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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The Traveler

On Tuesday June 5, 2012 an event occurred, that in all probability, will not be seen again by any living soul on the planet today, if not for a very few of us.  The planet Venus transited the the sun.  A transit is when a planet passes in between the sun and earth.  It is the same event as an eclipse, however in this case because the planet’s distance from the earth is so great, it cannot block out the entire sun.  Rather, it appears as a black dot on the disk of the sun.

Second Contact of Venus with the Sun

Second Contact

As the transit continues, Venus has five points that are of interest, First Contact, Second Contact, Greatest Transit, Third Contact and Fourth Contact.  The contact points are when an edge of Venus touches the edge of the Sun.  First and second contact occur when Venus enters into the disk of the sun and third and fourth when it is exiting.  Of course the first and fourth contacts are to say the least not very exciting as Venus is outside of the disk and not seen.  Second contact, when Venus is completely in the Sun as shown above, is the first exciting celestial moment.

From there the traveler, which is the meaning of the word planet from ancient Greek, planetai, which literally meant traveling or wandering star, because the planets were “stars” but they continually moved around the sky appearing in the various constellations throughout the year, continued on its way across the face of the sun.  Today of course we know that they are spherical masses of either rock or gas that reflect the light of the sun back to us here on earth and seen in the night time sky.

Venus during the 2012 transit.

The Traveler

The 2012 transit of Venus began at 3:06 pm PDT and continued and was in progress at the time of sunset.  It reached its Greatest Transit point at 6:29 pm PDT, which is the point where Venus is closets to the center of the sun.  From this point onward it will approach the edge of the sun and Third Contact as it leaves the disk.

Venus at the Greatest Transit point

No Return

The ending for us here in California was anti-climatic.  The Sun slowly sank into the cloud laden sky with Venus still well within its disk.  It was an event that I will remember for the rest of my life, an event that comes only once every 105 years and one that I am very fortunate to have been witness to.

Sunset during the Transit of Venus

Nearing The End

I hope you all had a chance to see this in person.  If not, take care of your self as you will need to live another 105 years to see it again.

Peace.

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Disappointment Deals Delight

The Sun

The Light Source

This past Sunday was dedicated to photographing the annular eclipse of May 20th, 2012.  I had prepared for it on many levels from what exposure to use to where I would drop my tripod to how I was going to make what I captured unique, and had done so for weeks ahead of time.  The one thing that I failed to plan for was equipping my four photo/travel assistants with what they needed to view and keep themselves entertained for its duration.  Despite my earlier attempts to find solar viewing glasses I could not find any vendor who was not sold out.  In addition, the day before the eclipse I found myself in a discussion with another photographer who was making plans to photograph and produce HDR (high dynamic range) photos of the event showing both the eclipsed sun and landscape as they would normally appear to our eyes.  I contested his claim but he was insistent that it could be done.  This caused me to waiver in my plans, and coupled with the possibility of a mutiny on my hands with my assistants forced my hand to change my plans nearly entirely.   I found myslef the night before, rather than getting a good night’s rest, up late scouring various sites on what was capable while still maintaining a real look to HDR photography.  Then I happened to land on a news page about the museum and visitor center at Turtle Bay Exploration Park / Wild Bird Sancturay in Redding, Ca.  The article stated that they would be selling solar viewing glasses for $1 and the article was only written that day, the information had to be accurate, right?

Crescent Sun Ecplisped by the Moon

Crescent Sun

In the 11th hour, I changed all my plans.  My destination was now Turtle Bay Wild Bird Sanctuary in spite of the fact that there would be hundreds if not thousands of people there.  Redding was not that far off the annularity line that it would change what I actually had in mind, and park environment would placate my assistants should the need arise.

We awoke Sunday morning and prepared our supplies for the day’s drive and viewing.  We were out the door with plenty of time and the  four and a half hour drive started out pleasant, however the further we drove the more tense things became in the car.  The tide of pleasant anticipation in my assistants was starting to turn.

We arrived with two and a half hours of buffer before the start of the eclipse.  The plan, buy the viewing glasses, eat lunch, find a suitable viewing location and then wait.  Disappointment met us from the beginning.  First the museum under estimated the response for viewing glasses and was sold out the day before.  Not to worry the employee told me, they will have 500 more glasses arriving at 4 pm, and will be available at the annex store by the famous Sundial Bridge.  By the time we arrived we found a line of about 100 people standing in the hot sun in 90° weather waiting to get in to the store at 4pm.  The roving employee there let us know we were in a part of the line where we might not get any glasses as each person could buy up to 5 glasses, putting us in a risky part of the line.  So with great hope we waited.  Slowly patience began to wear thin among my crew. One wanted to light a fire just because it was so hot, his incredulous claim was he could do it with just a focused pinhole of light.  Another wished he did not leave his water in the car.  Then the other wanted to play, and sleep and be carried on my head at the same time.  My patience was starting to wane.  By 4:45 we were inside and we made our purchase – lady luck smiled on us.

Solar Eclipse Obscured by High Cirrus Clouds

Obscured

We had less than 15 minutes before the start of the eclipse.  I announced that everyone should evacuate bladders and such for once I start the photo sequence there was no stopping.  No one heeded my words.  I was suspicious.  By the time we finished eating and squelching some sibling rivalry fires, the eclipse had started and I missed the initial contact of the moon with the sun and disappointment found its way into my head.

