Oxygen and Nitrogen Levels in the Atmosphere

Oxygen and Nitrogen Levels in the Atmosphere

Oxygen and nitrogen are two of a handful of elemental superstars of life. Without them, life would not be possible. In some ways, these two elements are very similar, but they are also very different.

Oxygen and nitrogen atoms differ in only one proton and one electron. In chemical reactions, the important subatomic particle is the electron, and oxygen has eight while nitrogen has seven. In the last two days, we talked about the difference that one electron makes. Oxygen and nitrogen make up about 99% of our atmosphere, with nitrogen composing nearly three-quarters of our air. So why is nitrogen’s percentage so high compared to oxygen?

As we said previously, the triple bond of a nitrogen molecule requires more than twice as much energy to break as the double bond of an oxygen molecule. The oxygen bond can be broken to allow combustion oxidation and energize our bodies. On the other hand, the nitrogen bond is not easy to break, but plants require nitrogen for photosynthesis and growth. What is the solution?

Lightning breaks the nitrogen bond allowing rain to wash nitrogen to the ground. Plants such as beans, peas, and alfalfa, which we call legumes, have microorganisms on their roots that extract nitrogen from the air. That enriches the soil with nitrogen while providing for the legumes. More than a century ago, scientists found a way to extract nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia. That process enabled fertilizer production, which today allows farmers to produce enough food for the world’s population.

It is not easy to break the nitrogen bond so it can combine with other elements, but with 78% of the atmosphere being nitrogen, there is no shortage. So why is our atmosphere mostly nitrogen? Since it is only about 21% oxygen, wouldn’t it be better to have more oxygen so we could breathe easier? The answer is that nitrogen stability is essential for our safety. Wildfires have been a significant problem in recent years. If the atmosphere consisted of a very high percentage of oxygen, fires would be more common and dangerous. If the atmosphere consisted of 100% oxygen, all it would take is one lightning strike to set the whole planet on fire.

Remarkably, we have the correct percentage of elements in our atmosphere. We have the right amount of oxygen to allow respiration to power our bodies and combustion to power our vehicles and industry and heat our homes. At the same time, we have the right amount of nitrogen to prevent uncontrolled combustion leading to the destruction of life. We have just a small amount of carbon dioxide, which plants need for photosynthesis. Plants use CO2 and generate oxygen to keep the gases in balance. The balance is amazingly precise as long as humans don’t generate enough carbon dioxide to mess it up.

During the dinosaur age, the oxygen level was higher, on the order of around one-third of the atmosphere. That allowed the enormous animals to prepare the Earth for humans. Now we have the precise balance to sustain human life and advanced society. The question is, did the features of oxygen and nitrogen and the balance between them happen by accident, or was it part of an intelligent plan? We think the best explanation is that an intelligent Planner of life created it.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

The Atmosphere Is Fine-Tuned for Life

The Atmosphere Is Fine-Tuned for Life

Nitrogen and oxygen together make up about 99% of the air we breathe. The vast majority of our atmosphere is nitrogen. Oxygen is ten times as abundant as nitrogen in the universe, but it makes up only about 21 percent of our atmosphere. So, the less common element is the most abundant in our atmosphere. What does that mean to us? The bottom line is that the atmosphere is fine-tuned for life. Let’s examine that more carefully.

An atom of oxygen and an atom of nitrogen differ by only one proton and one electron. That may not seem like much, but it makes a world of difference. Both of those elements form diatomic molecules, meaning that two atoms bond together to make one molecule of oxygen or nitrogen.

Covalent bonding is the chemical bonding of atoms by equal sharing of electrons. That bond gives atoms stability in their outer, or valence, electron shells. Atomic stability requires eight valence electrons. The only elements with that number are the so-called “noble gases”–helium, neon, argon, krypton, and radon. For that reason, they are inert, refusing to combine with other elements. All other elements need electrons to complete the octet in their valence shells.

An oxygen atom has six electrons in its valence shell, so it needs to share two electrons to become stable. When an oxygen atom shares two electrons with another oxygen atom, they both become stable. Nitrogen, on the other hand, has only five valence electrons. Therefore, by forming a covalent bond with another nitrogen atom, sharing three electrons, both atoms complete their outer shell. In this way, our atmosphere is made up of stable diatomic oxygen and nitrogen molecules.

