Archive for the 'Moonsighting' Category

Chasing Pleiades

This is the latest new crescent moon photographed on May 8th, 2024.It is not much different from any of the other moons I have photographed. A thin sliver of light, a lovely gentle gradient of color in the sky, and, oh wait, what are those little white dots? Click on the photo for an enlarged view if you can’t see the white dots.

The new crescent moon of this month was within 2 degrees from the Pleiades star cluster. I wondered while making the photograph if I waited long enough if the stars of Pleiades might become visible. The above photograph was taken at 8:34 pm PDT and as I examined the photo on the camera’s LCD screen, I could not see the stars. So I waited and continued to photograph the moon as it approached the horizon. At around 8:45 pm, as I zoomed in on the LCD, I could see two of the seven stars, so I continued to wait and photograph. As the evening waned, the sky became darker, and somewhat more hazy as well and the same two stars were becoming more prominent on the LCD but not the other five. At the same time, the photograph was starting to show much more digital noise as I needed to raise the ISO setting to higher values to keep the shutter speed fast enough that the moon and stars did not blur due to their motion. Below is the last photo I made at 9:04 pm PDT.

The stars are more evident in this photograph but only because I edited the file to bring them out. I could not see them with my naked eyes in the sky, and further, I still only saw two of the seven stars on the camera’s LCD screen. Yet, all seven were there and the camera did capture them, even in the first photo I made that evening but I did not know that until I returned home and examined the files in detail.

By the time I made the last photo, the ISO setting on the camera had increased to 6400 and the photographs were becoming quite grainy with digital noise. In attempting to remove the noise in post-processing the software also obliterated the stars of Pleiades as well. That is when I decided to go back and look at the first and subsequent photos that were made with lower ISO values when the sky was brighter. So I thought it would be interesting to go through how I processed the first photo to bring out the seven stars in Pleiades.

The image below is the first photo without any additional processing to bring out the stars.

Clicking on the above image might reveal one or two of the stars but faintly. When the view of the image is zoomed in, all seven of the stars are discernable and are found within the red box highlighted in the image below.

Cropping into just the red boxed area and then zooming in to full resolution the seven stars are all there circled in red in the image below, click on it to see it in full resolution.

A careful selection of the tonality of the faint stars was made to create a tonality mask that was then used to raise the contrast and brightness of the stars alone using some repeated curve layers in Photoshop. However, once I had brought out the stars, I started to wonder if what I had captured in the photo was truly the seven stars of Pleiades or was my camera playing tricks on me and it just so happened to produce random noise that “looked” like the Pleiades.

Earlier in the year in February, I had the same camera on an iOptron SkyGuider Pro star tracker and I photographed Pleiades with over an hour of accumulated data and processed that data to make the following image of Pleiades.

I realized that I had used the same lens to photograph the Pleiades alone as well as the current crescent moon and Pleiades. So I thought what if I bring in the night sky photo of Pleiades and overlay it on the crescent photo to see if in fact the “stars” in the crescent photo are the seven stars in the Pleiades? The following image shows this above deep sky photo of Pleiades overlaid onto the crescent photo and properly aligned with the assumed seven stars. If examined closely, one can see that the pinpoint stars in the crescent photo line up perfectly with the deep sky photo of Pleiades. The seven stars in the crescent photo were in fact the seven stars in Pleiades!

Over the last several days the Sun has been very active and producing some incredibly strong geomagnetic storms that have resulted in aurora that have been visible as far south as Arizona in North America. I was unaware that the aurora could be seen so I did not attempt to photograph it. In fact I only really became aware of the visibility of the aurora because I was inundated with the question if I had photographed the aurora. While this geomagnetic storm event was rare, storms of this magnitude only occur about every 20 or so years, this conjunction of the first day waxing crescent moon with Pleiades is something that I have not been able to find a recurrence of in the past nor in the future. The Pleiades is only near the western horizon in May specifically on May 8th, so it would seem that this conjunction is very rare if not unique. If anyone has the means of determining when a first-day new crescent moon is illuminated just over 1% but not more than 2% and is within 2 degrees of Pleiades will occur again or if it has ever occurred prior to 2024 I would greatly appreciate knowing.


