UK dawn (fajr) observation

Bismillah. From Usamah Ward:

Assalamu ‘alaikum.

September can be a good month for astronomical observations, it often has warm clear nights. Last year I spent a few good nights looking at the night sky with friends, but this year I thought I’d try to observe the start of dawn. Last Saturday morning (8 Sep 2012) was a perfect opportunity; there was no cloud within view (according to weather charts, the nearest cloud in the direction of dawn was over Scandinavia), and it was not cold.

I originally intended to drive to Walton-on-the-Naze, but that is a long way to go from London on my own; instead I drove to Leysdown-on-Sea. This is a good location I can reach in an hour, it is dark enough to see the Milky Way, it has a clear view of the north-east to east horizon over the sea, and due to its closeness has a strong relevance to London.I arrived early (3.30 AM), as it is important to allow one’s eyes to accustom to the dark. Dawn was to be expected in a direction between 050º and 060º, and was helpfully framed by The Plough to my left, and a brilliant Venus to my right which had already risen in the east and now cast a long reflection over the water.

The other advantage of arriving early was an opportunity to survey the night sky with my binoculars, with Orion above the horizon quite south of east, the waning moon shining brightly above and to the right of Venus, accompanied by Jupiter to its left, and the Pleiades somewhat above.

At the start of astronomical twilight (sun’s altitude at 18º, about 4.22 AM)) I could see no sign of dawn; indeed, I had to wait some 20 minutes. The appearance and spreading of the light of dawn I would have called for 4.45 AM, which is about the middle of astronomical twilight (15º), though some may have called it a few minutes earlier – as you’ll know, it’s not a precise moment by any means! I have to say that given the conditions I had thought I might see it a little earlier.

It is important to emphasise that this proves nothing; it is one person’s observation on one night. My attempt to photograph what I saw was, not surprisingly, a dismal failure, due the the limitations of my camera and my abilities!

However, the more we try to observe dawn, the more likely we will be able to devise meaningful timetables.For record, it is my view that:

1) Timetables that give ‘to the minute’ times for Fajr and Isha are inherently misleading, as all the evidence of science and people’s observations suggests the times vary considerably depending on atmospheric conditions. At best, they are a helpful average.

2) Angles determined by observations carried out at significantly different latitudes cannot be assumed to be valid for the UK.3) Much work needs to be done *by* Muslims in the UK *for* Muslims in the UK, partly to ensure we understand the Fiqh correctly, partly to grasp the latest scientific understanding of the phenomenon of dawn, but mostly to establish as much observational data as possible.

Usamah K Ward

Usama Hasan,

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