However, not all molecules are equally stable. That is where we see the atmosphere is fine-tuned for life. For example, oxygen molecules have a double bond sharing two electrons, but nitrogen atoms have a triple bond sharing three electrons for more stability. That difference may seem insignificant, but it is essential to make life possible. Come back tomorrow when we will explain what a difference it makes.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Life Under the Antarctic Ice Shelf

Life Under the Antarctic Ice Shelf
Map of Antarctica showing the ice shelves

One of the amazing things about our planet is its ability to support life. We find a diversity of living things on land, in the air, and under the oceans. Scientists have even found a variety of life under the Antarctic Ice Shelf.

Gerhard Kuhn and Raphael Gromig of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute, a polar and marine research organization, drilled through the Antarctic ice shelf. After boring through 656 feet (200 m) of ice, they scooped up material from the seafloor another 328 feet (100 m) down. What they brought up surprised them. They turned the material over to David Barnes, a marine biologist with the British Antarctic Survey. He was so amazed that he said, “Is this a practical joke?”

Barnes was surprised that as he studied the sediment, he identified 77 different species of animal life in the material they extracted from a single drill hole. The species identified included bryozoans, which are stationary filter feeders, and tube-feeding worms. Barnes said, “This discovery of so much life living in these extreme conditions is a complete surprise…”

Filter-feeders feed on algae which require sunlight to grow. However, there is no sunlight to provide photosynthetic life under the Antarctic ice shelf. The explanation is that these creatures are feasting on microorganisms that the ocean currents sweep under the ice shelf. You could say the food is delivered to their doorstep.

Despite the cold and dark conditions, life survives in a location where fires, storms, or predators do not threaten it. The only thing that may threaten these creatures is the melting and breakup of the ice shelves. So, here in one of Earth’s least-known habitats, life survives. Like the scientists who discovered and studied these life forms, we are amazed. But, more than that, we thank God for wisely creating life with the ability to adapt and survive even in hostile environments.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: Current Biology and LiveScience.com

A Larger Dinosaur Has Been Found

A Larger Dinosaur

We are amazed by the enormous size of animals in the distant past. From a giant millipede to the Titanoboa and the Titanosaur, the size of ancient animals excites fossil hunters. Since 2017, Patagotitan has held the record for the largest dinosaur at 120 feet (36.5 m) long and weighing over 57 tons. However, paleontologists in Argentina recently found pieces of a larger dinosaur.

The size of this animal has several implications. First, we need to be reminded that, unlike mammals, reptiles never stop growing, so there is virtually no limit to their size. A more significant issue is having environments warm enough for such animals to live and enough plant material to sustain them, plus a high oxygen level.

The environment that allowed a larger dinosaur to survive would not have been hospitable to mammals. Reptiles can not only survive very hot conditions, but they require heat to sustain their bulk. A hot Earth with very wet conditions would also promote rapid plant growth. Accordingly, the plant fossils from the time of those animals indicate huge size and rapid growth.

The Bible makes clear that everything humans would need to live on Earth was produced before humans were created. Therefore, we have maintained that God was not a magician miraculously zapping things into existence. God could do the creation any way He wished, but He wisely chose to make the resources humans would need in such a way that we could find them.

God acted as an engineer, producing the coal, gas, oil, iron, salt, and other resources we would need by processes we can study and understand. The volume of fossil fuels stored up for our use is a staggering number. Present-day processes on Earth could never produce them, but the enormous animals and plants of the past created enough resources to take us into the nuclear/solar age.

The Bible tells us that God created planet Earth, not how or how long He took to do it.
Genesis 1:1 is not dated or timed. However, as we look at the record of the past, we see God’s wisdom and power and the magnitude of the creative process that allows us to exist.

Rather than trying to fit a larger dinosaur into Noah’s Ark, we need to take Genesis for what it says and not add denominational traditions. We must not use the economy of language in Genesis to justify our human religious theories.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Have Scientists Found the Biggest Dinosaur?” Discover magazine, January/February 2022, page 53.

