In Memorium

In the early hours of August 16, 2020 an unusual weather phenomena took place in the Bay Area of Northern California. A dry thunder storm moved through and over the next day and a half more that 12,000 lightning strikes sparked over 615 separate fires in the state. One would never have thought such a violent storm was on its way given the calm quite serenity that came just prior to sunset.

The Clam Before The Storm

The following day 5 spot fires along the peninsula were actively burning and within one day those five spot fires became one big fire burning north into San Mateo county as well as south in to Santa Cruz county called the CZULightningComplex Fire. It was burning in wild lands that I had spent much time in.

From when I first arrived in the Bay Area back in 1990, I found myself wandering the Santa Cruz Mountains in both of those counties amid the old growth redwoods, sloshing around in the many creeks, and sitting atop the many ridge lines just soaking in the view, the serenity, and the sublimity of what the these mountains are. I always dreamed how nice it would be to live deep in these mountains, never really thinking that such a dream would be a reality. Fast forward 25 years I find myself living with my wife and children in a home we purchased literally among the redwoods. Truly a dream come true.

However, following that dry lightning storm on August 16th, the fires that broke out became very serious. Tuesday night on August 18th, the smell of smoke was very thick and safety alerts were popping up on my phone indicating that a fire was very close to home. With the help of my son, we roamed the neighborhood searching for any fire and met up with many mountain neighbors doing the same. No fire was ever found in our immediate area. By August 19th, just three days later, as seen from a ridge near my home, and possibly 10 to 13 miles away, the mountains that I so loved and grew with, were seriously on fire.

Fire deep in the woods

By the late afternoon the smoke from that fire had again reached the skies over our house and the smell of smoke was strong as it settled into the canyons in our area. Reports were coming in that communities to the west of us were receiving evacuation warnings as the fire had grown to 25,000 acres in 2 days! Evacuations were spoken of and we decided that we should start packing our cars with necessary items if we needed to bug out.

In Thick Smoke

By 6 am on Thursday morning August 19th, our area CRZ-E019 was put on an evacuation warning and the areas just west of us, parts of Zayante Canyon were put on immediate and mandatory evacuation orders. The fire had grown to about 40,000 acres and seemed to be growing out of control with only 591 fire fighters trying to stop it! By 6 pm we had pretty much packed what we needed and had taken our 13 hens to a friend’s house who offered to watch them for us earlier that morning, we had decided to button up our home and we left. We drove back down to Campbell, where we lived for 13 years and where family had offered to us accommodations to hold up in until the evacuation orders were lifted. While we were unloading our things, the mandatory evacuation order for our zone had come through at 7 pm. We were now in the endgame and all we could do was wait and monitor the fire growth.

By Saturday, August 22nd, news was starting to surface that Big Basin State Park was no longer in existence. The historic park facilities were burned to the ground. Some photos had made it on to social media and it was then that I realized, many of the canyons and places that I spent so much time in might all have been decimated by this fire. My thoughts about Big Basin burning greatly saddened me and I started wondering about some of the trees in the park. One in particular is over 2000 years old and was affectionately known as the Father of the Forest. A tree whose trunk at its base measures in at 70 feet in circumference and some 22 feet across. Looking up it stretched to 250 feet above the forest floor. No single photograph could capture its massive size. I wondered if the Father of the Forest was still standing

The Father of the Forest

I started wondering about the other places in the Santa Cruz mountains that I had visited and photographed for more than 25 years and had come to the realization that most of those areas are now gone as well. Even though I did pack my computers containing all the photographs of Organic Light Photography, I did not have the means to set them up properly so I went through my website and grabbed a collection of photographs that I have made wandering about Big Basin Redwoods and the surrounding sister lands and created the following video in memorium of Big Basin, a park that has been altered permanently.

In Memorium

After creating this homage to an area of the Santa Cruz mountains that is very dear to me, I have decided that I will be extending my support to Big Basin State Park and the other parks and public spaces surrounding Big Basin through the sale of the photos shown in the video. I will make a sizable donation from each sale to the restoration efforts that will surely follow the extinguishing of the fire. Since I am only an individual photographer and not a recognized organization, I will be reaching out to California State Parks as well as the Sempervirens Fund to find out how I can work with them to offer these photographs as a means to help raising the funds towards restoration. As soon as the details are worked out I will inform you all.

