Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks
In our post yesterday we mentioned that the Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night August 11-12 and 12-13. Earth is making its annual journey through the trail of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. When those pieces of rock, mostly ranging in size from a grain of sand to pea-sized, enter Earth’s atmosphere at supersonic speeds, they burn up from the heat of friction. We see the streaks as “shooting stars.”

Earth has been passing through the Swift-Tuttle debris since July 17 and will not be clear of it until August 24. So even though the Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend, it is possible that you might see some of the meteors over the next few days. However, on these two nights, they should be visible at the rate of about one per minute. The best time to see them is after the Moon sets, and the best place is an area free of lights and with an open sky.

Every day anywhere from 100 tons to 1,000 tons of meteoritic material enters the Earth’s atmosphere. This material can come from comets or asteroids. The asteroid 3200 Phaethon produces the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December. There are other pieces of rock, dust, and debris in space that sometimes get trapped in the Earth’s gravitational field, and contribute to the hundreds of tons of material that reach Earth every day.

So what are the lessons we get from all of this? For one thing, Earth is not a static planet. It is gaining new mineral wealth every day. Our planet is vibrant and alive and has changed over the eons of its existence. The design of Earth’s defensive shield is incredible. With all of this material left over from the creation processes, it is critical that we have an atmosphere that is dense enough to burn up the space junk that comes toward us.

Every time scientists get a meteor sample we learn more about our neighbors in space. We knew a lot about the makeup of asteroids before science actually landed a spacecraft on one. Our knowledge of comets was advanced before we were able to leave Earth’s gravity and examine one up close. We continue to learn about the unique nature of the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and the material that makes up our solar system.

While you are outside, take a look at Mars which is still closer and brighter than usual and visible until about 4 AM local time. Saturn will be visible until 2 AM. Venus will set about 9:30 PM and Jupiter at 11 PM. The planets travel near the ecliptic, the path of the Sun and Moon across the sky, so here’s your chance to enjoy them all. As the Perseid meteor shower peaks, it reminds us of the words of the psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Why Such a Huge Universe?

Why Such a Huge Universe?
Here are some questions that are often asked by those who are skeptical of the existence of God: Why such a huge universe? How can we believe that a Creator cares about us when we are so insignificant in this vast cosmos? Those questions are worth considering.

There is no doubt that the cosmos is fantastically large. The Hubble Space Telescope aimed at a small area of sky no larger than one-tenth of the diameter of the Moon to take this Hubble eXtreme Deep Field photograph. The few bright spots with points of light radiating are stars. All the rest are galaxies—more than 10,000 of them in this picture! Some of them are as far away as 13 billion light-years, meaning that they were among the first galaxies formed.

If there are 10,000 plus galaxies in this tiny area of sky, that means there are 200 billion galaxies in the visible universe. Each of those galaxies contains an average of 200 billion stars. So why such a huge universe?

There were two critical factors at the beginning of cosmic existence—mass and expansion rate. If the total mass of protons and neutrons had been any less during the first moments of creation, hydrogen would not have fused into any elements heavier than helium. Then the nuclear furnaces of the stars could not have generated the elements carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium, which are essential for life. If the mass of protons and neutrons had been any greater at the cosmic creation, all of the original hydrogen would have fused into heavier elements like iron, and life would not have been possible.

The mass also affects the expansion rate. If the cosmic mass density had been less, the expansion rate would have been too fast to form stars like the Sun and planets like Earth. If the density had been greater, the expansion rate would have slower and all stars would have been much more massive than the Sun and would give off radiation too intense for any orbiting planets to sustain life.

In other words, the universe was fine-tuned from the moment it began! Why such a huge universe? Because it had to be. It has just the right mass and expansion rate for us to be here. We don’t think that was an accident. Through the study of astronomy and astrophysics, we can see HOW God created the universe we live in, and HOW He made it possible for us to live in it. The creation of the universe is not magic. It’s a feat of astounding engineering from the very moment of creation.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Special Star – Our Sun

Special Star – Our Sun
The Sun’s corona visible during the 2017 total eclipse.
Our Sun is a special star. In the past, scientists thought that it was just an average star. However, new studies in recent years have shown many ways that our Sun is unique.

