Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
On August 21 people across North America will have a unique opportunity to see a total solar eclipse. It is a very rare event, and especially rare to have so much of the United States involved. The experience itself is worth a considerable drive if you don’t live in a zone of totality.

The Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun. That means that the shadow of the Moon will fall on a small area of the Earth. Normally the bright photosphere of the Sun overpowers everything else. In a total eclipse of the Sun, the photosphere is covered, and you can see the outer atmosphere of the Sun called the corona. When light from the photosphere shines through a valley on the Moon just before and after totality, a blast of bright light appears to viewers on Earth. It looks like a huge diamond ring.

The sky is not the only place where strange things happen. We enjoyed a partial eclipse when I taught astronomy at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana. We made a point of telling our 1600-member student body what was going to happen. We set up our telescopes and pin-hole cameras to project the event onto poster board. The principal allowed the whole student body to gather in front of the school.

When the eclipse started, there was the usual teenage horsing around as the Moon began to cover the Sun. All of a sudden the kids got very quiet as it became noticeably darker and you could feel the air become cooler. Dogs started howling as the eclipse progressed. Leaves in the maple tree in front of the school projected small pin-hole images on the sidewalk of the Sun with a chunk missing. We even had a few kids who became disturbed by what was happening. This was not a total solar eclipse, but just a partial eclipse which didn’t cover the entire Sun. Those who live near the path of totality will have the rare experience of seeing complete coverage of the Sun and darkness in the middle of the day.

It is amazing that our solar system is designed in such an incredible way that even high school students with a knowledge of math and astronomy can predict when the eclipse will start, reach totality, and end. The fact that the Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun is remarkable. In the past, humans believed that eclipses were the prognosticators of a coming disaster. For us, the total solar eclipse is simply a wonderful display of the precision and design built into our solar system and the fact that we can understand what God has done by studying the events that we see in the sky.

A word of warning–don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eye. Special eclipse glasses are available. Don’t risk losing your eyesight.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Listening for E.T. Continues

Listening for E.T.
The media seems to be obsessed with the quest to find life in outer space. They are especially interested in a “Mr. Spock” type of life–human in appearance but with super powers. SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has been going on now for almost 60 years. Billionaire Yuri Milner has committed $10 million dollars per year until 2025 to keep the SETI project listening for E.T.

We have pointed out many times that finding life in space would not invalidate Christianity or the Bible in any way. Humans seem to be dedicated to finding an alternative to God’s way as revealed in His Word. Many seem to believe that finding an advanced alien civilization would be such an alternative.

The September 2017, issue of Astronomy magazine, has an interesting article by associate editor John Wenz. The article on pages 34 and 35 is cleverly illustrated with cartoons by Theo Cobb. It shows 16 different “alien” cases that all turned out not to be messages from E.T. Wenz traces the misguided attempts to find alien signals from outer space that would indicate intelligent life out there wanting to interact with Earthlings. He goes back to 1960 when SETI’s first project called OZMA claimed to have received a signal from Epsilon Aurigae, a star about 2,000 light-years from Earth. The team, including Frank Drake who founded SETI, thought that they were receiving a signal from space, but it turned out to be terrestrial in origin.

Again, this is not an apologetic issue, but it does show the desire of humans to find a better existence. We would suggest the better existence comes from reading and understanding God’s Word, not from seeking alien help in straightening out the mess we have made. Those listening for E.T. may be waiting for another 60 years–or perhaps thousands.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Chaos Mathematics and Solar System Design

Chaos Mathematics and the Solar System
One of the ongoing mysteries about the solar system is the question of how the orbits of the planets and other objects function. If the solar system consisted of only the Sun and the Earth, the motion of the Earth could be easily calculated by a simple formula. When you add other planets and moons, all tugging and pulling on Earth in different ways at different times, no simple mathematical formula explains what is taking place. The solar system seems to be incredibly stable, but why should that be? Chaos mathematics helps us see design in the solar system.

For hundreds of years, astronomers and mathematicians have wrestled with the questions that relate to the consistency of the solar system. Why does Mars not get pulled out of its orbit and crash into Earth? Why does Earth not drift closer to the Sun when it is pulled on by the gravitation of the inner planets? How does the Moon’s gravity affect Earth’s orbit and rotation?