In the time being, I wait to see if I will have a home to return to. I know the firefighters are doing their best to extinguish this fire, and my hopes and prayers are with them to get the job done. I encourage everyone to put your support behind them as they contend with the 615 fires now actively burning in the California.

Until next time, Peace.

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New Wisdom from an Old Soul

On March 27, 2020, a new comet was discovered. It was the third comet discovered in the year 2020, however the first two comets, SWAIN and ATLAS, disintegrated as they approached the sun. As this third comet approached, hopes were that this comet just might make its transit around the sun intact, and sure enough it did.

On July 5th the comet, now designated as C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, reached perihelion, the closest point to the sun along its path and given the dynamics of how comets become visible, reached its peak brightness, a brightness level high enough that the comet became a naked eye object. From that point on the comet will be moving away from the sun, losing brightness, and on or near July 13th, it will make its closest pass by Earth.

c/2020 F3 NEOWISE
C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at first sighting 4:40am, July 10, 2020.

On July 10, in the predawn hours I ventured out in the hopes of seeing and photographing C/2020 F3 NEOWISE. As I stood out there in the dark scanning the horizon and checking my notes on where the comet was supposed to appear and then scanning the horizon again I started to wonder if I would see it at all. Suddenly I look up and see the comet’s tail has appeared above the horizon and slowly grew in intensity and breadth. It was awe inspiring seeing something made of ice glowing in the night sky.

As a frozen chunk of matter approaches the sun, the ice start to sublimate into a gas and the radiation and heat from the sun causes the gas to start glowing. A comet’s journey begins from as far off as the Kuiper Belt or even further from the Oort Cloud, the physical limit of where the gravity from the sun ceases to be effective in holding anything in orbit. The journey is fraught with peril as along the traverse through space a comet could end up hitting a planet, or possibly an asteroid and never make it even close enough to start glowing. If it makes it close enough to the sun to start the sublimation process, now it must survive the force of gravity as it accelerates the comet to even greater speeds. This is a crucial time for a comet as it could start breaking up into smaller pieces and just vanish, or it could get pulled directly into the sun and vanish into the all-consuming ball of plasma that is the sun.

I’ve had the good fortune of seeing comets in the night sky before. I witnessed Haley’s Comet the last time it appeared in 1986, as well as Comet Hale-Bopp in 1995 and the Comet Hyakutake in 1996. I even tried to photograph Hyakutake, with little success, as I was only a fledgling photographer then. All three of which I will probably never seen again in my lifetime. So when I learned about comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, I thought I had better make an attempt to capture it. I think what struck me first was how odd its name was given all the other comets I had seen had names associated with either the astronomer(s) who first witnessed it, predicted its arrival or studied its orbit. I think the most intriguing part of the name is NEOWISE, I thought what could it mean? Well, today the modern naming convention is based on what observing telescope was used to first observe the comet. Therefore comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE was first discovered using the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The first letter of each word in this instrument’s name makes up the acronym NEOWISE. The F3 indicates that it was first seen in the second half of the month of March. Each month of the year is broken down into two halves. The letters A-H and J-Y are then distributed among the months. The month of March has the letters E and F, E for the first half of the month and F for the second half. Next is the ‘3’ in F3. This number indicates the that he comet in question was the 3rd comet discovered in the given year. Next, the year is part of the designation, in this case 2020 since this comet was first seen this year. Finally the C designates that this near earth object is a comet.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at 4:52 am on July 10, 2020

This comet will probably never be seen from Earth ever again. It is an ancient traveler from deep space. Its approach orbit was on the order of 4500 years and its outbound orbit on the order of 6800 years in an almost perfect parabolic path. It is definitely an old soul. Old souls usually have much to share with those who are younger if they are willing to listen. When I was young, I used to go to a retirement home to help out. I was always transfixed when I would sit with certain people as they told their stories. There was so much to learn, so much life to understand, so many different perspectives. The wisdom of the of the elders is priceless, it can’t be bought, it can’t be stolen, it can only be earned by painstaking patience through life and as each day passes we could only hope that more wisdom is accumulated. However there is one way in which we can attain that wisdom quickly; we can humbly sit at the feet of our elders and listen to what they have say, what life lessons they have learned along their journey, what advice they can give us. Times may changes but people do not. The problems we deal with now are the same perennial problems humanity has faced for its entire existence. In truth, we would have perished as a species on this planet long ago if we did not listen and learn from those who preceded us.