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At First Sight

At First Sight

At first sight, the heart skips a beat.

At that moment, hope and elation meet.

You can’t believe something so subtle can be so sweet

a reminder of the greatness of Allah without deceit.

Now we can celebrate, Remember, Drink and Eat

And be thankful for that our caprice we did defeat.

But now we head out on our own without the helpmeet

of the prison that chained the Whispering Cheat.

Say Bismillah, Subhan Allah and make him retreat.

Remember to pray like the Owner of the Swollen Feet

And take your place in the world, upright and arete.

And give to the poor, the destitute, openly or discreet

and by that your coffers in the next life will be replete.

In one month’s time with you, Oh Moon, I again hope to meet

and by Allah’s Will in twelve you’ll call us to repeat

the cleansing of our souls until complete

with the shield of taqwa to protect us from Hellfire’s heat

and a sound heart which guarantees us a seat

on brocade couches drinking milk and honey from rivers so sweet.

With prayers and blessings on He whom we entreat

to intercede for us on The Day we all will meet

Our Lord the Most High, The Forgiving, Al-Muqeet.

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Up And To The Left

Just over a week ago a video was released by Zaytuna College, where I teach astronomy, mathematics, and Islamic jurisprudence, about sighting the new crescent moon to mark the beginnings of the lunar months of the Islamic calendar.

For years, the start of the Islamic months has been hotly debated between two camps. One camp advocates to adhere to the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing of God be upon him, to go out and actually witness the new crescent moon, and then have the witnesses testify to the sighting to mark its beginning. However, this approach has an inherent variability in it because the new crescent moon will reappear 29 or 30 days after its last appearance. The other camp advocates determining the beginning of the months through an astronomical calculated approach such that the calendar can be predetermined for years in advance.

Both sides have their arguments, and perhaps both have merit, but one cannot feel a calculation. A calculation is abstract. It is lifeless. To most, it means nothing because they cannot apprehend how the resulting conclusive decision to start the month was derived. For most, they would not understand how to go about the calculation itself, they would in essence be calculatedly illiterate.

It baffles me a bit that the camp arguing for the calculation approach always quotes the tradition (Hadith) from the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, where He says “We are an unlettered community, we neither write nor calculate, the month consists of 29 (motioning with his hands showing 29 fingers) or 30 (motioning with his hands showing 30 fingers) days“. The camp arguing for calculations cites this hadith and says that modern Muslims are no longer a people that neither write nor calculate so we should use calculations. This tradition, however, should be interpreted as a description of the community at that time not a prescription of how the Muslim community should be. Not all the Muslims from 1400 years ago were unlettered. Some did know how to write and very likely some did know how to perform calculations, as they did have and use an intercalated lunar calendar which does require knowing how to do some calculations. However, I would argue, that most people, Muslim or otherwise are illiterate when it comes to the mathematics and the understanding needed to carry out the calculations needed to determine the start of a lunar month, so the tradition does in fact still describe people today as it did 1400 years ago.

To get a sense of what I mean, the following must be determined for any given time on any given date to determine the position of the moon in the sky:

  • The time must be determined in Julian Centuries
  • Next, the Moon’s mean longitude is determined
  • Then, the Moon’s elongation
  • followed by determining the Sun’s anomaly (which has its own set of calculations)
  • Next, the Moon’s anomaly is determined.
  • A series of Periodic terms need to be summed for the moon’s longitude and distance from the Earth.
  • Then the Eccentricity of the orbit of the Earth around the sun is needed
  • Finally, the geocentric longitude, geocentric latitude, and geocentric distance of the moon can be calculated.
  • The whole process is then repeated over and over for every second until the geocentric longitude position of the moon matches that of the sun, of course, further calculations are needed to obtain the geocentric longitude of the sun as well.

Did I lose any of you with any of the above steps?

