Freedom From Fire

Ramadan is quickly coming to a close.  As I write, the 28th day is starting to wane.  I always feel melancholy as Ramadan prepares to leave us.  The abstaining from food and drink is not always so pleasant, but we learn to patiently deal with it as we move through the month.  The pangs of hunger, continuously reminding us of the state we are in, become dull and we don’t notice them so much by month’s end.  We start to turn inward and work on our spiritual-selves.  We pray more.  We read the Qur’an more.  We reflect on our shortcomings and work on becoming better humans.  We seek forgiveness from our Lord.  We give charity to those who are less fortunate.  We feed people.  The community comes together each night.  Camaraderie builds.  Old friends become new again.   The relationship with our Creator becomes stronger.  We become more grateful for what we have.  By month’s end, the heart is overflowing with love, compassion, gratitude and hope.

So, it is only natural that one would feel sad to see all of this vanish with the close of the month.

The month of Ramadan also brings with it some amazing opportunities for what is to come once we leave this world.  The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) stated that the beginning of Ramadan is Mercy, the middle of Ramadan is Forgiveness and the end of Ramadan is Freedom from the Hell-Fire.  Likewise He (peace be upon him) stated Woe to those who fast Ramadan and are not emancipated from the Fire.  This brings on a great urgency as Ramadan closes  with increased worship in the hopes of finding that freedom.

This year, 2016, we find ourselves planning to search for the new moon of the month of Shawwal, marking the end of Ramadan, on July 4th!  Here in the United States of America, of course July 4th is Independence Day, the day the founders of this great country liberated themselves from the tyranny of King George III of England in 1776.  From the location where I normally sight the new crescent moons, I can see nearly the entire San Francisco Bay Area.  It will be interesting to see all the firework displays from there all happening at the same time, at a great distance however, but nonetheless that will be a lot of fireworks!

It struck me odd this year that we are ending the month of Ramadan with increased effort to find freedom from the Fire, and we will be closing out the month celebrating freedom with fire. I’m sure there is something deep to think about there but I have some more spiritual work to tend to.

So to all my readers, a pre-Eid Mubarak and have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Freedom?

Until next time, Peace.

P.S.  Please remember to go out and search for the new crescent on July 4th.  I’ll be at Russian Ridge, my usual place, if anyone is interested in joining me.

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To Be Clear…

I want to be open and clear in my endeavors about moon sighting.  I do not want anyone to feel any doubt or lack any certainty about the reports that I give regarding the sighting of the new moon.

Let me start by noting that I have been involved in sighting the moon since 1993, and I have gone out nearly every month since then. I have studied the moon and its motion in the sky.  I am well-read on the science behind its motion and the mathematical technique employed today on predicting where the moon could be seen.  Over the years, I have developed my own set of criteria as to whether or not I think the moon will be seen. I also contribute to making final decisions almost every month as to the beginning of the Islamic months with other moon sighters and committees across the United States.

Over the years, I have noticed that the following minimum parameters are needed to easily see the new moon:

Age: more than 18 hours old

Lag Time: 40 minutes or more

Elongation: 12 degrees

Altitude at Sunset: 5 degrees

Crescent Width (or Percent Illumination): 19 arc seconds or 1% illumination

 

The parameters for the new crescent on June 5th were as follows at the time of sunset:

Age: 27.5 hours

Lag Time: 42 minutes

Elongation: 14.8 degrees

Altitude: 6.5 degrees

Percent Illumination: 1.7%

The moon was not going to be easily seen because the lag time and the altitude at sunset were very close to the minimum values needed to see the moon easily.

