Why Does the Moon Look Larger Near the Horizon?

Why Does the Moon Look Larger Near the Horizon?
Full Moon over New York City

Perhaps you saw the total lunar eclipse last night, or maybe it was only umbral (partial) in your area. Either way, it reminds us of God’s intricate design that allows advanced life on this planet. As you watched the Moon, you may have seen it close to the horizon or high in the sky. Why does the Moon look larger near the horizon? Is it really larger, or are your senses being fooled?

Here is a simple experiment you can do with a camera or smartphone. Take a picture of the Moon when it rises and then take another picture of it high in the sky on the same night. Now compare the Moon’s size in the two pictures. You will see that the Moon is the same size. Better yet, stretch out your arm and compare the Moon’s size to your thumb at the two positions on the same night.

If you are thinking that the Moon looks larger at the horizon because it is farther away at that time, that is clearly not the case. The Moon’s distance, and therefore apparent size, does vary somewhat throughout the year, but not on the same night. The difference in apparent size when the Moon is closest to Earth and farthest away is only about 7%. The human eye can barely detect that difference.

So why does the Moon look larger near the horizon? First, realize that it is not our eyes but the human brain that does the seeing. When the Moon is near the horizon, we compare it to distant trees and buildings that we know are large, so we think the Moon looks larger. However, when it is in the middle of the vast, open sky, the Moon seems small by comparison.

We interpret what we see based on previous experiences and prejudices. That means our brain interprets new information filtered through those prejudices. That brings up another question. How does the human mind interpret other areas of understanding, such as the existence of God? Are there filters in your line of sight that can block you from seeing the truth?

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Discover Magazine

The Only Lunar Eclipse Visible In North America In 2022

The Only Lunar Eclipse Visible In North America In 2022
A Total Lunar Eclipse or “Blood Moon”

This Sunday night, May 15-16, 2022, a total lunar eclipse will be visible in the Western Hemisphere. It will be the only lunar eclipse visible in North America in 2022. The totality will be visible in the eastern United States and Canada and all of Central and South America. It will also be visible in Antarctica, but most of the population seeing it there will be penguins. The partial, or penumbral, eclipse will be visible in the western U.S. and Canada as well as Africa, Europe, and other areas. To find out exactly if or when you can see it in your area, go to TimeandDate.com.

Lunar eclipses occur at the time of the full moon. People commonly call May’s full moon the Flower Moon since it’s the time of year when many flowers are blooming in the Northern Hemisphere. Full moons occur approximately once per month when Earth is between the Moon and the Sun. A couple of times per year, the alignment is so precise that the Moon falls within Earth’s shadow, creating an eclipse. That will happen only one more time this year, on November 8, which also happens to be election day in the United States. However, the November eclipse of the Moon is no omen for the elections, and it won’t even be visible in the United States.

A total lunar eclipse, often called a “blood moon because of its color, is not an omen of anything, despite what some false prophets may suggest. It is a natural function of the solar system God created for us. We can know precisely when eclipses of the Sun and Moon will occur because our solar system is not chaotic. Our Creator gave us an orderly, life-sustaining system in which to live and carry out His plan. With that in mind, enjoy the only lunar eclipse visible in North America in 2022. Let it be a reminder of God’s creative wisdom and His love. (See Genesis 1:16 and Psalms 72:5-7.)

— Roland Earnst © 2022

The Unique Design of Our Solar System

The Unique Design of Our Solar System
Our Solar System (Distances and Locations Not to Scale)

We have pointed out that recent reports from NASA reveal that astronomers have found more than 5000 planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. These extra-solar planets show that our solar system is a rarity in space. The unique design of our solar system strongly supports the idea that it is a product of intelligent creation, not a cosmic accident.

One might suggest that having a life-bearing planet is like trying to shoot something. If you shoot enough times, you will eventually hit the target. So likewise, if we find enough planets outside of our solar system, we will ultimately find one like Earth that can support life and even beings like ourselves. However, recent discoveries show that our solar system is so unique that it cannot be a chance production.