A Giant Millipede and What It Teaches Us

A Giant Millipede and What It Teaches Us
A Modern “Giant” Millipede

Can you imagine a giant millipede almost nine feet long? Most of us have seen inch-long millipedes under a rock or in a rotting log. Like centipedes, millipedes get their name from their many legs. “Mille” means thousand, and “ped” means foot, so a millipede could have a thousand feet.

Some 10,000 species of millipedes live today, and they are related to lobsters, shrimp, and crayfish. Australian researchers recently announced finding a three-inch-long millipede with 1,306 legs, which stirred up great interest among biologists. But that is nothing compared to a new fossil discovery.

Now researchers from the University of Cambridge have found the fossil of a true giant millipede in England. This specimen is 8.6 feet long and would have weighed about 110 pounds. Named Arthropleura, this is the largest invertebrate ever found, replacing giant sea scorpions that previously held the record. This animal lived before the dinosaurs and was an omnivore eating plants, nuts, seeds, and other invertebrates.

The importance of a find like this giant millipede is that it tells us that large animals, insects, and plants existed in the past. In addition, it reminds us that the ecology of the early Earth, as it was being prepared for later life forms, was very different from what we see today. At that time, England was a tropical area where massive quantities of resources like coal, limestone, and various minerals were being produced. Therefore, the plant and animal life in that ecology had to be large.

The Bible does not describe all of the processes because even today
, we have a hard time comprehending how that ancient world functioned. Genesis 1:1 simply tells us that God created the Earth, not how or when or what processes He used to prepare the planet for humans. But because God used a process, we can locate resources far underground. If He had simply “zapped” the planet into existence, we would have no clue about where to look for oil or coal or various minerals.

Proverbs 8 talks about the wisdom that allowed the production of all we see and use today. When we hear about a find like this giant millipede, it underlines how carefully God planned for our existence. Today, our challenge is to take care of the planet by preserving what God has given us rather than wasting it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: USA Today by Jordan Mendoza 12/28/21.

Oxygen Generators and More

Oxygen Generators and More

They are microscopic plants. You may never see them individually, but they exist by the millions on or near the surface of oceans, lakes, and rivers, even in polar regions. Scientists call them phytoplankton which comes from two Greek words that mean “plant drifter.” We call them oxygen generators.

You can see masses of green phytoplankton on the water surface because of the green chlorophyll they contain. Chlorophyll enables them to use sunlight and nutrients from the water to produce the nourishment they need to live. In the process of photosynthesis, they are oxygen generators. Of course, humans and all animals must have the oxygen to breathe, and phytoplankton play an essential role in our climate by controlling the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In the ocean, tiny animals called krill eat phytoplankton. In turn, the krill provide the diet for many fish and even for huge baleen whales. Those whales stir up the ocean, bringing to the surface minerals which the phytoplankton need. As whales eat and grow, they take in large amounts of carbon. When they die, their bodies containing the carbon sink to the bottom of the ocean. This well-engineered system helps prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Phytoplankton are incredibly diverse, with thousands of different species. The microscopic photo shows members of one class of phytoplankton known as diatoms. The carcasses of phytoplankton, algae, and other marine plants deposited on the sea beds long ago became the petroleum we use today.

Diatoms produce silicon shells, and when they die, those shells form deep deposits on the ocean floor. People mine those microscopic shells and use them for what we call diatomite or diatomaceous earth used in industry for fine polishing and for filtering liquids. In addition, gardeners sprinkle diatomaceous earth around their plants to protect them from insect pests. Scientists are also exploring uses for those microscopic shells in nanotechnology.

So, in addition to being oxygen generators, these tiny plants produce energy sources for humans and food for creatures of the ocean and freshwater lakes. Without them, our climate would be much different, and life would be difficult, if not impossible. Chance evolution doesn’t seem to be an adequate explanation for diverse phytoplankton. We see them as another example of design by the Master Designer of life.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Our Essential Moon and Life on Earth

Our Essential Moon and Life on Earth

For most people, our Moon is just a light at night. The fact is that our essential moon is part of Earth’s fitness for life. Any change in the size, distance, or obit of the Moon would be catastrophic for life on Earth.

Having just one moon of significant size is a very unusual situation. Venus has no moons, and the two tiny moons of Mars are apparently captured asteroids. Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus each have multiple moons, many of which are of significant size. However, a single large moon is unique to planet Earth.