But I digress… So we have in our midst this ancient visitor to our skies. A visitor that is much older than any of us. Does it have any wisdom that it can impart to us? What does it have to say? What has it learned along its multi-millennial journey across the cosmos to meet us now in this most confusing and tumultuous time?

When we look out into the night sky we see darkness, a fathomless dark emptiness. This universe is not very dense at all; most of space is practically empty. On average the density of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is 0.1 neutral hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter! To put it another way, if you had a cup the size of a small Starbucks coffee in space with you, your cup would be holding about 24 hydrogen ATOMS! That is a pretty empty cup. At the same time, your body alone contains over 7*10^27 atoms (that’s a 7 followed by 27 zeros or 7 billion billion billion atoms)! And of all those atoms in your body 2/3 is Hydrogen, 1/4 is Oxygen and 1/10 is Carbon, and the combination of all those make up about 99% of your body. So yeah, space is empty.

However space is not all dark. There are these little twinkling lights, we call them stars, that adorn our night sky and they are ancient as well. Not only do the stars adorn the night sky but they are there as guiding lights in the darkness of night. We as humans have learned from them the skill of navigation, moving from one place to another without getting lost along the way. The stars guide us by the light that they send our way. On the other hand, during the day the stars seem to vanish from our sky. In fact, they are still there however they are eclipsed by the brightness of the sun. The sun is also a star, the closest star to earth and the most important star of all the stars. Without the sun, life on earth would not be possible. The light of the sun is the energy source that literally powers the earth. From its light, plants produce glucose through the process of photosynthesis. The plants in turn feed the majority of creatures on this planet. We too survive off of plants and on some of the other animals that rely on the plants. Likewise, it is from the plants and animals that lived tens of thousands of years ago that have become petroleum deep within the crust of the earth that we now use to fuel the machines of the world and build our infrastructure.

Without the sun, the land would remain cold and dead. When the sun appears over the horizon it starts to warm the land, causing the surrounding air to warm as well and start rising. This rising air in turn creates a pressure differential in the atmosphere that causes wind to start blowing. The blowing wind in turn moves moisture from the oceans and onto the land and as it continues to rise over mountains starts to condense into clouds and from the clouds, life giving rain comes down to the earth to quench the thirst of all that lives on it and enlivens the earth itself, bringing life back to dead land. The light of he sun is truly life giving and one of the greatest blessings we have.

So what does all this have to do with comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE? What wisdom does this ancient traveler have for us? Comets only become visible when they are close enough to the sun to both start sublimating into a gas and start glowing by the light of the sun itself. The tail of a comet always flares out away from the sun, or in other words, the head of the comet, the part of the comet that is still a solid, is always pointing towards the sun. It is as if the comet is pointing in the direction of what gives life, reminding us that life will only thrive in the Light. Life cannot exist in darkness. Of course I do not only mean that light sustains physical life, but light also sustains life metaphorically and spiritually as well.

The year 2020 has so far been fraught with many dark days. We entered in to 2020 with the entire continent of Australia on fire. And then the SARS-CoV-2 virus which emerged in China in 2019 but suddenly started to spread with pandemic proportions throughout the world infecting nearly 13 million and killing more than half a million humans worldwide at the time of this writing. It not only has taken life, but in our attempt to slow the spread, we have shut down both our societies and our economies further exasperating the trials of life on earth. And then, to add insult to injury, civil unrest has broken out in the United States over the oppressive behavior that some of our law enforcement officers have exhibited to the African-American community resulting in mass protests not only in the United States but across the world as well exposing a disease that no vaccine can ever prevent, the disease of racism. All the while the number of infections and deaths continue to rise and the ugly face of racism continues to fester in our communities. The future certainly seems bleak and full of spiritual darkness. What is the cure?