So where does that leave the common Muslims today regarding how to determine the start of the lunar Islamic months? There is a principle in problem-solving known as Occam’s Razor. Briefly, it is generally understood that with competing theories or solutions to a problem, the simpler one is to be preferred. To that end, there is another well-known tradition from the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, where He says, “Do not start the fast until you see the new crescent moon, and do not break the fast until you see the new crescent moon. If the new crescent moon is obscured from you, then complete a full thirty days”. This approach entails going outside once a lunar month to search for the new crescent moon in the post-sunset sky. It only requires the ability to see and of course, count 29 days from the last time the new crescent was seen. It is clearly the simpler solution to the problem of determining the beginning of the lunar months.

The simpler solution does not exclude the possibility of using astronomy to help one find the moon in the sky, it just does not require a person to learn astrodynamics to complete lengthy calculations in abstraction.

Certainty is a beautiful thing. Nothing brings true certainty better than experience. Experiencing the new crescent moon appearing in the post-sunset sky is something that can’t be explained, it must be felt. This evening, 29 days since the last time we saw the new crescent moon, we went out to search for that elusive sliver of light. It was hard. The new crescent moon this month was incredibly thin. A delight to see. Bringing a filling of the heart with both Joy and Certainty. Here is this month’s moon, with its tips pointing up and to the left, if you watched the video you’ll know what I mean.

Shawwal 1443. True Certainty

With the sighting of this moon, the Blessed month of Ramadan comes to a close and it ushers in the Festival of Breaking Fast. A joyous day where Muslims all over the world celebrate by eating, drinking, and Remembering their Lord, for whom they abstained from food and drink for an entire month during the day.

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim readers, and as always Peace to all.

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Don’t Second That Moon

On Friday April 1st, 2022 I went out with my family to seek out the new crescent moon that would mark the beginning of Ramadan this year. The probability forecast was not favorable for a naked-eye sighting, but since April 1st was the 29th day of Sha’baan, the month preceding Ramadan, it was obligatory to go out and search. This is what we saw.


We saw nothing and it was not a surprise. What did surprise me was that reports from as far east as Texas and Louisiana were coming in with naked-eye reports. They seemed very incredulous given that the moon was only 0.6% illuminated in that part of the country with an age of 18 to 19 hours, we would have been finding near record breaking sightings. It was highly unlikely.

Then a report from San Diego, CA came in with 10 to 12 individuals sighting the moon but ONLY with binoculars. It was reasonable as that was what the probability maps were suggesting. Since I work with CrescentWatch to field reports and make monthly announcements of crescent moon sightings, we considered the report and inquired if any of the observers were able to see the moon with the naked-eye. The lead sighter reported in the negative. We at CrescentWatch did not accept the report as a valid sighting as CrescentWatch policy for a valid sighting requires a naked-eye sighting in adherence to the the Prophetic tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing of God upon him. The night was fraught with confusion however, because a second organization that CrescentWatch collaborates with, The Central Hilal Committe (CHC) did accept that report and announced the beginning of Ramadan.

Many mosques and organizations questioned the announcement and were surprised to learn that the CHC did accept optical aid sightings, as many thought they adhered to naked-eye sightings as well. Later that night, additional information was obtained from the San Diego group, a very large group numbering between 60 and 100 people, that there was one adult man who saw the crescent “for 1 to 2 seconds” and there were three adult women, one an experienced sighter, and two who were first time sighters, saw the crescent as well, but no details about what they saw was given. This seemed to placate many questioners and for many they fasted on Saturday April 2nd.

That report was fraught with doubt and so CrescentWatch did not accept the report and announced that Ramadan would commence on Sunday April 3rd, placing Saturday April 2nd as the infamous Day of Doubt, which the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing of God be upon him, said it was a day when fasting was not allowed.

I am not blaming anyone for fasting on Saturday, and hope that all efforts and fasts are accepted.

What is important is that every individual has established certainty for themselves before starting to fast. If those who fasted Saturday were certain the month had started then they are fine. And those who did not fast on Saturday because they were not certain, then they are fine as well.

But what prompted me to write this post, is that on Saturday evening after sunset I went out with my family again to sight the moon and this time we did see the moon. Here is what I saw and photographed.