Predicting the visibility of the new crescent moon has been an endeavor that dates back thousands of years.  In 1997 and then updated in 1998, B.D. Yallop working for the HM Nautical Almanac Office, surveyed the methods used historically and those used in the twentieth century and developed a new criteria to predict new crescent moon visibility.  if interested, Yallop’s paper can be obtained HERE.  Every numerical moon prediction method used today works off of the Yallop method.  Among the parameters that I mention and use above, Yallop determined that there was a mathematical functional relation between the geocentric difference in altitude between the center of the sun and the center of the moon for a given latitude and longitude on the earth, ignoring the effects of refraction, and the topocentric width of the crescent moon.  In fact, Yallop found that the difference in the altitude was a cubic function of the topocentric crescent width.  Let me explain some of these terms.

First, let me explain the altitude.  Altitude is a measure of a celestial objects distance above the horizon as seen by an observer on the surface of the earth.  There are two ways to calculate it, geocentrically and topocentrically.  The geocentric calculation assumes that one is at the physical center of the sphere of the earth and the line connecting the center of the earth and the moon.  This altitude is measured off of the equator of the earth.  The topocentric calculation assumes one is standing on the surface of the earth and the line connecting the location on the earth and the moon does not necessarily pass through the center of the earth. The following diagram shows the two different angles.

Diagram showing Geocentric and Topocentric altitude.

The angle delta, δ, indicates the Geocentric altitude and the angle phi, φ, indicates the Topocentric altitude.  The topocentric altitude is of course easier to measure as one stands on the surface of the earth.  The difference in the geocentric altitude between the sun and the moon requires that this quantity be measured, or calculated, for both the sun and the moon and then the difference between those two values determined.  If the sun happens to be on the horizon it will have essentially a zero altitude by definition.  If the moon happens to still be in the sky above the sun then the difference in the altitudes will be a positive number.  If the moon had set before the sun, then the moon will be below the horizon and the difference in the altitudes would be a negative number.  Thus, the difference in the altitudes is always computed at the time of sunset for any given location on the earth.  The resulting number is then just the actual altitude of the moon above the horizon.

The altitude is measured in degrees and one can use a clinometer to easily measure the topocentric altitude of any celestial object, including the moon.  Check here if you would like to make your own clinometer.  To determine the geocentric altitude of the object one would need to employ trigonometry and some algebra, which is beyond the scope of the article at this time, but can be found by searching for it online if one desires.

Next is the topocentric crescent width.  This parameter measures the width of the visible portion of the moon.  The width of the moon is measured by an angle that subtends the moon as measured from earth.  In the figure below it would be the angle given by W.  From the earth the moon’s width measures approximately 0.5° or 30 arc minutes. It varies slightly from month to month depending on the distance between the earth and moon as the moon follows an elliptical path around the earth, sometimes a bit closer and sometimes a bit farther.  The width of the crescent is of course less than the 30 arc minutes and will continuously grow from zero to a full 0.5 degrees when the moon is full.  In terms of arc seconds, the moon is 1800 arc seconds wide (60 arc seconds in every arc minute).  A one percent (1%) illuminated moon corresponds to a crescent width of only 18 arc seconds wide, and a 19 arc second wide moon corresponds to roughly 1.05% illumination.

Measuring the Width of the Crescent

The crescent width is directly related to another parameter mentioned above and that is the Elongation.  The elongation is also an angular measure that determines the position of the moon relative to the earth and sun.  At conjunction the moon lines up with the earth and sun along what is known as the earth-moon-sun conjunction line.  The diagram below shows the new moon orientation with the moon on the conjunction line, as well as showing the moon in two other positions later in its orbit around the earth.  As the moon continues to move away from the conjunction line, the elongation angle continues to grow.  As the moon moves along in its orbit past conjunction, the visible portion of the moon gets larger as more reflected light from the sun can bounce off and find its way down to the earth where we can view it.

Elongation Diagram

Yallop had also discovered a mathematical functional relationship between the difference in the geocentric altitudes and the elongation and the difference in the azimuths of the moon and sun.  With this other relationship Yallop was able to come up with quadratic function that related the difference in the altitudes to the difference in the azimuths of the sun and moon.  So how are the probability curves generated?

