 1200 feet elevation. It was absolutely magical seeing snow fall at our home and playing around in the fluffy monster-sized snowflakes as they were lofting down around us. The skies were dark and overcast, the wind was blowing, it was roughly 32°F and the hopes of having clear skies later that evening were vanishing with every falling snowflake. The only consolation to that thought was the mesmerizing frosting that appeared across the Santa Cruz mountains as first light broke.

Frosted Morning

As amazing as the mountains were that morning, I had a teaching assignment that needed my attention and by the time I had completed that, the skies had cleared, the sun was shinning, the snow had nearly all melted away, while the air remained frigid near freezing. I had additional teaching assignments later that afternoon at Zaytuna College in Berkeley and I had planned to sight the new crescent from the new hilltop Upper Campus. Sunset had arrived and as I scrambled around the campus looking for a location where I could see the western horizon, I became frustrated that no matter where I stood, one or more trees blocked the view.

In my desperation, I left the hilltop campus and rushed down along Grizzly Peak Rd. to the first pullout overlook of the San Francisco Bay Area. The sky was glowing, the wind was brisk and the atmosphere was as clear as a bell! It did not take me long to spot it, one of the thinnest crescents I have ever seen.

1 Jamad Al-Akheer, 1440 (February 5th, 2019)

As I was photographing the crescent I received a text meassage from Zakarriya. He sighted the crescent as well, about three or four minutes ahead of me about 21 miles north west of my location on Mount Tamalpais. He was alone where he was and I was alone where I was and yet together in spirit.

Neither one of us had heard of any other sightings and that tempered my elation. Had our words just a few days prior fallen on deaf ears? Why hadn’t that congregation of sighters all seen it? Did they go out? Did they even look? Zakariyya reached out to some of them and after a few hours we did hear of some other sighting reports specifically from down south in San Diego from one of the conference participants who happened to be sitting next to us in the presentation hall. That lifted my spirits greatly.

It is such a subtle thing, that new crescent when it first appears. It is such a mystery to me how such a small sliver of light can illuminate my heart so fully as to cause me to exclaim in elation Allahu Akbar! (God is Greater!). I see it as a manifestation of God’s creative power to bring it into the corporeal world. I know the moon is there orbiting the earth, however to my eye, to my heart’s eye, its not existent. When it appears in the sky it as if it was brought out of non-existence and into existence right before my very eyes and that is incredibly thrilling. I do not think my explanations convey the “magic” of the experience and I can only encourage all to go out and experience it for themselves.

The next opportunity to see the new crescent moon will be on March 6th, 2019. That day will be 29 days from the sighting discussed above and will be the crucial day to go out and look for it. It might or might not be seen that evening. Only time will tell.

Till next time, Peace to All.

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

Crisp And Clean Confirms Our Deen

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

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

New Crescent of Ramadan 1, 1439

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

New Crescent of Rabi’ Al-Awwal 1, 1439

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

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

Leave a Comment: Comments (1)

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!

Leave a Comment: Comments (0)

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)

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 (64)

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)

Next Page »