One discovery from the observation of exoplanets is the uniqueness of having a rocky planet orbiting this far from a star. In a study of 169 detected and confirmed rocky planets orbiting nuclear burning stars, more than 90% of them orbit their stars ten times more closely than Earth orbits the Sun. Being closer to their stars would mean that the lighter elements in those planets would be burned away, so those planets should be denser than our rocky planets. However, the data shows the exoplanets have a density of 4.472 grams/cc, while Mercury, Venus, and Earth are 5.395 grams/cc. What does this fact suggest?

The starting point for interpreting this data is the Sun. It has a very unusual lack of refractory elements (those elements which boil easily). That is especially true of lithium which is 170 times lower in abundance in the Sun than in the rest of the solar system. Scientists have advanced various theories about why that is, but it means that the Sun’s flaring activity is at a very low level compared with similar stars. Thus the Sun has an exceptionally low level of harmful ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

As we look at rocky extra-solar planets orbiting other stars, we see they are very close to their stars. Since the stars would burn off the light elements with low boiling temperatures, we would expect to see rocky material left behind. The fact that our Sun has rocky planets that are farther away is because of the Sun’s unusually low levels of refractory elements and low levels of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

Other factors about exoplanet systems demonstrate the unique design of our solar system. For example, Earth’s chemical composition is unique. The extra-solar planets scientists have studied do not have the chemicals needed in the amounts required for advanced life forms to exist. Also, our Moon plays an essential role in the system that allows Earth to retain its atmosphere and hydrosphere.

With more data from astronomers studying extra-solar planets, it becomes increasingly clear that our Sun and our solar system are not typical products of accidental chances in space. The number of parameters that our unique solar system possesses speak of design. The unique design of our solar system shows that God’s creative hand has done much more than we imagined. This shows the truth of the old cliche that “the more we know of the creation, the more we appreciate the role of the Creator.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: We thank Gary Colvin for sending us the spring 2022 issue of Salvo magazine, which contains the article “Sun In a Million” written and documented by astronomer Hugh Ross.

Known Exoplanets Number 5009

Known Exoplanets Number 5009

As new space telescopes look out into the cosmos, astronomers discover more planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. NASA reports that known exoplanets number 5009. The process God used to create “heaven and earth” resulted in a lot of extra material in various forms throughout the cosmos. In 1999, astronomers discovered the first exoplanet, and since then, the number has kept growing.

At first glance, one might feel that since there are so many planets, some of them must be inhabited by sentient beings like ourselves. However, we find that is not the case when we examine the breakdown of the types of planets that astronomers have discovered. Even though known exoplanets number 5009, only 200 are worlds like Earth, made up of solid rock. The rest are gas planets like the Jovian planets Jupiter or Neptune, or they are huge solid planets with massive gravitational forces that would crush living beings. We should remind you that a world suitable for sentient life requires at least 47 other variables that we have listed in a chart you can see at THIS LINK.

When God “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), His methods involved forging massive amounts of gases and very few solid materials. Known exoplanets number 5009 now, but the number is sure to increase. Studies continue to show that our solar system and planet are unique. God’s wisdom in creating Earth the way He did becomes more evident as we explore space and realize how many resources we have available on this planet.

The “heavens declare the glory of God and the sky shows His handiwork” (Palms 19:1). We see more of His power and wisdom as our technology produces better images of the cosmos and how it was created in the beginning.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Science News April 23, 2022, and Time magazine for April11/April 18, 2022.

Medical Challenges of Space Travel

Medical Challenges of Space Travel
NASA Kennedy Space Center

Space exploration presents many challenges, but the medical challenges of space travel may dwarf the technical challenges. Spending lengthy sojourns on the International Space Station (ISS) has already shown some of the problems that future space travelers will face.