Enter our ancient traveler, comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the old one with new wisdom, well actually, its old wisdom. The cure that NEOWISE is pointing us to is Light! The comet is pointing to the sun, the source of light and life on earth. The sun can be taken as a metaphor. When we look at the sun, what are we actually seeing? Are we seeing the sun, (by the way do not look directly at the sun with your naked eyes, they will be damaged), or are we seeing the light emanating from the sun. In fact we are only seeing the light coming from the sun. And the light from the sun is not the sun, it came from the sun but its not the sun. Just as physical light from the sun can dispel the darkness of space, the Guiding Light of our Creator, who has as one of the 99 Glorious Names, An-Noor, which is Arabic for The Light.

The Light of our Creator is there to guide us to what is good and life giving. From among the guidance that has come to us from our Creator is, by way of the Messenger Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him, to love for your brother what you love for yourself. Or by the way of the Messenger Jesus, peace be upon him, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or by way of the Messenger Moses, peace be upon him, Love your neighbor as yourself. And even outside of the Abrahamic Faiths, we find the same message. In Hinduism we find, one should never do that to another which one regards injurious to one’s own self. In Buddhism we find, hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

No matter where we turn we will find the Golden Rule that has come from the Light of our Creator to guide us to what is good and life giving. We are all human beings, all 7+ billion of us, regardless of the language we speak, the food we eat, the entertainment we enjoy, and most of all the color of our skin. We all desire that same things, good health, full bellies of food, warm clothing, a safe place to rest our heads at night, and the tender embrace of our loved ones. I know that is what I love and I also love those same things for my brothers and sisters, my fellow humans on this planet.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE at 5:00 am July 10, 2020 pointing the way to salvation.

So take heed my fellow brothers and sisters. C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has come to point the way back to our salvation, metaphorically pointing to the Light of Guidance from the The Light – to love for your fellow human what you love for yourself. Until next time, may you all find the Guiding Light.

Peace.

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Emotive Moon

Every 29 days I can be found somewhere looking into the early evening sky after sunset in search of a tiny sliver of light. I have been doing this so long that it has just become a part of who I am. I have seen many moons and have made photographs that are to many to count. Some were just documentations of the moon and proof that I had seen it. Some have been very colorful as the thin crescent appeared in a fiery sunset, while others have been quite and contemplative.

One thing is for sure though that every time I see and photograph that thin new crescent a feeling of gratitude and joy washes over me. How amazing it is that I have been so fortunate to be a witness of the emergence of the hidden unseen moon into the visual world. One moment the moon is not there in the sky and then suddenly, just in the blink of an eye, it appears!

Rajab 1, 1440
Rajab 1, 1440

However this time around, as I stood there in awe of this moon, I became very excited about the light and how it danced with the moon among the misty clouds of a breaking storm. I continued photographing the moon until it was no longer visible as it slipped behind a thick veil of clouds. It was one of the most evocative moons that I have seen.

Among The Mist
Among the Mist

I was expecting to see the moon on Wednesday March 6th, the 29th day of the previous month. Unfortunately, the first 6 days of March here in the San Francisco bay are were completely cloudy and raining. On that evening, no moon was seen. So I waited one more day. Sighting it was not necessary as the announcement that the month of Rajab would start on Friday March 8th had already been made. No, this month, seeing the new crescent was just for me. On March 7th, the day had been mixed with clouds, passing cloud bursts and the sun peeking out here and there. As I stepped out that evening to search, the sky was cloudy with breaks here and there. It was doubtful that I would see it. As I moved to my sighting location, I searched the sky but no moon was to be found. When I arrived, at the lookout, my foot still had not reached the ground as I stepped out of the car, when my eye caught the sliver dancing in the misty sky among the clouds. It was a wonderful few minutes. Minutes that I wish everyone could experience. Minutes that would cause the people on this world to just be in awe of something greater than themselves. Minutes that just might bring some humility to us creatures that are filled with such hubris.

Go out next month and look for the new crescent moon. It will not be time wasted.