A recent study by researchers at the Flatiron Institute Center for Computational Astrophysics under the leadership of astronomer Megan Bedell shows one more way that our star is unique. The study involved examining 79 “solar twins” of the Sun. These are other nearby stars that have nearly the same temperature and mass as the Sun. Using the HARPS telescope in Chile, they measured the spectra of each of the stars. A star’s spectrum of radiation indicates what elements the stars contain and the relative abundance of those elements.

The researchers measured the abundance of 30 different elements to a precision of two percent, which is higher than others had achieved. The ratios of elements such as carbon to oxygen and magnesium to silicon were nearly identical in the stars they studied, except for the ratios in our Sun. Our star has a lesser amount of metals and elements that make up rocks. Those elements are the ones which planets are made of, so we can probably assume that those elements were removed from the Sun to make Earth and the other rocky planets.

The stars which came closest to matching the Sun’s chemical composition were only a small portion of the total stars studied. They are also missing some of the materials that could build planets like Earth. However, in the search for exoplanets, astronomers so far have not found any planets orbiting those stars that are most similar to our Sun.

This study is fascinating, and there is much more to learn. We don’t know if science will ever find any potentially life-supporting solar systems and planets anywhere else. However, we do know that our Sun and this planet seem perfectly designed as a place for us to live and to study the vast universe. It is evident that we have a special planet orbiting a special star in a special place where we can observe and study God’s creation.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Why Gold Is So Precious

Why Gold Is So Precious
Have you ever wondered why gold is so precious? What is it about this metal that we can use it for so many things including the base of many national economic systems?

We think of gold as being rare, but it is quite abundant in the universe. Ten-billion tons of gold exist in Earth’s oceans. Scientists believe that near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros has more gold in it than has ever been mined on Earth. Gold is virtually indestructible. It is almost always recycled, and 85% of the gold ever found is still being used today.

The atomic structure of gold gives it an incredible range of applications. Because of its electron configuration, gold is not very active chemically. Gold is popular in jewelry not only because of its beauty but also because it is chemically inert and therefore does not tarnish. That same electron configuration makes it extremely malleable (able to be pounded into a sheet) and extremely ductile (able to be drawn out into a wire). A one-ounce piece of gold can be beaten into a sheet five-millionths of an inch thick or drawn out into a wire 50 miles long and 5 micrometers thick–one-tenth the diameter of a human hair. Gold wires are also very useful in electronics because gold is an excellent conductor of electricity. In computers and other electronics, gold plating of connectors gives low resistance electrical contacts that don’t corrode.

For 70 years the standard treatment for rheumatoid arthritis has been injections of a liquid suspension of gold salts which act as an anti-inflammatory, but scientists still don’t know why that works. A method of refining gold requires the use of highly poisonous cyanide. However, researchers have discovered microorganisms that eat trace amounts of gold and deposit them as larger nuggets. This can lead to gold processing that will be far less damaging to the environment than the old cyanide method.

As chemists look at the electron structure of gold, they see that it has been designed to do some amazing things. The design of the atom gives us some incredible materials that are of great value for many things. That is why gold is so precious. God has designed some amazing things for us, and gold is one that is high on the list.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Science Shows Intelligent Design

Science Shows Intelligent Design
In attempting to discredit all evidence that God created the universe, many atheist periodicals try to paint all religious claims with the same brush. In truth, believers cover a wide range of viewpoints. There are those who reject science altogether, others who accept “theistic evolution,” and still others who see that science shows intelligent design in the universe and living things. It is not a question of intelligent design or science. Science shows intelligent design.