Modern computers have given us spectacular advances in understanding planetary motions. The simple calculation gets complicated when you add a second planet to the solar system. With three objects tugging on each other and the Earth no longer follows a precisely elliptical orbit. Earth experiences different gravitational pulls at different times depending on the distances between the objects. With each planet, moon, and even asteroid the calculations become more difficult.

Since no simple formula accurately describes the planetary motions, French astronomer Jacques Lasker and others have used an advanced technique called chaos mathematics. The term chaos in this application does not mean a disorderly system. Chaos refers to situations in which the behavior of a dynamic system depends sensitively on the initial variables that control the final outcome. In this case, each of the planetary gravitational effects is written as an equation called a differential equation. By carrying all of the equations out to include many variables and then averaging the equations, Lasker was able to describe the orbits very successfully. Other scientists have found that adding other influences such as the effects of relativity increase the accuracy and predicted stability of Earth’s orbit.

The importance of this work is that it shows why the solar system consists of many objects and not just the Earth and Sun. A resonant system of gravitational forces is needed to keep the stability and consistency of our orbit around the Sun. Chaos theory and the use of computers that can do incredibly complicated calculations have opened the door to a better understanding of our complex solar system.

Romans 1:19-22 tells us that we can know that there is a God through the things He has made. Psalms 19:1 and Isaiah 40:26 tell us to examine the heavens and see the handiwork of God. Chaos mathematics tells us that the initial state is crucial to the outcome. God established the initial state which has given us our present stable solar system.

The more we learn of the creation, the more we learn of the Creator. Chaos theory in mathematics shows us the wisdom and planning built into the orbit of our planet around the Sun.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Genetically Modified Human Embryos

Genetically Modified Human Embryos
Shoukhrat Mitalipov

Chinese scientists have conducted at least three experiments to create genetically modified human embryos. Now, MIT Technology Review reports that a team of scientists in the United States has edited the DNA of human embryos. The experiment was performed at Oregon Health and Science University, a public university in Portland, under the leadership of Shoukhrat Mitalipov. It is apparently the first time this has been done in the United States, and it involved a greater number of embryos than the Chinese experiments.

Mitalipov, who was born in the former Soviet Union and received his Ph.D. in Moscow, came to the U.S. because there was a lack of funding for genetic experimentation in his home country. Since coming to the U.S. he has cloned monkeys and human embryos. This is the first time for editing the DNA of a human embryo.

The scientists used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR, which we have reported on before. The goal of the experiment is supposed to be to find a way to correct genetic defects in humans. The sperm used to fertilize the embryos came from a man with a genetic defect. The embryos were destroyed after a few days because in the United States it is illegal to allow genetically modified human embryos to develop into full-term babies.

In February the U.S. National Academy of Sciences gave support for creating gene-edited babies if the purpose is the elimination of serious genetic diseases. Genetically modified human embryos can develop into gene-modified humans who will pass on the genetic changes to their offspring. This may offer hope for eliminating genetic defects. However, it also has implications for the nightmare scenarios of a science-fiction movie. When humans start to play God by manipulating the DNA of our children, what if they make a disastrous mistake? The United States Intelligence Agency listed CRISPR as a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”

Beyond the implications of Frankenstein-like creatures, there is the aspect of “designer children.” DNA could potentially be edited to select the sex, physical features, and even intelligence of an unborn child. So far that is illegal in the United States, but not in other countries. One of the problems the Chinese experimenters encountered is called “mosaicism,” in which the change to the DNA is not taken on by all of the cells. The implications of a person with multiple DNA codes in different cells is not fully understood. Other CRISPR errors referred to as “off target” effects could result in serious genetic defects. Mitalipov’s team claims to have those problems under control.

The report from this U.S. experiment should be published soon, and it will certainly be in the news. Christians should be concerned about where this is leading. Do humans have the right to play God with our DNA? What could be the result of “off target” mistakes? What about the ethics of creating human embryos for experimentation and then destroying them? Do the possible breakthroughs in the elimination of genetic diseases outweigh the dangers? What about the moral cost to our society as we go down this road?