Using a data set of 295 sighting reports in the past, the locations of where those sightings occurred were plotted on a map of the earth based on their latitude and longitude.  Then for a given date the necessary parameters, altitudes and azimuths are computed using astronomical calculations.  Given the values of the altitudes and azimuths along with the result of each individual sighting from the data set, whether the moon was seen or not seen, and whether it was seen by the unaided eye or with an optical aid, a parabolic curve is plotted on the map to fit the data as best as possible.  The parabolic curve is used as it will best fit the quadratic function determined by Yallop.  The technique used is called Least Squares Curve Fitting and it is a statistical method that uses pre-existing data to fit a line or other curve, such as a parabola in this case, to the data that gives the best possible fit while minimizing errors.  The larger the data set used the more accurate the curve fitting becomes.  Yallop initially used 295 data points and from that set determined six visibility zones; Zone A – Easily Visible to the Unaided Eye, Zone B – Visible Under Perfect Atmospheric Conditions, Zone C – Visible to the Unaided Eye After Found with Optical Aid, Zone D – Only Visible with Binoculars or Conventional Telescopes, Zone E – Not Visible with Conventional Telescopes and Zone F – Not Visible Below Danjon Limit of 7°.  The Danjon Limit is the minimum elongation angle that will allow sunlight reflecting off of the moon to reach the earth. Below a 7° elongation there is not enough light reflecting off of the moon that it could be seen by any means.

Numerically the six zones are determined by the following values: Zone A – q > +0.216, Zone B – +0.216 ≥ q > -0.014, Zone C – -0.014 ≥ q > -0.16, Zone D – -0.16 ≥ q > -0.232, Zone E – -0.232 ≥ q > -0.293, Zone F – q ≥ -0.293.

Note that in moving from one zone to the next, the values of the determination parameter have common borders. Zone A and B have a common border along the 0.216 parabola line, Zone B and C along the -0.014 parabola line, Zone C and D along the -0.16 parabola line, Zone D and E along the -0.232 parabola line and finally Zone E and F along the -0.293 parabola line.  Even though the above inequalities are designed to ensure any given location can be in one and only one zone, there is no margin of error between the zones and this raises many questions.  What if one was standing exactly on one of the parabola lines that delineates one zone from the next?  What prediction does one rely on?  How far into any given zone must one move to ensure that the zone one is in will be the predictor of the probability indicated?

Again, the Yallop criteria, a statistical method using past sighting data to predict probable future sightings and the larger the data set the better the curve fit and the better the prediction of probable sighting.

The Yallop criteria for the moon on June 5th indicated that my area was in Zone C;  that sighting the crescent was possible after using an optical aid to first  locate the moon, however my location was very close to the border line of Zone B, crescent visible under perfect atmospheric conditions.  Aside from some wispy high clouds in limited portions of the sky, we had great atmospheric conditions for sighting the moon as I had ever seen.

So what happened this past Sunday evening? Our group arrived at our viewing location, Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve along the Ridge Trail, with the following coordinates 37.3247 N 122.2087 W at an elevation of 2359 feet around 7:45 pm to 8:00 pm local PDT.  We waited for the sun to set before we started to look.  I knew the moon’s azimuth would be about 10 degrees to the left of the sun, approximately 1 hand span, and 6.5 degrees above the horizon, approximately 2 to 3 fingers above the horizon at the time of sunset.  I directed everyone to concentrate on that location of the sky. We all looked intently.