Some creationists vilify science and make God an illusionist who does magic tricks to produce what we see in the world around us. In their minds “God spoke it into existence” puts God in the role of not using natural processes. It also makes God deliberately deceptive. Both of those views conflict with the Bible. Genesis 2:8 says, “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden.” Don’t you think that God used processes to plant the garden? He didn’t run a rototiller or spade up the ground, but he “planted” using a process. When Genesis 1:3 tells us “God said Let there be light, and there was light,” is the light coming from his voice as He speaks or did He use a process? In Proverbs 8, wisdom speaks calling us to have an understanding heart (verse 5) and saying that wisdom was with God in His creative processes (verses 22-30).

The Bible maintains that God in all of His creative activity did so with wisdom and purpose. Webster’s Dictionary defines science as “systematic knowledge.” Scientists seek to gain information about the world in which we live. This information is not just data, but it is also information about processes. None of this precludes God from “speaking it into existence.” We are simply learning how what God spoke became a reality. That is why we see passages like Psalms 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.” The creation process is an apologetic evidence for the existence of God as Romans 1:20 tells us, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

Quantum mechanics is showing us a whole new concept of science. We now understand that the sub-microscopic world of atoms and electrons, quarks and mesons does not operate by the same rules as our world of planets and moons and animals. Quantum concepts such as simultaneity and duality tell us that the creation is more complex and amazing than we ever imagined. Concepts like string theory propose as many as eleven spacial dimensions involved in the production of the physical world. The definition of God requires an entity that is outside of space and time—in other words, in a dimension higher than our own. To believe that there is an intelligence involved in all of this is a faith issue, but believing that somehow it all happened by chance is also a faith issue.

Intelligent design does not negate science. Whenever we see evolutionary processes shaping and molding living things, it is evident that the design of plants and animals allows these changes to take place. Seeing intelligence in the design of the universe is not an attempt to discredit science. Science shows intelligent design. Faith in God allows us to recognize a personal cause for the creation around us as opposed to relegating the cause to mechanical accidents. Faith in God also gives us the ability to see a purpose for our own existence and the reason that there is something instead of nothing.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Optimum Martian Viewing

Optimum Martian Viewing
Recently there has been much talk about Mars in the media. NASA and private firms such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX are working on plans to send people to Mars and eventually build a colony there. For the past month, a planet-wide dust storm has blocked sunlight from reaching the planet’ surface and caused NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover to shut down. In addition, Mars is now in “opposition” to Earth and at its closest point to us since 2003. The current position of Mars gives us optimum Martian viewing.

When astronomers say that Mars is in perihelic opposition to Earth, that means the Sun, Earth, and Mars are in a line with Earth in the middle. That makes the apparent luminosity of Mars the brightest that it is at any time. Also, it means that Mars rises each night as the Sun sets and Mars sets each morning as the Sun rises. So Mars is visible in the sky all night long, and it is two times brighter than Jupiter, which usually outshines it. In addition to Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus are also visible at this time in an east-west arc across the sky after sunset. You can distinguish Mars by its red color, and it will continue to be bright through August for the optimum Martian viewing opportunity.

On July 26, NASA announced, “It’s the beginning of the end for the planet-encircling dust storm on Mars.” However, it may be weeks or even months before the Martian atmosphere clears enough for the Opportunity to have enough sunlight to recharge its batteries and return to life. NASA hopes that the batteries will recharge before Opportunity freezes to death. The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 Celsius). That is not very hospitable to machinery, or humans.

In addition to the previous factors, Mars will be at its closest point to Earth today, July 31, 2018. It will be only 35.8 million miles (57.6 million km) away from us. Mars is at its closest point about every two years. When Mars is on the other side of the Sun, it is about 250 million miles (401 million km) away. For that reason, any mission to Mars will have to be precisely timed to reach our neighboring planet in the shortest time, but it will still take months to make the journey.