One problem astronauts face is space anemia caused by a lack of red blood cells. On Earth, the human body makes two million red blood cells every second to replace the ones that are lost. In space, the astronauts’ bodies lose three million red blood cells each second, and they must replace those cells. Anemia results from a shortage of the red blood cells needed to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. It causes fatigue, dizziness, and weakness.

Space anemia was well-known, but scientists thought the body would adapt and correct the problem after an extended time in space. Unfortunately, a recent study of 13 astronauts has shown that it is not corrected after six months on the ISS. Furthermore, it took three to four months to restore a near-normal red blood count after the astronauts returned to Earth. There was still a thirty percent greater loss of red blood cells even after that.

A new study on cosmonauts in the ISS shows another area of concern. Scientists studied the brains of twelve cosmonauts just before and after their space flights and again seven months after they returned to Earth. They used computer reconstruction of data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the structure (gray matter) and connectivity (white matter) in the brain. The research showed shape changes in the brain, especially in the corpus callosum, a large bundle of nerve fibers that connect the brain’s two hemispheres. In addition, researchers detected “changes in the neural connections between several motor areas of the brain.” But, perhaps, the most concerning is that in the brain scans taken seven months after the cosmonauts returned to Earth, the changes to the brain were still present.

A journey to Mars and back will take more than twenty months. During that space flight, astronauts will need protection from radiation, food for proper nourishment, and to replenish red blood cells while they experience “rewiring” of their brains. The many medical challenges of space travel remind us how blessed we are that God has given us the perfect planet to call home.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: EurekAlert.org and Frontiers In Neural Circuits

Methane and Life on Other Planets

Methane and Life on Other Planets

Astronomers are constantly looking for signs of life on other planets or moons. One of the potential clues they seek is methane, a hydrocarbon gas consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It is classified as a “greenhouse gas” because it can trap heat on Earth’s surface resulting in “global warming.” It’s a more effective greenhouse gas than the much-discussed carbon dioxide. Methane is produced by organic decomposition and in the digestion process of ruminants such as cows and other animals. Scientists seek to learn more about a possible connection between methane and life on other planets.

Since living things create methane, scientists regard it as a potential “biosignature” indicating life on an astronomical body. For that reason, astronomers are searching for methane on planetary bodies. News reports have sometimes gone overboard with stories about methane and life on other planets. However, not all methane is created biologically. Volcanic eruptions can release methane gas, and even asteroid impacts can add methane to a planet’s atmosphere. So how can scientists tell if the methane is a sign of life on a body far out in space?

For one thing, gasses from a volcano would contain not only methane but also carbon monoxide. The biological creation of methane would consume carbon monoxide. When examining the gasses in a planet’s atmosphere, a large amount of BOTH methane and carbon monoxide would probably indicate that the methane was not a biosignature. Methane alone would be a more likely indicator of the possibility of life.

However, an abundance of methane without carbon monoxide would not prove the existence of life on a planet. As we have said before, many factors are required to make a planet suitable for any kind of life, especially advanced life. NASA’s James Webb telescope, launched in December, is still working to reach full functionality. When it does, a significant part of its purpose will be to look for methane in the atmosphere of exoplanets.

When results indicate that the Webb telescope has detected methane on a planet, news reporters may sensationalize the facts to suggest more than they deserve. Reputable scientists are more cautious in their predictions about methane and life on other planets. Nevertheless, we are excited about the possibility of learning more about the universe with the new Webb space telescope.

As we have said before, the Bible doesn’t tell us if there is life on any other object in space. If there is, we believe that God put it there. We are not afraid of scientific investigation because the more we learn about the creation, the more we stand in awe of the Creator.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

What Syzygy Means

What Syzygy Means

Syzygy is an interesting word used in astronomy. It’s a great word for Scrabble, but my kids quit playing with me when I used it once. You might wonder what syzygy means. Let me explain.