The prime time to see the moon occurs at a time that is 4/9 of the lag time after sunset, a time determination that was also discussed by Yallop in the same above mentioned paper.  At our location sunset occurred at 8:26 pm PDT.  The moon set was at 9:08 pm PDT, and 4/9 of 42 minutes is 18 minutes and 20 seconds.  This placed the best viewing time at 8:44 pm.  Hence, as soon as it was 8:44 pm,  we all started to double our searching efforts.  One from the group at this time thought that he saw its lower limb poking out from the clouds that were perched right where the moon was supposed to be. Then, a few moments later, another of the onlookers thought he saw it as well.  The first person though had lost sight of it.  Neither could confirm with certainty.  At about 8:50 pm PDT, I pull out a pair of small low power 7 x 35 binoculars (see note below), and I search the sky along the bottom edge of the clouds that obstructed our view.  Within moments, I confirmed what the other two had seen with their naked eyes: the bottom limb of the moon was indeed sticking out from the clouds.  I moved the binoculars from my eyes, and I could clearly distinguish that the lower limb was visible and directed others to where it was.  Within 5 minutes, the moon had completely dropped out of the clouds.  At this point, I was able to see it clearly and at the same time faintly.  It was a very thin moon and one that was difficult to spot.  However, when I directed the rest of the group to where it was in relation to clouds around it, the first two who had seen it, were able to see it once more, and they were followed by a third onlooker, then a fourth and then a fifth in addition to myself.  It was then that I trained my camera on the moon and made four photos, starting at 8:58 pm.  By that time the moon had dropped to about 1 or 1.5 fingers above the horizon, approximately 3 degrees above the horizon in altitude.

In all we were about 15 in number; most had a difficult time seeing it, but those of us who did see it, were certain we had seen it.  We continued to watch it until just about 9:05 pm PDT when it had dropped so low that haze along the horizon was now obscuring the view.

I made the first photo of it just as it dropped out of the clouds at 8:58 pm; however, I did not set the camera controls correctly, and the moving reflex mirror in the camera caused a vibration that blurred the moon.  I then made the second of four photos immediately afterwards, this time locking the mirror in place before tripping the shutter.  That second photo was the photo displayed on the June 5th post.  The third and fourth photos were made in the same manner however, the second photo showed the moon best.  Furthermore, I have been photographing the new crescent moon with a digital camera for the last 8 years.  I set the camera to photograph in RAW mode.  A RAW file is not actually an image file, rather it is a file that records the CCD image sensor data as it was captured.  An additional piece of software is needed to read the RAW file and covert it to an image file.  In the RAW converter, I have control over the data, and I can set the exposure, brightness, contrast, highlight and shadow levels, color temperature as well as the saturation so that the image appears as best as I can recall at the time I made the photo.  I cannot however, add an object that was not there, nor can I remove something that was there.  Those operations can be accomplished, if so desired, in an image editing program like Photoshop.  When the RAW file is opened in the converter it is very dull and with very low contrast and, in most cases, looks nothing like the actual scene.  This is by design to ensure the darkest part of the image and the lightest part of the image contains actual detail.  Pure black and pure white in a digital image contain no details at all.  The four photos shown below are the four that I made on the evening of June 5th, without any adjustments made to the RAW files other than opening the files in the converter and then saving them as JPEG files for displaying on the web.

Initial Photo with Blurred Moon, 8:58 pm PDT

Photo used on June 5th post, 8:58 pm PDT

Third photo made on June 5th, 9:00 pm PDT

Fourth and final photo of June 5th; 9:03 pm PDT

 

Note on Binoculars:  I have not used binoculars to search for the new moon since September of 2003.  On that particular occasion, I was able to see the moon with a pair of 10×50 binoculars, but I could not see it with my naked eyes.  I had a group with me at that time as well, and they could not see the crescent even with the binoculars.  It put me in a difficult position, as according to the Shari’ah, the sighting obligated me to start the new month but not so for any others.  I was instructed by one of my teachers to stop using optical aids in searching for the new moon.  Hence, this past Sunday night, on June 5th, was the first time I had used binoculars in thirteen years.  My children have grown up with moon sighting, and while they were all to young to understand the use of binoculars thirteen years ago, they grew up with hearing about that incident 13 years ago and have been with me consistently over this time.  Three of my four children are all considered adults now under Shari’ah and these three were all among the five besides myself that saw the crescent on June 5th.  As I pulled the binoculars out, they all urged me to put them away.  They all said, “Don’t cheat!”

