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Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2006 11:27
Published on Monday, 03 October 2005 00:00
moonwatch.jpgAs part of Einstein Year, the new initiative ‘Moon Watch’ will refine the existing astronomical models used to set the lunar calendar by combining modern astronomy with recorded sightings of each new crescent moon collected by the general public.

The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) is inviting members of the public - especially amateur astronomers and the Islamic community - to use contemporary science to help make more accurate the dates of the lunar calendar and predict the date of each new crescent moon.

To coincide with the start of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting which is governed by the lunar calendar and is expected to fall on the 4 or 5 October 2005, ‘Moon Watch’ invites the Islamic community in the UK & Ireland, Astronomy enthusiasts and members of the general public to record sightings of the new crescent moon (roughly every 29.5 days) and submit the data online for analysis.

Participants should look for the new crescent moon immediately after sunset in the western sky on the first three days after the new moon appears, which will fall between 4 to 6 October, 3 to 5 November and 2 to 4 December. Using the unaided eye, binoculars or a telescope, participants will record data which includes location (postcode), weather conditions, date, time and orientation of the crescent.

The data are then submitted to the website: <> (live from the 1 October) for analysis by HM Nautical Almanac Office (HMNAO), who provide astronomical data for a variety of users including diary manufacturers and publishers. HMNAO will then incorporate the information provided by the general public into its existing astronomical models, which are used to provide dates for the Islamic calendar.

The project is planned to run for several years, with an initial analysis of the data to be released in December 2005 to determine how ‘Moon Watch’ has refined the HMNAO model so far.

Professor John Wood, Chief Executive of the CCLRC, said, “I’m delighted that the CCLRC is involved in this unusual project, as part of our ongoing commitment to inspire a wide cross section of the general public in science, engineering and technology”.

Other faiths basing religious festivals on the lunar calendar include the Hindu religion, with the Holi festival of light; the Christian tradition, which bases Easter on the lunar calendar; and the Jewish faith, which is lunisolar. The Chinese also celebrate the Moon Festival.

Usama Hasan, of the Muslim Council of Britain said, “The Muslim world is in a bit of chaos regarding the calendar – there’s no one unified method of determining which is the right date for the start of Ramadan. Since ancient times people have developed calculations to predict when the new crescent moon will be visible, but it’s very difficult to determine precisely because visibility depends on so many factors. This is an exciting, mass project in which everybody can get involved.”

Steve Bell, scientific editor for the HMNAO at CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory said, "This is a great opportunity to get the public to help us answer the age-old question of when the new crescent moon can be seen. Current methods for predicting the new crescent moon are based on data in an American study. We want to gather observations worldwide and particularly from Northern Europe to test the validity of our predictions and to improve our global models."

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Notes to Editors will be live from 1 October

The CCLRC hosts Her Majesty's Nautical Almanac Office (HMNAO) at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. HMNAO has provided astronomical information to a wide variety of customers for more than 170 years, including the Armed Forces of many countries, the Police, the legal profession, astronomers, TV and film companies, architects, surveyors, newspapers, diary manufacturers, publishers, outdoor events organisers, the Forestry Commission, historians and religious groups. The information includes the accurate positions of astronomical bodies and astro-navigational data, light levels in twilight, moonlight and daylight, and times of astronomical phenomena such as sunrise and sunset, eclipses and transits. Information is generally provided in specialist publications (almanacs), in the form of Astronomical Information Sheets and NAO Technical Notes, as well as in response to special projects or studies.

The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils is one of eight UK research councils and is one of Europe's largest multidisciplinary research organisations supporting scientists and engineers across the world. It operates world-class large-scale research facilities, provides strategic advice to the government on their development and manages international research projects in support of a broad cross-section of the UK research community.

The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK's representative Muslim umbrella body with over 400 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools.

Einstein Year
is a year-long celebration of physics and its relevance to all our lives. Marking the centenary of Einstein’s three ground-breaking ideas it communicates the vital role physics plays in developing new technologies like cancer screening equipment and mobile phones, whilst addressing big questions such as how the Universe was created and how climate change can be tackled.

Einstein Year is here - be inspired by physics in 2005.

This release from CCLRC and the organisers of Einstein Year is forwarded for your information by Peter Bond, Royal Astronomical Society Communications Officer. Forwarding does not imply endorsement by the RAS.