One thing you can be sure of is that humans will continue to create genetically modified human embryos. If it doesn’t happen in the United States, it will happen in other countries. You can also be sure that there will be some scientists who will do so with less than pure motives. In Mary Shelley’s classic book telling about a scientist’s desire to create a new species, Victor Frankenstein said, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” The power to become a god creating new species of humans can overpower pure motives as it did with Victor Frankenstein. The outcome could be even more tragic than in the novel.

It’s time to consider the many times the Bible tells of the value of every human being and the love God has for us. Many people have become concerned about GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) in food. How much more should we be concerned about Genetically Modified Humans?
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Scientists and God: A Different View

Scientists and God
J. B. S. Haldane in 1914

In each issue of our printed publication, we have a feature called Scientists and God, in which we quote from a leading scientist who is also a believer in God. Today I would like to do something a little different. I want to quote the words of a leading scientist who was not a believer.

J. B. S. Haldane (1892–1964) was a British geneticist and evolutionary biologist. He was also an outspoken atheist and a Marxist. Because of the political controversy caused by his Marxist ideology, he left England in 1956 and spent the remainder of his life in India.

Haldane was a brilliant man who made contributions in the areas of genetics, evolutionary biology, and mathematics. In many ways, he was ahead of his time. He proposed the central ideas of in vitro fertilization. He was the first to suggest human cloning. In fact, he coined the use of the term “clone” for that purpose. He also helped to create the science of population genetics.

In 1929, Haldane introduced the “Primordial Soup Theory,” which said that life began on the early Earth in a chemical soup where the elements of life came together. That theory became the leading concept of abiogenesis–the idea of life coming from non-living matter by a natural process. Haldane’s theory led to the famous Miller-Urey experiment in 1952. In that experiment, Stanley Miller created a sealed container with the chemicals thought to have been part of the early atmosphere of Earth. He subjected the chemicals to an electric spark and collected some amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins. The news media went wild over “creating life in the laboratory,” but that was an example of media exaggeration–or as it would be called today “fake news.”

Incidentally, science has since shown that the Miller-Urey experiment did not emulate the conditions or chemicals of the early Earth and therefore is not a valid demonstration of the first step in abiogenesis. However, it is still shown to students in school textbooks because science has not produced anything better, and it is easy to understand. Today’s attempts at abiogenesis are far more complex, proving that it takes great intelligence and carefully controlled lab conditions to produce even the basic building blocks of life. In other words, it takes intelligence to create life, which has been our message for many years.

Haldane proposed correctly that sickle-cell disease gives immunity to malaria. He prepared gene maps for color-blindness and hemophilia. Nobel Prize winning biologist Peter Medawar called Haldane “the cleverest man I ever knew.”

Haldane wrote numerous books presenting his ideas and defending Darwinism. In 1949 he debated British ornithologist Douglas Dewar on the topic “Is Evolution a Myth?” In that debate, Haldane said that evolution would not be capable of producing “various mechanisms, such as the wheel and magnet, which would be useless till fairly perfect.” In other words, if those mechanisms could be found in living organisms it would be an indication that evolution did not create those organisms.

Since that debate, we have found magnets in anaerobic bacteria which are considered to be the most “primitive” forms of life. The sightless, single-celled magnetotactic bacteria consume iron and produce magnets which they use to guide them to anaerobic areas that are safe for them to live. The magnets they produce are better for some scientific purposes than what humans can produce in the laboratory. Turtles, birds, and other more advanced animals also use magnets for navigation. Wheels can also be found in living organisms. As Janine M. Benyus (another Darwinist) wrote in her book titled Biomimicry, “Even the wheel, which we always took to be a uniquely human creation, has been found in the tiny rotary motor that propels the flagellum of the world’s most ancient bacteria.”

So wheels and magnets are found in the most “primitive” and “ancient” of single-celled bacteria. If that 1949 debate were taking place today, I doubt if J. B. S. Haldane would say that those mechanisms could disprove evolution. On the subject of Scientists and God, there are many views. Our view is that those mechanisms found in bacteria indicate an intelligent Creator who understood magnets and wheels long before humans did.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Human Evolution Theories More Confounded

Human Evolution Theories More Confounded
For many years the papers have reported on anthropologists finding the remains of human ancestors in Ethiopia, eastern Africa. In the past several weeks there have been headlines saying that “the oldest fossil of Homo sapiens” has been found in Morocco which is in northeast Africa. It seems that each new find makes human evolution theories more confounded.