For the next two and a half hours, it was one dispute after another, one distraction after another, one question after another.  My mind was not focused at all on what I was doing.  My photos were not being timed carefully and I would miss the twenty second mark I had planned for each photo more times than I could keep count of.  I was also plagued by clouds, thin nefarious clouds that were just thick enough to keep the light levels jumping all over the place.  I could not make a sequence of more than 4 or 5 photos that had the same exposure level that I needed to make a time lapse sequence possible.  I also saw in my view finder this very odd haloing and glow around the sun nearly the whole time.  Something I did not notice in my practice photos.  It brought me great concern that I might find flares in all these photos making them useless in the end.  My mind started slipping into thoughts of inadequate equipment syndrome, something that did not torment me in more than a decade.

The Annular Eclipse of May 20th 2012 in total annularity

With This Ring

As the moon continued its encroachment of the sun, the anticipation of my assistants increased.  The arguing vanished into amazement, the prevailing thirst quenched with wonderment, and I as well was awe struck by the magnitude of what was occurring before my eyes.  Here was the moon, an entity in our sky that could not be seen if not for the light of the sun, moving in front of the source of what makes it existent to our eyes and blocking it out.  However, rather than overshadowing the sun it instead forms a ring of heavenly light as the the two wed in the sky for nearly 4 minutes in a display that had no beginning and no end.  It was as if time stood still and the world became dim and humbled in the grandeur of their union.  Being so close to a multitude of people, even though out of eyesight, we were not cheated out of hearing the cheers that belted out throughout the park as the ring became complete.  It was a spine tingling moment not to be soon forgotten.

The moon breaks the ring of light as it exits totality

Broken Light

Nonetheless, being created things that had a beginning so long ago, their nature is to end and they exhibited their primal nature with the moon breaking the ring of light as it continued on its way past the sun and ending totality.  Again a second cheer rings out among the crowd.  The event everyone came to see had happened.  In my exhilaration any thoughts I had about not capturing the eclipse the way I had intended had vanished if not for just a brief time.  I continued until the dreaded clouds that obscured the sky and mustered havoc with my exposures obliterated the light of the sun, just 10 minutes before the eclipse concluded.  A disappointing end, and one that brought question if I would have any usable photos at all.

After a long drive to Turtle Bay, and sitting square in the sun and heat for nearly five hours, I had to look forward to another long drive home unsatisfied in my work and with no hopes of a return on the investment made.  We arrived home just past midnight and my first act was to see and download the photos.  At first glance all were useless.  Not more than 4 or 5 photos in sequence were exposed at the same settings, making the probability of a time lapse sequence happening slim to none.  So I turned off the computer and retired to bed  hoping to come up with something in the morning.

The next day I started to process the photos to find almost all of them have a glowing halo around the sun that I could not remove without great difficulty.  In my desperation I start to process the photo Broken Light in a manner that I would never normally do to discover that the halo I was seeing was nothing more than the clouds that were obscuring the sun glowing in the light.  The use of the solar filter on my lens allowing me to view and photograph the sun had made the clouds so dark that they did not appear as clouds when normally processed against the brightness of the sun.  So with my modified processing suddenly the lost photos became as surreal as the momentous eclipse itself.  I searched the net for other photos of the eclipse to find that no one had anything like what I had been given.

My disappointment was suddenly transformed into delight.  Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to produce a time lapsed sequence of the moon eclipsing the sun.  However in hindsight, what I had envisioned would not have been very interesting and what I was given instead has pleased me much more.  Funny how things turn out.

Now I am looking 5 years ahead to the next eclipse that will cross over this neighborhood of the Earth, maybe then I will see my original vision come to fruition.

Peace to you All!

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Full Of Light

The world is full of light.  Blink and you might just miss it.  It is all around us. It interacts with us.  It shows us the way and brings us information and messages which we decipher into understandings.  Its source – innumerable physically.  Some so far away we don’t know if they still exist.  Some so close, the Sun, that what arrives here left only 8 minutes ago.  When we see its light, it is the past.   For at the very instant that a message of light appears to our eyes, the Sun has already moved to a new spot in the sky.

What we see in the sky is the past.  The sun on the horizon is not really there, as it has already set 8 minutes ago.  The world is full of Light, blink and you just might miss it – I did say that right?

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Ramadan 1429 Begins

Today was the first day of fasting for the month of Ramadan this year.

Enjoying the afternoon

Enjoying the afternoon

I lead a trip up to the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve in the northern Santa Cruz mountians on Sunday after noon with about 20 people attending. We spent about two hours along one of the ridge trails in the preserve waiting for the sun to set so that we could start searching. We had a good time while we waited.

It was another perfect day for moonsighting. The sky was clear and visibility was excellent. Although it was clear and sunny we had mild temperatures in the upper 60′s.

As the sun began to set, we all anxiously waited to start searching. Although the sunset was quite impressive with its deep orange color, we had to really stop ourselves from looking to prevent the green spots from appearing in our eyes which would hamper seeing the delicate crescent moon.

Finally the sun had vanished below the horizon. It left us with sublte pastel colored skies.

However, try as we did, we could not see any sign of the new crescent moon. Even though is was a 30 hour old moon, its age determine from the moment it is in conjunction with the sun, it was low on the horizon, only about 3.5 degrees in altitude, and was only in the sky for 20 minutes after the sun set. Most 30 hour old crescents are easy to see in the sky after sunset, but this one was to low ont he horizon and set too soon after sunset.

In the end, no one in North America saw the crescent moon that evening. Making the month of Sha’ban a 30 day month and with Ramadan beginning on Tuesday September 2, 2008.

With one day now complete we look forward to a blessed month ahead of us.

Peace – Youssef

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