Earlier that evening I was in contact with other colleagues that I work with in determining how to respond to other sighting claims from the United States and abroad.  Positive sighting reports had come in from Peru and Chile but did not include the details that would have allowed us to evaluate the sightings.  I was fairly certain that we would get reports from either Arizona or South Texas based on the Yallop probability curves for those areas, and sure enough, we did get a report from Frisco Texas.  I personally interviewed the man who made that report, and it sounded like a valid report.  He was not alone but had his wife and his adult daughter with him, and all three saw it.  Furthermore, he did indicate to me that there were others in his area that had seen it as well.  In discussing this report with my colleagues, we had decided to declare a positive sighting had been made but that we would wait until after sunset PDT to make the final call once we had a chance to search for the moon.  I was already convinced that the month had started, and thus my “cheat” was more of a self edification than anything else.  Once I established its location with the binoculars, I was able to direct others to seeing it, and once I pulled the binoculars from own eyes, the moon was there, faint, but clearly there, seen with my naked eyes, just as the Yallop curves had indicated.  The other naked eye sightings were just that – naked eye sightings, as they did not use the binoculars, something the Yallop curves did not indicate.

Finally going back to my criteria based on my sighting experience.  The moon of June 5th at the location of our observation met all the criteria indicating that we should have been able to see the moon.  Since the lag time was very close to the minimum of 40 minutes and that the altitude of the moon was very close to the minimum of 5 degrees needed, it was going to be a difficult moon to see.  Indeed it was a very difficult moon to see.  However, had we not had clouds to contend with that covered the portion of the sky at 8:44 pm where the moon should have been, we might have seen it earlier while it was at its optimum contrast.  The first of the sighters who did think he saw the lower limb but then later lost it, did think he saw it at just about the time of optimum viewing of 8:44 pm.

I would like people to understand that I would not have made the claim of seeing the moon if we did not actually see it with our naked eyes.  The responsibility of making such a claim when it is not true carries a great burden; in fact, any time I make a claim to have seen the moon, a great burden comes along with it.  I do not take moon sighting lightly.  The worship of billions of Muslims sometimes rides on my sightings, and I am very careful with it.

I hope this post settles any questions anyone might have had with the sighting that we made on June 5th.  I ask that you all keep me and my team of moon sighters in your prayers and pray that we can continue to keep this Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) alive and well and that we can once again re-establish it as the dominant method of determining our religious months and holidays.

Until next time, Peace to All and Ramadan Mubarak!

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This Beginning is Real

So yesterday afternoon I ventured out as I do every month to sight the new crescent.  I lead a group of students from Zaytuna College up to the Lawrence Hall of Science on the U.C. Berkeley Campus  with the hopes of leading a lesson on moon sighting and to sight the moon.  Unfortunately fog blew in off the bay and washed over the observation deck at the hall of science.  Texts had started to arrive from one group that I normally lead in the Santa Cruz mountains that they did not see the moon.  Likewise world wide.  However, before we even drove down the hill the confusion erupted.  Multiple sightings from California, and even in the Bay Area, were being reported and accepted to commence Eid Al-Fitr.  Well, you can read about some of what transpired last night in my previous post.

I went out this afternoon with my intrepid photo assistants and with a few more stalwarts who were not convinced by last nights claims.  I decided to take a series of photos from the onset of sunset until the moon was sighted.  I have included three of the over 45 photos I made in the span of about 30 minutes while we were out there watching the moon progress towards the horizon.

The moon this evening was 47 hours and 14 minutes old.  Well beyond the necessary 18 hours.  It had a lag time of 58 minutes.  A true first day crescent moon can be in the sky for up to 90 minutes past sunset and it is still considered a first day moon.  The elongation was 24.2°, double what is needed for an easy to sight moon.  The percent illumination was 4.4%, four times that needed for an easy to sight moon.  And finally the altitude above the horizon was 10.25°, again double what is needed for a easy to sight moon.