Until next time, Peace.

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Better Late Than Never

Tuesday October 9th was the 29th day of the month of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar and the evening of the first moon sighting in the Islamic year of 1440.  I was teaching my astronomy course that evening at Zaytuna College and was planning on taking the class out to search for the new crescent there on the hilltop campus.  By 5 pm that evening, fog had rolled in from the San Francisco bay and completely enveloped the campus.  Sighting the new crescent moon from the campus was not going to happen.

Fellow moonsighter and colleague at Crescent Watch, Zakariyya, sent me a text message, at about the same time the fog had rolled in, indicating to me that we on the west coast might again be the only people to sight the moon.  The probability map for that evening showed that most of the southern half of North America would be in a visibility zone that required perfect atmospheric conditions to see the crescent without an optical aid.  I replied to him and informed him that he alone might be that person as I was fogged in.  He was on his way up to the western face of Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco in the Marin Headlands.

Sighting Probability, October 9th, 2018

I quickly sent messages to my four assistants that they needed to make a concerted effort to meet at our near-home sighting location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  All four managed to congregate at about 7 pm at our normal viewing location.  At 7:07 pm, I receive a phone call while in the middle of class.  It was my oldest assistant contacting me to let me know that the moon was nowhere to be seen and asked for some additional guidance as to where they can expect to see it.  There was some confusion among the team as to where to look.  At that point in time the sun had already gone below the horizon 30 minutes prior and the moon, although a hand span or so above the horizon at the time of sunset, would now be much closer to the horizon itself.  They had at that point possibly 20 minutes before the moon would drop below the horizon.  I suggested looking about 2 finger widths above the horizon.  No sooner did I finish that instruction to him that he exclaims “Allahu Akbar! There it is!”  The entire astronomy class becomes gleeful as they all heard his exclaim coming through over the phone speaker.  Suddenly two more voices rip out from the phone as the other two assistants saw it, and then voices clamoring as they pointed it out to my youngest assistant and suddenly all four are witnesses!

It was a joyful moment for all of us.  I quickly sent a text message to Zakariyya, who by that time was on Mount Tam, that we had a positive sighting by three adults, 2 male and one female, in the south.  His reply was one of relief as he informed me that Mount Tam was covered by clouds as well.  Within the hour it was clear that no other sightings had been made and my four assistants, to the best of our knowledge, were the sole witnesses in the entire world!  I was very proud of my four assistants for coming together and making the effort to keep this crucial tradition alive.  However, within that same hour, we received word that another crescent sighting organization had announced that the crescent had not been seen and the month of Safar had not commenced.  We quickly had to rally to correct the misinformation by passing along the sighting report to that organization.  We had no doubt that they would want to interview my assistants on the sighting details.  

I called my oldest and informed him that he and the others were about to be the object of scrutiny and to be ready for it and answer honestly.  For the most part the interviews went well and all was done.  However, on the next day my oldest received one more call from an obscure person who was not so interested in the sighting itself but in the character of my son.  He questioned why his name had never come up before as a sighter even though my son claimed to be a veteran of moonsighting with more than a decade of experience.  When my son informed me of this I was taken aback at first.  My son was quite agitated by the man’s line of questioning.  I counseled my son to learn how to grow a thick skin and that if you choose to be a guardian of this tradition that from time to time you will be the object of such behavior towards you.  I will say this now, in my son’s defense, he has been with me at nearly every outing to sight the moon ever since his birth.  When he became an adult, and I made a sighting report, he was my validating witness, even if his name never made it into the records.

But it made me think of the numerous times that we received sighting reports from unknown people and the line of questioning that we had to put them through.  The interesting thing is that even though we did ask about their experience, we never questioned their veracity.  Albeit I suppose someone could be lying about seeing the moon, but for the life of me I can not fathom why a person would do so of their own volition.  Many times what they saw was clearly not the moon and such mistakes are not uncommon, but every time we saw a new name pop up on our radar it brought with it a sense of hope that this tradition is being revived.  If we treated every sighting claim made by a new person with skepticism and questioning the character of that person making the report, we would alienate the community from carrying out this beautiful monthly tradition.