So what does our essential Moon do for us? Because of its size, it has a significant gravitational pull on the Earth. That pull is strong enough to cause our planet to flex as the Moon orbits it. That creates a disturbance in geologic activity on Earth when the Moon is over an area of unstable rock.

The Moon’s pull on Earth’s waters is more significant. The Moon’s pull stirs the oceans much like a person might stir a large saucepan of soup. Our Moon causes many ocean currents and tides, even in large lakes. Ocean currents not only move nutrients around but transport heat as well. For example, the Gulf Stream is critical to marine life along the east coast of North America and controls temperatures along the entire coast.

The Moon’s gravitational pull is closely related to its mass. Therefore, a larger moon would cause massive flooding along the edges of continents. If it were smaller, the tides and currents would not be large enough to clean the estuaries or warm the landmasses, and many marine lifeforms would not survive.

If we had more than one moon, they would affect each other. There are rock tides causing moonquakes on the Moon due to the pull of Earth’s gravity. A second moon would amplify this effect, and if the two moons collided, the fragments would threaten life on Earth. Every total solar eclipse reminds us how precise the Moon’s size is. It can exactly cover our view of the Sun, allowing us to see and study the Sun’s corona.

Most of us overlook how our essential Moon’s size, mass, distance, and orbit shape seem to be carefully designed. Attributing that precision to blind chance requires faith as great as attributing life to chance. We would suggest that the Creator used his wisdom, described beautifully in Proverbs 8:1-5 and 22-32, to design an Earth/Moon system that allows life to exist and prosper on planet Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Smithsonian magazine, December 2021, page 88.

Space-Travel Adventure Movies

Space-Travel Adventure Movies

Space-travel adventure movies and novels may be fascinating, but they are not very realistic. Traveling through space poses many hazards to humans beyond equipment failures. There is also the danger of radiation exposure when a person leaves Earth’s protective atmosphere and magnetic field. And perhaps the most significant of all is the issue of time.

Travel to the Moon will take days. Traveling to Mars will take months. A space-travel adventure to any planet outside of our solar system would take multiple lifetimes. Astronomers have toyed with the idea of traveling to a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, which is the closest star to us. That planet, Proxima Centauri b, is 42 light-years from Earth. Unless someone could find a way to travel through a wormhole, if such a thing exists, it would take 6,300 years to make the journey with present technology.

We are considering the present technology to be the speed of the Parker Solar Probe launched in 2018, which is 430,000 miles (690,000 km) per hour, or about .064 percent of light speed. According to Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross, the laws of physics would limit the top speed of a spaceship to about one percent of light speed, but we are far from achieving that. Also, a factor to consider would be a way to slow down on approaching the destination to avoid going right past it or crashing into it.

So, if we sent out a space-travel adventure crew to Proxima Centauri b, it would take many generations to arrive. That means people would have to reproduce many times on the way. Factors to be considered would have to include having enough crew members and genetic diversity to have a healthy crew on arrival at the destination. Using computer modeling, scientists have determined that the minimum team required would be 49 males and 49 females. Ninety-eight crew members would need a large ship. In addition, there would have to be facilities for recreation and to grow food.

The vast majority of the travelers on this spacecraft would never see Earth or the destination planet. Exposure of many generations to the radiation of outer space could cause physical or mental deformities that we can’t imagine. What if this small community just couldn’t get along together in cramped quarters? Avoiding a mutiny or rebellion would be a significant challenge. Keeping hundreds of generations focused on the same mission would be impossible. Putting the crew into a cryogenic state for thousands of years to avoid the multi-generation problem does not seem to be realistic. (Remember the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey?”) 

Producing food and recycling water would be essential for such a space-travel adventure. However, taking and preserving all equipment and materials needed for the crew to survive in a hostile environment on arrival at the alien planet would be impossible to plan or predict.

We may enjoy science fiction such as “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” or “Lost in Space,” but none of them are even remotely realistic. God has given us a beautiful planet with everything we need to survive and thrive. What we must do is take care of it. That means using resources wisely, protecting the environment, and protecting the animals that share the planet with us. Stewardship of God’s gifts was a command from the beginning. (See Genesis 2:15.)