With all of the challenges of reaching and perhaps colonizing Mars, the work goes on to achieve that goal. Some, such as Elon Musk, are suggesting “terraforming” Mars. That is, modifying the climate to make it hospitable to earthlings. That would require raising the climate temperature, thickening the thin atmosphere, and having a stable supply of liquid water, among other things. Elon Musk suggested a method of doing that which involves bombing the polar ice caps with explosives. It sounds like science fiction, and a new report from two leading scientists, Bruce Jakosky of NASA and Christopher Edwards of Northern Arizona University suggest that it is. Their study published in Nature Astronomy concludes that “with current technology, we just don’t see that there are any viable options” for terraforming Mars.

What we need to remember as we consider all of this, is that God has given us a planet that has all of the right conditions for us to live on and enjoy. He has already “terraformed” it for us, and we need to protect that gift and use it wisely. In the meantime, we can enjoy the optimum Martian viewing opportunity He provided for us to see the “red planet” right now.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Immune System – The Seventh Sense?

Immune System - The Seventh Sense?
The cover story in the August 2018 issue of Scientific American is titled “The Seventh Sense.” Jonathan Kipnis wrote the article with the subtitle “Long thought to be divorced from the brain, the immune system turns out to be intimately involved in its functioning.”

The article reports on new studies of how the brain and the immune system interact. Not only does the immune system help an injured brain, but it also plays a role in helping the brain deal with stress and informs it of microorganisms in and around the body. When I was in college the brain and the immune system were viewed as independent of one another. The central nervous system controls all the body’s functions, and this new study shows that the brain is connected to this system in such a way that the immune system is an integral part of both.

We have five senses–smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing. The sense of position and movement is usually referred to as a sixth sense. These senses report to the brain about our external and internal environments. The brain computes the activity needed for our protection. Microorganisms are present in all of these environments, and the ability to sense them and provide a way to defend against them is necessary. It appears that our immune system is hardwired into the brain, and if that is the case, it is the seventh sense.

In the modern world, we have so many things that attack our bodies that we need to find new treatments based on a better understanding of how the immune system works. New studies are in the works that will expand our knowledge. One thing is clear–the system is highly complex, and we are just beginning to understand how it works and how to deal with the new challenges brought on by the world in which we live.

Psalms 139:14 says it well: “I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.” (King James Translation.) “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous.” (Taylor translation.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Longest Blood Moon

Longest Blood Moon
It will be the longest blood moon of the twenty-first century. There have been books and articles about “blood moons” in recent years relating them to prophecies of various kinds. However, this event will not be a miraculous sign of some impending doom or destruction. It will not be a sign of the second coming of Christ. This lunar eclipse is an entirely natural phenomenon.

A so-called “blood moon” is actually an eclipse of the Moon. Most of the time, we see the light of the Sun reflected from the Moon. When Earth, Moon, and Sun are perfectly aligned with our planet in the middle, the Moon becomes covered by Earth’s shadow. Since Earth is much larger than the Moon, it can throw a shadow across the entire Moon. That is what will happen at 4:21 p.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time on July 27. However, it will not be visible in the United States. A partial eclipse will be visible in most parts of the Eastern Hemisphere, and it will be total in Africa, the Middle East, and part of Asia.

Why does the Moon appear red or orange during a lunar eclipse giving it the name “blood moon?” That’s because as the Sun’s light passes through Earth’s atmosphere, it is filtered and bent so that a small amount of light reaches the Moon’s surface. We see the effect of our atmosphere on sunlight when we watch the red-orange colors of a sunrise or sunset. If you were on the surface of the Moon, you would see that sunset effect as a halo around the Earth. Looking at the Moon from Earth, we see the reflection of that sunrise/sunset glow reflected back to us. The Moon takes on an eerie, but faint blood-red glow.

This lunar eclipse will be the longest blood moon of the century because of a near-perfect alignment of Earth between the Sun and Moon. From beginning to end, this eclipse will last almost four hours. The period of totality will be an hour and 43 minutes. The next lunar eclipse visible in North America will be on January 21, 2019, and it will last only an hour and two minutes. How do we know these statistics? We can know when lunar (and solar) eclipses will occur because we know how they happen. We know that our solar system is very orderly and predictable because it is well designed.