Finally, as I checked in on our social media outlet to see if the announcement of the start of Safar had been made, I came across a comment left by one of the followers of that account.  It started off with “Pff.  Is there a photo…”.  I was shocked and at the same time felt somewhat guilty.  For years I have been reporting the sightings of the new crescent and in almost every case I have always included a photograph of the crescent.  I asked myself, have I created a culture of seekers that will only take as proof a photograph?  The fact is the proof of the sighting comes only by the claim that it was seen by at least two credible male witnesses.  Of course the more witnesses the better and when the sky is clear and the moon could be easily seen, even  more witnesses are expected.  For some, the claim of the sighting is taken without any additional questioning as to the veracity, not of the person, but of the details of the sighting itself, regardless of how incredulous the report could be.  However, in this modern age where many things leave traces in the sky that could be mistaken for the crescent moon, some questioning of what was seen is necessary to corroborate the sighting against scientific data of the moon’s condition at the time of the sighting.  Other than that no additional evidence is needed.  Photographs do help if the sighter has one, but it is not necessary, nor is it proof that the moon was seen.  If I was a deceitful person, I could pull out any of my myriad of crescent moon photos from the last 25+ years of sighting and claim it was the moon of the current month.  How would one know the difference?  Granted, today’s technology makes it a bit harder to falsify such things with the attached meta-data that is tagged with digital images, but nonetheless, it could be done.

We have to learn how to trust one another in an age when lying is believed to be true and truth is believed to be a lie. It is unfortunately a sign of the end of time as the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, foretold us about in his many prophecies of the future.   If nothing else I hope that this tradition of sighting the new crescent moon to establish the starts of months in this living Islamic calendar, will help build trust between us in the Muslim community here in North America and worldwide.

Given all that I have mentioned above the beauty of the new crescent moon still shines through.  And even though I did not have the good fortune of seeing the crescent when it first appeared on the horizon, I went out the next night to capture a photograph of it.  I did not have to go far, as I only had to step out of my front door to see and photograph it as it poked through the redwood trees surrounding our home.

Safar 1440, Day 2 Crescent

If you have never seen the new crescent moon on the first day when it is visible, then make the intention to go out next month to search for it.  You most likely will not have to travel far at all, probably just out our front door as well.  In case you wish to do so, mark Wednesday November 7th as that day.  It will be the 29th day of the month of Safar and the day that searching for the next new moon will occur.

With that I wish all of you a Safar Mubarak and Peace.

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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.

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In The Nick Of Time

Today was the 29th day of the Sacred month of Rajab in the Islamic Calendar. It is the the 7th month in the Islamic year and proceeds the Holy month of Ramadan by two months.  Sighting its new crescent is first in line to accurately determining the start of Ramadan as it sets up the correct sighting day for the 8th month known as Shabaan.  Today was that crucial day for sighting Shabaan.

It was a touch and go day if the new moon of Shabaan would be seen at all.  As the afternoon unfolded for us here on the West Coast, I received reports from further east that the sky was clouded over by other moon sighters.  It was looking grim for us as well.  We had on and off rain all day and as I pulled up to our new sighting location in the Santa Cruz mountains, it was not looking good.

First Sight – Not Looking Good!

My close friend and fellow moonsighter was about 50 or so miles north standing on Mount Tamalpais had much better conditions and I was hoping that at least he would see it.  Here is the sky he had.

Looking Good!

My assistants  standing with me on that wind blown ridge started to lose hope as it started to rain on us.  I took off my jacket and covered the camera on the tripod and said, “we wait it out”.  There is always hope.  The rain slowly subsided.  The clouds started to break and I became even more hopeful, while the others not so much.  Slowly the breaks in the clouds became bigger and then smaller.  Gaps would open and our eyes played tricks on us as we thought we saw it and then not.

The all of a sudden at 8:02 pm PDT my phone rang, it was a text from my friend up north.  He saw the moon with 2 other adult males and one adult female for a total of 4 witnesses.  I was both elated and saddened at the same time as it was starting to look grim for us again.  But we pushed on.  The moon was still in the sky and if we needed to we would stay there until moon set.  We kept searching, the clouds kept passing in and out leaving gaps where we needed to look.  Then my oldest assistant cried out, “I think I see it Allahu Akbar,…No…maybe…I don’t know”.  Then one of my other assistants said the same.  I was still “in the clouds”.