Anthropologists working in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, found fossils they claim are much older than those found in east Africa. The specimens have a lower jaw which matches Homo sapiens but the brain cases are long and low which is more indicative of apes or monkeys. They also found 14 stone artifacts which they associated with those fossils. The original report said that the tools were found with the fossils. Later reports indicate the tools were found in the strata above the fossils indicating they might not have been produced by those individuals.

Scientific theories about how humans came into existence are always changing as new data becomes available. The classic theoretical model of human evolution in recent years has maintained that humans arose in east Africa and migrated elsewhere. That is apparently not the case, but this new find will be debated and discussed by the experts for many years.

The Bible does not address the evolution of apes or monkeys. We are simply told that animals reproduced after their kind. There is no indication of how many kinds there were, or how much their genetic makeup varied as the years went by. The Bible says that God created man and woman in His own image. That spiritual quality of humans is the thrust of the biblical account. Modern human’s origin in the Fertile Crescent area of what is now Iraq is not questioned by very many people. That is also what the Bible tells us. Human migration throughout the world and the racial variations that developed to help people adapt to different climates is without a doubt.

The fact that apes and monkeys evolved and adapted to the varied climate of Africa is interesting and not surprising. The assumption that their evolution jumped to produce modern humans with all of all of the human characteristics and spiritual capabilities is a leap of faith. New data will keep developing new ideas and theories, but humans as a special creation of God will not be changed. The discovery of the changes in creatures that in some cases looked physically like us makes human evolution theories more confounded.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: Science News, July 8, 22, 2017, page 6 and Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2017, page A18.

We Need Lightning to Survive on Earth

We Need Lightning
Most of us have had some experience with lightning. The chances are that our experiences have been terrifying and destructive, and we may view lightning as a bad thing. You may wonder if we need lightning. The short answer is, “Yes.” Lightning is a good thing, and there are many things we are still learning about it.

Lightning helps produce the nitrates and other nitrogen compounds that are needed by all living things on Earth. The process is called “nitrogen fixation, ” and it is vital to our very existence. Water droplets in the air carry an electric charge. That charge can accumulate to dangerous levels unless there is a way to neutralize it. That’s where lightning comes in.

One of my favorite demonstrations as a physics teacher was to get a very small flow of water going from a faucet and then bring a charged rod up to the column of water. The stream of water will bend in response to the charge. That is because the polar nature of the water molecule allows it to have electrical properties. Because of water’s electrical property, lightning is generated to release nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the crust of the Earth as nitrates and other nitrogen compounds that plants need to grow. The plants then feed and protect the animals and us.

Low Earth orbit satellites and high flying airplanes have recently made us aware of other properties of lightning. We have learned that red sprites occur and they have been photographed above large thunderstorms. Other upper atmosphere lightning phenomena include blue jets and terrestrial gamma flashes. Scientists are studying the highly complex nature of lightning to understand how the system works.

The Bible makes many comments about lightning. It tells us that lightning is made with water (rain) even though people at that time totally ascribed lightning to supernatural causes. (See Jeremiah 10:13 and 51:16). Lightning is referred to as a tool of God. (See Job 28:26; 36:30; 37:3, 11, 15; 38:24, 25, 35.)

We are just beginning to understand the design of Earth’s atmosphere and why we need lightning. It continues to be obvious that the more we know of the creation, the closer we get to understanding the power and wisdom of the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Dark Matter and Black Holes

Dark Matter and Black Holes
Dark matter is the glue that holds our universe together. We have discussed a variety of ways that dark matter is critical to the existence of our solar system and of galaxies in general. We have also reported on unsuccessful experiments to try to find that mysterious dark matter. We have discussed the concept of WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) and the idea of attempting to see dark matter by smashing protons together. Now scientists think there may be a connection between dark matter and black holes.