This spring brings an unusual view of the solar system. If you get up before the Sun now through May, look to the east, and you will see four planets that shine very brightly. The planets from left to right are Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. All of them will be bright enough to see with the naked eye. With binoculars or a small telescope, you will also see some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Astronomers call an alignment of planets like this a syzygy.

We can see these planets in this rare alignment because they orbit the Sun in the same plane, called the ecliptic plane. This is not just some happy accident but is a critical factor in the survival of life on Earth. Objects coming into the solar system along the ecliptic will not collide with Earth because the planets that lie further out in the solar system will intercept them long before they can reach our planet.

We have actually seen Jupiter intercept a comet coming toward the Sun along the ecliptic. The fireball the impact produced was larger than Earth’s diameter. This solar system design is so complete that the gravitational fields of the outer planets overlap so that nothing from outside the solar system can get to the Earth. The only “planet” not in the ecliptic is Pluto, which is inclined to the ecliptic. For that reason, scientists say that Pluto is not a planet but a captured object.

The design of the solar system is far more complex than most of us understand. The more we travel in space, the more we see the effect of not having a designed protection system. As science deals with space travel, the wisdom and planning of God become apparent. Take a few minutes on a clear morning before the Sun comes up to go out and look and wonder at how “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). Now you know what syzygy means, and you can use it the next time you play Scrabble.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: apod.nasa.gov for April 20, 2022, and earthsky.org.

Return of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

Return of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

In late April each year, we see the return of the Lyrid meteor shower. It may not be the most spectacular meteor shower of the year, but I find it easier to observe. That’s because, in our part of the world, it comes at a time when the weather is mild enough to sit outside and watch (unlike the Geminids in December) and before mosquitoes become a problem (as with the August Perseids shown in the picture).

This year, the return of the Lyrid meteor shower is from April 14-30, with the peak on the night of April 22. Typically, the Lyrids display five to 20 meteors per hour at the peak, although, in some years, the number has been higher. Written records of the Lyrid meteor shower go back 2700 years when Chinese astronomers made note of it in 687 B.C. A Korean account from A.D.1136 says that “many stars flew from the northeast.”

If you see the Lyrid meteor shower, you will not be looking at falling stars, although you may get that impression. Instead, you will see tiny fragments of Comet Thatcher (officially C/1861 G1), discovered in 1861 by amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher. That year was the last time the comet flew by our planet at 31.1 million miles (50.1 million km). Its next return to our vicinity will be sometime around the year 2280. Meanwhile, Earth’s orbit around the Sun causes us to pass through debris the comet left behind. So we see those fragments as they burn up from the effect of atmospheric friction.

We live in an orderly universe on a planet positioned to allow observation and study of the cosmos. Our planet is designed with an atmosphere and magnetic field to protect us from comet debris, meteorites, cosmic rays, and solar wind. If you have the opportunity to observe the return of the Lyrid meteor shower, use it as a time to thank the Creator for allowing us to live in the just-right time on a just-right planet in a just-right location in the universe.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

In the Shadow of NASA

In the Shadow of NASA

The John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida gets a lot of attention from the media. However, most people probably are not aware that attached to the Space Center in the shadow of NASA is the Canaveral National Seashore/Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It has 69,000 acres of marsh left undeveloped and managed by the National Park Service. Researchers have identified 1045 plant species and 310 bird species in the shadow of NASA.

A dozen species of wildlife that are federally listed as endangered live there, including sea turtles, West Indian manatees, wood storks, eastern indigo snakes, and Florida scrub jays. In addition, there are the usual animals found in Florida, including land tortoises, otters, armadillos, and a wild assortment of crabs, insects, oysters, clams, and shrimp.

We had the pleasure of visiting this refuge the second week of April in 2022. It was interesting to watch hundreds of birds wading through the marsh, eating crabs and shrimp. We also saw mullet jumping as they were chased by larger fish and alligators basking in the Sun and then looking up to see a rocket being prepared to lift astronauts to the space station.

