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A Conjunction or Birth of new moon occurs when the moon, in the course of its orbit around the sun, passes exactly in front of the latter. When there is a perfect alignment of the earth, the moon and the sun, there will be a total eclipse of the sun but, in general, the moon will just become completely invisible and cannot be sighted even with the most powerful telescope. This moment of time is called Conjunction.
Observatories around the world calculate the new moon birth timings accurate up to seconds with the help of mainframe computers. Simple algorithms running in personal computers calculate them within the error limit of plus or minus two minutes. This may not be sufficient for eclipse timings but might be enough for determining conjunction.
There are different algorithms used to calculate the timings of the new moon birth depending upon the accuracy desired. Some algorithms are more accurate than others. Hence, there can be slight differences in the new moon birth timings calculated by different observatories based on the algorithm used.
At the time of conjunction, the moon is dark as seen from the earth. You can think of it as the “Dark Moon” or the “Invisible Moon”, impossible to see at conjunction but possible to observe as a thin crescent several hours afterwards.
Just after conjunction the moon is invisible and it is not possible to see it even with most powerful telescope.
Calculating the instance of the birth of the new moon is an exact science and there can be – as such – no error in calculations. However, astronomers are human beings liable to make an occasional mistake. It is important to note that data published by various internationally known observatories are amazingly accurate.
Going to higher altitudes does not change the situation except for the small time delay added to sunset and moon set timings. Also the quality of the atmosphere helps in the observation of the young crescent.
The notion that astronomy is forbidden in Islam is a misconception that emerged some 1200 years ago when astrology and astronomy were not considered as separate sciences and when the Ilm-un-Nojoon encompassed both astronomy and astrology. When astrology gradually came to be prohibited by the Muslim Ulamaa’, the misconception arose that astronomy too was not permitted. Now it is clearly understood that whereas astrology is forbidden in Islam astronomy (Ilm-ul-falakyat) is not. Astronomy is knowledge of the movement and the position of heavenly bodies, whilst astrology is the effect of these positions on the future of human beings. The future is not known to anyone except Allah, so astrology is “haraam” in Islam.
Wait until 15 minutes after sunset. Look in the direction of the sunset, just above it and also look to the right and to the left up to about 25 to 30 degrees of the setting sun. Keep looking until the time of moon set as specified in the local newspapers. You should have one more person with you whilst observing. The use of binoculars will help to sight the moon.
The thickness of the crescent depends on the age of the new moon at the time of observation. For the specific location where you are, the young crescent moon has the least age in some months and a greater age in other months. In some months the age might be just below the visibility range (about 12 hours) and you will not see the crescent. Next day, the age will have increased by 24 hours, to reach 36 hours, and the crescent will be easily visible if the sky is clear. The 36 hour moon will look so big that many people will call it the second day moon, but, for your specific locality, it is still the first day moon. In some localities, the moon might have attained 17 hours of age on the previous day and might have been seen as a thin crescent. The second day moon in these localities will have 41 hours of age. So you see, depending on where you happen to be, a 36 hour old moon may be a first day moon and a 41 hour old moon, which is not much different from 36 hours, might be a second day moon.
It could be one of the many things that people mistakenly take granted for the crescent. In our times, there are numerous man-made flying objects – helicopters, air-planes, satellites… – that sometimes reflect sunlight in such a way that people consider it as the young moon. A C-shaped thin streak of cloud, jet smoke or even a small piece of hair stuck to eye-glasses, have been considered as the crescent by many sincere Muslims. Sometimes, the zeal of sighting prevails and sheer imagination leads the person to think that he or she has seen the young moon.