A new study reported in Scientific American (July 2017, page 39-) reports that primordial black holes are now appearing to be the cause of dark matter. The computer model shows that when the creation process usually called “the big bang” took place, seeds of primordial black holes were produced. Those black holes could cause all of the phenomena that we observe and attribute to dark matter. This would be a much simpler cause of the dark matter than previous models would indicate. Dark matter would be a bi-product of the creation process.

From an apologetic standpoint, this is very interesting. God’s power is so great that when He applied that power in the creation process, massive numbers of primordial black holes were produced. If this hypothesis is correct, it tells us something of the power of God and explains the structure we see in the cosmos. It will be interesting to see if future research will confirm or deny this new observation.

The authors of the research document into dark matter and black holes are Juan Garcia-Bellido and Sebastien Clesse.
The Scientific American article is here.
The scientific document is available here.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cobra Plant Insect Trap

Cobra Plant
One of the most interesting areas of botany is the functioning of plants that don’t rely on photosynthesis to survive. Recent studies of the California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica), also known as the cobra plant because of its shape, have shown that its design is incredibly complex.

David Armitage at the University of Notre Dame has been studying this plant, and in a recent article in Science News (January 21, 2017, page 4) he reported on what is known about this strange plant. It grows in soil rich in serpentine which would kill most photosynthetic plants. The cobra plant survives by being “meat dependent.” Up to 95% of the nitrogen the plant uses comes from insects trapped inside the leaves of the plant.

The curled leaves of the California pitcher plant serve as an insect trap. It draws insects into the leafy trap by secreting a sweet substance. This secretion is not through its blossoms but from a special roll of tissue near the mouth of the insect trap. When an insect enters the small opening under the cobra-like head of the pitcher, something interesting happens. By a method still not understood, the cobra plant draws water up from the soil and creates a pool in the bottom of the “pitcher.” Putting other substances into the trap doesn’t trigger the water. The plant will only respond to an insect. How the plant knows what is a bug and what isn’t a bug is still not understood. The water contains bacteria which lower the surface tension, so when a bug falls in, it quickly sinks to the bottom and drowns.

Another unsolved mystery of this plant is that it has a forked tissue at the top of the trap called a “fishtail” which resembles a mustache with red veins. It does not lure insects into the plant, but its function is still not understood. Armitage says “The only thing fishtails lure, for the time being at least, are puzzled botanists.”

Those of us who see God’s designing hand in the natural world would see the cobra plant as a special design to meet a particular environment. We would point to the Bible in Romans 1:20 where it says, “We can know there is a God through the things he has made.” The complexity of the California pitcher plant supports such a viewpoint in a special way.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Jupiter Comet Shield

Jupiter Comet Shield
Jupiter Struck by Shoemaker-Levy 9

There is a significant amount of debris left over from the formation of the solar system existing in clouds outside the solar system. That debris eventually gets attracted toward the Sun. In 1992 scientists observed Jupiter pulling the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 apart and breaking it into more than 20 pieces which eventually slammed into Jupiter’ surface in 1994. We learned that we have a Jupiter comet shield to protect our planet.

It is obvious that Jupiter is essential to the survival of life on Earth if for no other reason than the shield it gives us. Right now a spacecraft named Juno is orbiting Jupiter and sending back data and pictures that are amazing. The spacecraft has made five elliptical orbits since last July dipping to within 2100 miles of Jupiter’s atmosphere, collecting data, and taking photographs. ScienceNews.org has some of the amazing pictures.

Here are some things we have learned about Jupiter:

*Polar cyclones 900 miles wide circle the planet.

*Jupiter has a powerful magnetic field about ten times stronger than Earth’s.

*Powerful auroras work in the polar areas of the planet but are different from what we observe on Earth in both structure and function.

*There is a concentrated band of ammonia near the planet’s equator.

There is still much to learn about this giant planet. The observations we are making assist us in understanding how the solar system was formed. They also show us what affect Jupiter has on us today as well as in the future. Psalms 19:1 tells us that “The Heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork.” It is an exciting time to be alive and to watch as we use new tools to understand the creation and how God has given us a Jupiter comet shield.
–John N. Clayton © 2017