In ancient times eclipses caused people to panic. People in ancient Mesopotamia thought an eclipse was an attack by demons. The Inca people in fifteenth-century South America would shake spears and make noise to scare away what they believed was a jaguar attacking the Moon. There is a story that Christopher Columbus and his men were stranded for six months on the island now known as Jamaica. The indigenous Arawak people became less than generous in sharing food. Columbus knew from an almanac that a total lunar eclipse was about to happen. He told the local people that his God was angry and would take away the Moon in three days. When Columbus’ prediction seemed to come true, the Arawaks were terrified. They gave Columbus’ crew whatever they wanted to bring the Moon back. Amazingly, the Moon returned to normal, and everyone was happy.

So as the longest blood moon of the century comes and goes, don’t let anyone try to tell you it is some kind of miraculous sign. After all, we can’t predict miracles. The only miracle that was clearly (and repeatedly) predicted in advance and which actually happened was the resurrection of Jesus.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Painted Lady Butterflies Out-migrate Monarchs

Painted Lady Butterflies Out-migrate Monarchs
One of the most amazing things we see in the natural world is the ability of some living things to make incredible migrations. In the past, we have described the monarch butterfly’s migrations from wintering areas in Mexico to northern parts of the United States covering a round trip of about 10,000 kilometers. However, we see that painted lady butterflies out-migrate monarchs.

Scientists have studied how the monarchs navigate such incredible distances with formidable obstacles in their way. Biologists have proposed a variety of models as to how these fragile butterflies could acquire such an ability. However, in the case of the monarchs, the journey is not made by a single butterfly but by a succession of generations.

Science News for July 21, 2018 (page 4) told about a study of another butterfly with an amazing migration. It has the scientific name Vanessa cardui and is commonly known as the painted lady butterfly. These butterflies live in Southern Europe and migrate to Africa in the fall–a distance of 12,000 km. That’s 2000 kilometers farther than the monarchs, and the journey involves crossing the Sahara Desert. As with the monarchs, scientists had believed that the migration involved several generations. New techniques allowed researchers to put markers on the painted ladies when they were caterpillars. We now know that at least some of the butterflies make this incredible journey in one lifetime.

When you look at the barriers to this migration including changes in wind direction, mountains, desert, and storms it is difficult not to be impressed with how the painted lady butterflies out-migrate monarchs. Trying to construct a possible model based on chance processes involves so many assumptions that it is hard to accept that this ability can have an evolutionary explanation. Believing that God’s creation included building a DNA set of instructions that allows the painted ladies and monarchs to migrate is not just an assumption, but the weight of the evidence supports it.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Autonomic Nervous System at Work

Autonomic Nervous System at Work
I know you have many things to think about. However, there are many more critical things that you don’t have to think about because your autonomic nervous system is at work.

Just take a moment to think about all of the things you don’t have to think about. I mean you breathe without having to think about it—even in your sleep! Humans and animals have what is called an autonomic nervous system, and we could not live without it. It’s an amazing system in the hypothalamus of our brains that allows our bodies to perform functions without our having to think about them.

The autonomic system not only keeps us breathing while we sleep, but it also causes our heart to beat, our stomach to digest food, our pupils to adjust to changing light levels, our body to sweat when overheated, and many other things we don’t have to think about. Without the autonomic nervous system, anything we tried to swallow would get stuck in our throat because the esophagus would not push it down to the stomach. The stomach would not digest our food, and the intestines and colon would not send nutrition to our bloodstream and remove waste. Your liver and pancreas will do their jobs even if you don’t give them a thought. This amazing system allows our internal organs function without our having to think about it.

Essential functions of life just happen without our thinking about them, and sometimes without our knowing about them. But that presents some big questions. Did the autonomic nervous system just happen, or was it designed? How could this system just happen to start working at the right time with the correct program to control these complex machines which are our bodies? I suggest that this system requires a Designer who is also an excellent Engineer.
–Roland Earnst © 2018