Then both of those assistants cry out “There it is, Allahu Akbar! I see it”.  The other two “Where, where?”  There is confusion as I and the other two tried to find it.  Descriptions were not clear as to where to look.  Then all of a sudden, right in a gap between the clouds, I see it. “Allahu Akbar!!!!”.  I quickly point the camera at it, and I snap off one exposure.  Then I try to point it out to my other two assistants.  While I try to get some more exposures.  The moon sank quickly behind the clouds below it, allowing only one good exposure of the new moon of Shabaan.  We sighted it at 8:07 pm PDT with about an azimuth of 280 degrees and an altitude of just 3 fingers above the horizon.  

Shabaan 1, 1439

Not as artistically placed as usually try to do, but this time I caught that moon just in the nick of time.  In the end we were elated.  We went out and fulfilled our Sunnah of seeing the new crescent moon.  We are taking back this sunnah.  We will not let it be lost.  One month from now, that is in 29 days, count them and go out and look for the the moon of Ramadan and take back the sunnah for yourself.  You will not be disappointed.

Until next time, Shabaan Mubarak and Peace to all!

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The Eye Of Night

Eons ago, light appeared.  It gives us the ability to see.  The light alternates with darkness giving us day and night.  During the day the source of light, a star that is 93 million miles from the Earth, is so strong that we cannot look into it without harming our eyes.  The sun that illuminates our world is not considered a very bright star among the myriad of stars that exist in the universe and yet it is the brightest entity in our sky.

However, as the sun drops below the western horizon at the end of each day the sky that was illumined blue turns dark and then a dazzling display of stars fills the night sky.  For millennia the night sky has piqued the curiosity of humanity as we gazed out into the universe, and it still does the same today.

At any given moment, when looking at the night sky we only see that myriad of stars as points of light.  What we cannot see is that the stars do move across the sky.  Yes, we can tell they move as we see them rise in the east and set in the west hours later.  However, at any given moment they are just fixed points of light, each slightly different from the other in either color, brightness, or twinkle.

We experience light with our eyes. However, as remarkable as our eyes are, they do not have the ability of persistence of vision. Our eyes function more like sieves than buckets. Photons, the tiny particles of light, that enter our eyes will either instantly be absorbed passing the information they hold to our brain if they happen to be photons in the visible range or they are just ignored. In either case the photons do not persist in our eyes as if they were captured in a bucket.

This lack of persistence limits us in seeing the history of motion that objects undergo. While at the same time it is fortunate that our eyes do not have persistence as our vision would be quite cluttered and possibly very confusing.

Yet with the proper tools we can experience the night sky in ways that elucidate it’s phenomenal nature. With technology at hand, we can augment our vision and see things very differently. The camera is that said tool. One might think that the latest and greatest camera would produce the best photos. While that may be true for most types of photos, modern cameras are starting to behave to much like our own eyes in that they start to fail in capturing light that shows persistence. If the camera keeps “looking” too long, then the physical limitations of the light sensor become apparent and the resulting image will be of very poor quality. The solution to the problem lies in older technology: film.

Film has the uncanny ability to work like a light bucket. Exposing film to light for a brief time causes a photo-chemical reaction to take place in the emulsion that is spread on the surface of the film itself. If exposure is continued for longer periods of time more reactions take place until all of the emulsion has reacted and the film goes clear; producing what is called an over-exposure. However, if the source of light used to expose the film is moving during exposure, especially in the dark of night, the film will not become overexposed even with very long exposures. The film will record where the light source is and through persistence, since once a chemical reaction takes place on the film it cannot be undone, we can see the history of the light source as well.

The Eye Of Night

It’s the perfect tool if one wishes to see how the night sky moves. As the stars move across the night sky, the film’s persistence of vision allows one to see the trails the stars took as they spanned our night sky. The great astronomers of past millennia had great imaginations that allowed them to see such trails in their mind’s eye. We however, due in part to the prevalence of technology, have lost that skill. Our mind’s eye has become dull and untrained. And while we rely on modern technology to see what our ancestors imagined, we still have the blessing of actually seeing the fantastic phenomena the moving stars are.