One very neat way of taking measurements of the moon in the sky is to use your hands to make the measurements of objects in the sky, like stars, planets and the moon.  This small graphic should help.

Measuring Distances In The Sky

Using these hand guides, the moon should have appeared about a hand span (or a fist span as shown) up from the horizon at the time of sunset.  With 58 minutes of lag, the moon should reach its highest contrast at about 26 minutes after sunset.  And sure enough, the moon sat on top of our fist when the bottom of the fist was placed on the horizon line when we first saw it.

So here is a portion of the series of photos I made earlier this evening.

1. Just after the sun set.

Shawwal After Sunset

2. Some time after sunset and after the moon entered the clouds.

Shawwal Crescent in the Clouds

3. The Shawwal crescent then emerged from the clouds with about 30 minutes left before setting, and was joined by both Venus and Jupiter.  Forming a pseudo smiling face in the sky ushering in an Eid Sa’eed (Happy Eid)!

 

Happy Eid

This is what a new moon looks like. If you did not see this yesterday then you did not see the new crescent moon.  It did not flop over, nor did it flatten out.  It did not suddenly get shiny, nor did it rise up in the sky.  The new moon emerges slowly.  Dim at first and then slowly becomes more pronounced as the evening wanes.  It maintains its orientation and only changes its orientation over the seasons.  And as the night comes in, the new moon sinks towards the horizon, following the one thing that helps it shine, the sun.  Yes the new moon sets in the west, just like the sun.

The seeking out of the new crescent moon is a rewarding activity.  Standing out there looking at that small sliver of light is medicine for the soul.  Its a reconnection with the Creator of all things and it teaches us patience.

I wish everyone a Happy Eid Al-Fitr and Peace!

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Something Unexpected

The delinquent photographer is back again.  Hey, this time its only been 3 months!  Anyway, this evening Venus and Jupiter were aligned with each other in the evening sky after sunset and for about two and a half hours they could be seen hanging over the western horizon.  I thought it was an fairly unique occurrence and decided to photograph them.

I pulled out the Nikon D2x and the 400mm f/5.6 lens that I use to photograph the moon each month.  I made the first photo at an ISO setting of 100 which required an 8 second exposure.  I knew that was too long but wanted to see how much blur resulted in the photo.  It was pretty bad.  I raised the ISO setting several stops to bring the exposure time to 1 sec, the maximum that I can use for celestial objects with this lens.  The resulting photo is below.

Venus, Jupiter and Moons?

On the outset, other than Venus, the lower brighter orb, and Jupiter being so close together its not that interesting of a photo.  However if you look closely at Jupiter you’ll see some other small lights next to it.  That puzzled me for a moment as I looked at the camera’s LCD screen while zoomed in on Jupiter.  Then I realized those must be the moons of Jupiter!  A quick look at the StarMap application on my phone and it was confirmed those indeed were the moons of Jupiter.  How in the world did this camera, with sensor technology that is at least 10 years old, capture them!

So to highlight those moons, I created an enlarged composite of Venus, Jupiter and Jupiter’s moons, which happen to be Ganymede (upper left), followed by Europa, Io and Castillo (lower right).  Click on the image to see an enlarged view.

Composite photo highlighting the moons of Jupiter

If you missed today’s rendezvous of Venus and Jupiter, then don’t worry, the will be together for the next several evenings as Jupiter passes Venus moving from the upper left to the lower right.

I apologize for my lack of posts, but I have been busy at work on some new custom equipment that will allow me to photograph the milky way using my 4×5 camera.  I should have it done and working by the end of summer, and expect some interesting work appearing here in the Autumn.  Until then, I will try to post more often.

Peace to all.

 

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Conjunction Junction…..

….What’s Your Function?