A First Day Moon of Ramadan 1443

I posted it on social media and quickly people responded. For the most part liking and thanking me for posting it. However, some called it a Second Day Moon, by virtue of how big it is. This is the concern that I am writing about. This is clearly a first day moon and when I compare this moon with several other large first day moons, it makes me wonder what brings someone to make such a statement?

Here are other true first day moons as I either photographed them on the 29th or 30th day, and the day prior no moon was visible in the post sunset sky. Do they look similar?

First Day Moon
First Day Moon
First Day Moon

The following table shows the pertinent data for each of these first day moons

Month and YearPercent IlluminationElongation AgeLag Time
Ramadan 20223.4%21°44 hours94 minutes
Rabi al-Awwal 20213.6%21°39 hours64 minutes
Rabi ath-Thaani 20211.9%15.75°28 hours48 minutes
Shawwal 20182.7%18°32.5 hours68 minutes

How the crescent moon appears depends so much on where a person happens to be on the earth at the time of conjunction and at the sunset following conjunction or the day after that. The moon is not always visible on the day of conjunction, in fact more often than not, it is not visible on the day of conjunction. I also think those people who make such comments simply do not know what they are looking at and unfortunately expose their ignorance by saying things like “that looks like a second day moon”, like they have seen and compared both first day and second day moons. How often does anyone go out to look at a second day crescent moon?

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing of God be upon him, stated in one of his traditions regard the end days, that near the end of time, people would see a first day moon and claim it is a second day moon. This is frightening, as I have been hearing such comments for many years now.

What I recommend is that those who come out of the woodworks once or twice a year to seek out information regarding the start of the month, that they should make it a practice that they go out once a month and seek out the new crescent moon for themselves. Observe with their own eyes what a new crescent moon is and how its appearance changes from month to month. Experience the amazing and fulfilling moment when the crescent moon suddenly appears before their eyes as if it was brought into existence from non-existence by the Creator of all things.

Al-Hakim in his collection of hadith relates that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him said, The best of God’s servants are those who are vigilant in observing the sun, moon, stars, and shadows for determining the times of remembrance of God.

Only then do I think our vocal friends will find the temperance in their comments regarding the effort and struggle that the vigilant moon sighters make in keeping time.

I hope everyone of my Muslim readers, brothers and sisters, find great solace in the month of Ramadan, that they honor Ramadan by following the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, and by virtue of their fasting find Forgiveness, Fortitude, and Felicity from God.

Peace to you all.

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No Doubt, No Doubt…

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

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

The Last Sunset?

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

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

No Doubt

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

Oh Wait!…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Companions on the Path

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

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

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

The End is Just the Beginning

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

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

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

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The Year That Had No Hajj…Almost

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

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

Crescent moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
All Alone

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

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

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

Crescent Moon of Dhul Hijjah 1441
Not Alone At All

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

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

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

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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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Mysteries of Moonsighting

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

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

Frosted Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time, Peace to All.

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It strikes me how calm things are for most of the year when it comes to sighting the moon.   It shows up every month in complete silence in the sky after the sun drops below the horizon.  The winds stop.  The birds go quiet and silence descends upon the earth.  Most months during the year no one even cares about the new moon.  No one calls asking if the moon was seen.  No one calls or sends emails or messages by some means reporting that the moon was seen.  No debates, no arguments, no drama at all.  Its a nice reprieve from that madness, however then my mind starts to wonder why?  Why is no one debating our recent sighting?  Why is no one sending in reports?  Did anyone go out and look for it?  It worries me that this beautiful tradition might be slipping through our collective fingers.

No Fanfare

And yet, with no fanfare, that beautiful sliver of reflected light makes its self known every month and for those who are willing to just go outside and look, it will enamor them.   So, for those lovers of light who might be out there reading this simple and short post, this quiet drama-less photograph of the new crescent moon is for you.  Keep the vigilance and watch out for the next new moon as this month, Rab’i Ath-thaani, winds down.  And may the Beloved, peace be upon him, know that we are still here keeping his traditions alive.  

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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