With the use of a camera and film, the trails taken by the stars as they move across the night sky become readily apparent. The trails themselves will appear different in a geometric sense depending on where the camera is pointed. Point the camera at the pole star Polaris and something amazing appears. Polaris does not move very much at all yet the stars near it seem to sweep out perfect circular arcs. Expose long enough to build the persistence and we start to see a structure that appears to be an eye itself.

I never reflected before on this apparent eye structure that appears in this photo even though I have taught astronomy for years and have watched the sky for many, many more and have imagined how the stars move. Now as I look up at the pole star and the stars that circumnavigate the sky near it, I can’t help but think that I am staring into the eye of night itself.

I further wonder, that as we have been looking up into the night sky for millennia marveling at the stars and the universe, that the universe has been looking back at us as well with one big eye. And if not the universe itself, maybe it’s Creator.

Until next time keep looking and pondering.

Peace.

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Blue Is Peace

New Crescent of Rabi Al-Awwal

Blue Is Peace

Color is a fascinating subject to study.  Apart from the physics of light itself and the wave lengths of the various colors that we can see, colors have a profound psychological effect on us.  Blue is an interesting color in that it can effect us in many positive ways.  Blue is a color that suggests peace. It’s the color of the calm sea and the clear sky, both of which are linked to inner serenity, calm and clarity. Blue was also shown to slow heart rate and breathing, so it can be a good color to aid in meditation or relaxation. Blue is associated with intelligence. It has been proven that different shades of blue can improve concentration, stimulate thinking and provide mental clarity. It also improves productivity. This is a good color for study and work, as it offers relaxation and stimulation at the same time.  Blue is a color that is linked with confidence. Unlike red, which shows aggressive dominance, blue is related to a calm authority. Blue inspires trust, it is non-threatening and shows persistence.

Blue inspires many of the characteristic qualities of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.  I found it interesting that this month the moon came in with the color of blue, in the Month of the birth of the Prophet.  If there was one thing the Prophet came to spread in this world it was Peace.  If there is one thing that we need more than anything else in our modern world it is peace.  From mass shootings perpetrated by those who have become totally unhinged from reality to sexual assaults on our youth by depraved and debauched individuals to attacks on our security both physically and identity, our world is in chaos and turmoil.  

So in this month of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Rabi Al-Awwal, let’s honor him by carrying the torch of his mission of spreading peace, by doing the same.  For he, peace be upon him, said, “Spread Peace, Feed people food, and pray in the night while others are sleeping and you will enter into paradise”.  In this next month, Go around and just say “Peace To You” to those you meet and let them know that as a Muslim, you are committed to spreading peace in the world.  Maybe, just maybe, we can succeed in bringing peace to a troubled world.

Til next time, Peace to you all!

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The Secret Life of The Moon

Did you see this last evening after sunset?  If I was a betting man, I would bet that most people on this planet did not see it, in fact I would be willing to bet most did not even know that this fine crescent was something that was even visible, or that it cycles.  This is not an uncommon occurrence, it happens every month and has been doing so probably longer than humans have been around, and will continue to do so far after we cease to exist.

Unseen Beauty

The moon goes through its monthly journey around the Earth, for the most part, completely unnoticed.  It does not appear with great fanfare or make some big announcement that it is about to appear.  It is one of the most beautiful objects in our sky.  It’s subtle.  It illuminates our nights with its moonshine.  It is our celestial clock, and knowing its phase as well as knowing where it is among the zodiac will tell us the time of the year.  When I look at the moon I only see beauty.  And even though it is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is also understood that beauty is universally recognized.  One hallmark of beauty, according to James Thurber, is that “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention”.  If you ponder upon this statement for a while I think you will come to the conclusion that the moon is certainly one of those things, and as it runs through it’s secret life, it does allow us to see it’s beauty, if we are willing to look.

Until next time, 

Peace!

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Freedom From Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom?

Until next time, Peace.

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

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