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

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

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

Partial Solar Eclipse of October 23rd, 2014

Conjunction Junction

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

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

What is the function of this Conjunction?

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

Until next time, Peace to all.

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From Darkness…

..And into the Light.

That is how the moon appears.

Dhul Hijjah Crescent 1435

It emerges from apparently nowhere and appears before our eyes basking in the light of the sun and guiding us on our journey through time.  We stand under it on this evening in submission and hearing the call to return to the Ancient House, where so many have returned over the millenia.  For those able, the journey of a lifetime begins and will culminate cleansed and given the chance to start anew, freed from the darkness of the self and allowed to enter into the Light of the Divine.

Safe travels and Godspeed, Oh Guests of the Compassionate.  Do not forget us in your prayers.  May your sacrifice be accepted.

For those of us who stay behind, get busy; for the best ten nights of the year start now.

Peace to All.

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Here is Ramadan!

Last night we ventured out in search of the new crescent moon, not just my team and I, but countless number of Muslims all over the world.  There was not a single verifiable positive naked eye sighting.  Yesterday was the 29th day of Shabaan. Today it was the 30th and final day of Shabaan with no other option than to start Ramadan tomorrow.

While many people devised an abstract construct to signify the start of the months in the Islamic Lunar calendar, nothing can be as simple and beautiful as going out to search for the new crescent moon.  The sight of the new moon has significant spiritual value for the heart.  By its vision it ingrains in the heart a firm certainty that serves as the foundation for actions that make up the worship of the One who created us.  Through that certainty our hearts find ease, calm and peace and dispells difficulty, angst and chaos.

The need to go out once again to search for the moon on the 30th day is redundant, but to help those who still might question whether they should have fasted today or not and did not go out to settle their own hearts, I hope this photo will settle it.

Ramadan Crescent Moon

Ramadan 1435

Ramadan is a wonderful time where we are given the opportunity to look at our selves in its mirror and see our shortcomings and work towards making ourselves better.  Its an exercise in self-discipline and fortitude, a time for reflection and contemplation, and a means for forgiveness and salvation.  Welcome this month with open arms, grasp onto it and garner as much benefit from it as you can before it moves on.

Ramadan Mubarak and Peace to All!

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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.

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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.

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Still Out There?

Of course I am.  Still wandering, still wondering, still marveling and chasing the light.  Still looking for that moment that strikes awe in my heart and reminds me of my place in this vast universe.  Sometimes its not anywhere to be found.  Then at other times it just sneaks up behind you and smacks you across the head and says ‘Wake Up Dummy!’.  And then there are those times when it can be seen coming from far off giving you the time to prepare to be wowed!

Such is the case when an eclipse of either the sun or the moon is pending.  A few millennia ago seeing such an event struck fear in the hearts of the onlookers as they took such things as bad omens of pending tribulation.  However, such phenomena are not causes but circumstances of the obedience of Divine law. The “laws of nature” that govern how our universe works, stated as such, makes it appear as if nature is in and of itself an independent and self regulating.  That statement makes it appear as if nature controls itself.  What we so casually call a law of nature should be called a Law of the Divine.

I find it amusingly interesting that we refer to the creation of the universe as creation without attributing to it a creator.  Creation is an act, thus there must be an actor, who is that?  That act of creation, bringing something into existence that was previously not in existence, is an awesome act.  Seeing it is not enough to make one believe it, especially in today’s world.  It has to be experienced wholly.

In addition, the act of creation is taking place at every instance in time.  As I move my fingers across the keyboard typing, each minute movement comes into existence, a movement that a moment ago did not exist.  The attribute of motion being attributed to my fingers is created and then as suddenly as it comes into existence, it becomes annihilated out of existence as well.  Objects that are described using attributes that are created and destroyed are themselves as their attributes, namely created and destroyed likewise.  Since we did not create ourselves nor, in most cases, annihilate ourselves, there must be something outside of us that does that.  Dare I call that ‘The Creator’?