The refuge is a barrier island with sand dunes covered with various plants, including numerous palm trees and ancient oaks covered with Spanish moss and palmetto and sea oats. The National Park Service has built wooden walkways to control human traffic, allowing a natural environment to function within sight of the Kennedy Space Center in the shadow of NASA.

Just north of this area is New Smyrna Beach with its towering resorts, massive numbers of tourist attractions, and where people can drive vehicles on the beach. That area is essentially a biological desert with some gulls and pelicans and various sparrows, vultures, and blackbirds, but nothing like what we see in the wildlife refuge. The primary vegetation is a variety of human-introduced plants decorating the resorts. As you drive through the area, you see the trunks of dead palm trees everywhere but very little wildlife. Meanwhile, construction continues on more resorts and tourist complexes.

What happens when a hurricane hits this area? In the wildlife refuge, the answer is almost nothing. The vegetation holds the dunes and prevents the destruction of the plants and wildlife that depends on them. We all know about the collapse of the resort tower in this area, which tragically killed several people. No human structure is free from the elements. The human-introduced plants are generally wiped out in a hurricane and have to be replanted. Human attempts to control the area are at the mercy of natural processes. As the climate warms and water levels rise, more human-made structures will be destroyed, but what God constructed will survive. The refuge will change, and the wildlife and plant life will adapt, but it will do quite well left alone.

It was interesting to see the challenges facing the park service in the refuge. Roads don’t do well, and wooden structures have to be replaced. Meanwhile, the natural world functions smoothly and efficiently with an abundance of residential and migratory life. As humans try to control parts of nature, we constantly need to rebuild and replace. “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit … and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12). You can see how good it is when you visit an area not corrupted by human ignorance, greed, and selfishness.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Data from National Park Foundation publication Canaveral/Merritt Island 2021.

Sand and Life Design

Sand and Life Design

Sand is one of many things vital to life on Earth, but we generally ignore the connection between sand and life. Sand comes in many different colors and chemical compositions. Silicon and oxygen make up the sand in the Great Lakes area where we live, while Florida’s sand consists of calcium and oxygen. Sand has multiple uses in construction, and it can hold large amounts of water, making it useful in water resources. Because water flows very slowly through sand, we use it in bags to stop the rapid flow of water. Sand mixed with organic material makes soil. Sand and life are closely tied together.

In the northern parts of the world, most of the sand results from the breakdown of granite and other volcanic rocks. Granite contains orthoclase, a pinkish mineral that dissolves into clay. The orthoclase is mixed with other dark-colored minerals that break down, and water carries them away. The toughest material in granite is the last to remain, and it weathers into sand.

I had a college professor who took us to a cemetery to look at the headstones. Dates were carved into the headstones, so we knew how long they had been exposed to the elements of wind, rain, and ice. In the oldest section of the cemetery, the headstones had been reduced to sand because they were made of granite which breaks down. Limestone headstones get tougher with time and generally survive longer.

The world’s oceans have a different connection between sand and life. For example, parrotfish produce 70% of the sand in the Pacific Ocean. These fish eat coral, biting off small chunks and digesting the organic material in the coral polyps. The fish discharge what is left, and it falls to the ocean floor as sand. In areas of the world rich in clams, oysters, snails, and other sea animals with shells, much of the sand is produced by waves grinding up the shells of these creatures.

Lake Michigan’s beaches look very different from those in Florida. Sand in Lake Michigan comes from granite that has been broken down by plant roots and the freezing and thawing of water. The beach sand contains granules of magnetite (an iron mineral) and other dark-colored minerals. In Florida, the sand is ground up of seashells with no dark minerals, making it very white. Some sand near volcanic activity will be green or black as the dark soluble minerals have not had time to weather out.

The processes that produce sand and other materials critical to life on this planet show design. Interactions between the elements and living things enable life forms to adapt to their environments in various climates and conditions. The more we study and understand the processes and how they interact, the more we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before to prepare a place for humans to dwell.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Planet Earth airing on PBS April 8, 2022.