— Roland Earnst © 2021

References: TechnogyReview.com, Space.com, and Why the Universe is the Way it Is by Hugh Ross.

Full Moon – Mini-Moon

Full Moon - Mini-Moon

If you saw the full moon last night and the partial eclipse early this morning, you might have noticed that it seemed to be a little smaller than usual. That’s because it was a mini-moon.

The Moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical. For that reason, it is not always the same distance away from us. The average distance to the Moon is 238,855 miles (384,400 km). When it’s closest to Earth, the distance is 225,623 miles (363,105 km), and we call that “perigee.” When the moon is farthest away, the distance is 252,088 miles (405,696 km), and we refer to that as “apogee.” So the difference in the distance is approximately 26,500 miles (42,648 km), and that’s just enough to make a noticeable difference in and size.

Since the Moon is now at apogee, the result was that the full moon last night was smaller, and some people call it a “mini-moon.” Why should we care about the distance to the Moon? Two things make our Moon unique as compared to other moons in our solar system. The Moon’s orbit is less elliptical than that of other moons, and it is also the largest compared to the size of the planet it orbits. Because of its size and orbit, the Moon has many beneficial effects on our planet.

We have previously discussed some of the beneficial effects of the Moon, such as HERE, HERE, and HERE. However, perhaps the most crucial benefit is that it gives stability to Earth’s rotation. Spin a top, and you will notice that it tends to wobble in its rotation. That wobble is called “precession.” Without the Moon’s stabilizing effect, the Earth would wobble, causing instability in our seasons, climate, and weather. In other words, without the Moon, our planet could not support advanced life.

Even if you call it a mini-moon, the Moon is the right size and distance with an orbit that is only slightly elliptical. Because of those precise design factors, we can look up at the full moon and thank the Designer who gave us everything we need to make Earth our home.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Lunar Eclipse and the Bible

Lunar Eclipse and the Bible

What is the connection between tonight’s lunar eclipse and the Bible? Before we answer that, let’s consider the eclipse.

Lunar eclipses occur twice a year on average when the Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth. Every 29 and a half days, the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in line with the Earth in the middle. When that happens, we see a full moon. However, a couple of times a year, the alignment is so precise that our planet momentarily blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon. When Earth’s shadow falls across the Moon, we call it an eclipse. Sometimes the shadow completely blocks the Moon, giving us a total eclipse. This eclipse will be 97%.

The eclipse will occur in the early hours of Thursday, November 19, and it will be the longest partial eclipse in 580 years. The reason for the length is that the Moon is at apogee, meaning it is at its farthest point away from Earth in its somewhat elliptical orbit. Because of that, the Moon will be moving at its slowest speed in its orbit. (That’s a little bit of high school physics.) This eclipse is occurring during what some refer to as the Beaver full moon because it was the opening of the beaver-trapping season. In this case, it is the Micro Beaver because the Moon is farther away and will appear a little smaller.

This eclipse will be visible from all 50 of the United States at different areas of the sky, depending on your geographic location. The peak will be at around 4 a.m. EST (9 a.m. UTC), but it will stretch over almost three and a half hours. You can see a world map of the areas where the eclipse will be visible, check the exact beginning and end times for your location, and even watch a live stream of the eclipse at the timeanddate.com website. You may have to resort to the live stream if your area is overcast, or you don’t want to go outside early in the morning.

Now, back to the connection between the lunar eclipse and the Bible. The point is that we can accurately predict the exact times and dates of lunar and solar eclipses many years in advance. We can also precisely know the time for sunrise and sunset anywhere on Earth. We can also launch a rocket to Mars, knowing exactly where the planet will be in space when the rocket arrives. How is that possible? Because God is faithful.

The ancients believed in many gods with human failings, acting capriciously. It was Christian faith in an omnipotent and never-changing God that made science possible. We have often said that we can know God from the things He has made. Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from has been made…” The book of scripture and the book of nature were both written by God, so they must agree. Even though we learn more details about God and His plan from scripture, we can know much about Him from nature. That is the connection between the lunar eclipse and the Bible. One thing the creation teaches us is that God is faithful, just as we see in Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.”

— Roland Earnst © 2021