It was not all that long ago that most every person on our little planet believed in the Divine.  An entity, spirit or power greater than ourselves that governed the known universe, brought it into existence and brings about its annihilation.  We were reverently awed by the Divine such that we followed a path that would be pleasing to the Divine and beneficial to all of us.   However, given who we are as humans, that seed of illness that sprouts into a myriad of destructive ills known as arrogance found a seat in the heart of one of us and took hold.  It quickly spread infecting the hearts of those around and we began to see ourselves as better than others.  Unable to see past our own hubris we slowly ascended to the illusionary throne of greatness crowning ourselves the masters of our own destiny, and the Divine died in our hearts.  Lost and cutoff from the sustenance of our souls we wander in a make-believe world where things happen just because they do without any rhyme or reason.  We do as we please as if our actions bear no consequences concerned with only our selfish gains.  And when we are done destroying everything that crosses our path we will invent new virtual things to destroy so that our now covetous capricious self can revel in as being its master. Oh what we have become.

Then suddenly an act that we cannot control driven by forces we do not understand occurs that, if we have any semblance of life left in us, would put us back in our rightful humble place, the onset of an eclipse. Even though we can calculate the occurrence of an eclipse with our mathematical models the majority of us have no understanding of the models let alone the motions of these heavenly bodies.  They occur in silence and, for the most part in today’s world, they go unnoticed because who looks up at the sky anymore?  Furthermore, who has the time to watch a silent event that can take up to several hours from its beginning to its end?  In a world where we have become accustomed to  moving at megabits per second and if we have to wait a few seconds for some gratification, the eclipse is just too long and super-boring.

Here is the grabber.  Whether we notice the natural world or not and whether we care for the natural world or not it is still out there adhering to the laws set in place by the Divine.

Still Out There – Eclipse of April 14th, 2014

This photograph of the eclipse of April 14th, 2014 was made at near its peak at 12:53:20 PDT.  The sky had a light veil of clouds that dimmed the vibrancy of the moon for most of the duration of the eclipse.  There was s brief period of time when a break in the clouds occurred and this photo was the result.  It could not have been captured as such if I was not willing to stand there in the dark for the entire duration of the eclipse.  A minute or two later the clouds diminished the brightness of the moon and stars and remained that way until its end.

Again, just like with the eclipse photo made on the solstice of 2010, this photo is a combination of two exposures.  Even though I could see the stars with my eyes, the camera needed a little help.  Exposing for just the moon, produced a sufficiently dark sky where only Spica, the very bright star on the right side of the frame could be seen.  When exposing for the stars, the moon was over exposed. Two exposures were made in rapid succession so as to minimize any variation in the positions of the heavenly bodies when they were combined in a single frame. Each bright “bit” in the dark sky can be identified using an ephemeris.  Starting from the upper left and working clockwise the stars pictured are the following.

TYC 5545-1356-1: 367 light years (ly)

76 Virgins: 265 ly

TYC 5548-516-1: 682 ly

TYC 5548-294-1: 977 ly

TYC 5548-138-1: 370 ly

TYC 5547-392-1: 418 ly

Spica: 264 ly

TYC 5548-374-1: 187 ly

TYC 5548-1547-1: 213 ly

TYC 5548-392-1: 1212 ly

TYC 5548-193-1: ???? ly

and finally

TYC 5548-1468-1: 1320 ly!

Oh and the moon’s distance…well it only takes 1.2 seconds for light reflected from the moon to reach the earth. A light year is the distance that light can travel in one year’s time as measured here on earth.  Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles/sec and so in one year’s time a photon of light can travel 5.86 trillion miles! The moon’s distance from the earth in light years is 0.000000038.  Looking at the moon is seeing 1.2 seconds into the past.  Looking at one of those stars is seeing deep into the past.

The creation is vast!  The Creator, well, immeasurable! We are small, very small.

Till next time, Peace.

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