At a June 7 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Benjamin Hoscheit presented information gained from studying 120,000 galaxies. The study agreed with earlier findings that our Milky Way galaxy is located in the largest cosmic void that we can observe. When scientists look one billion light-years out into the universe, they find that the cosmic density becomes much greater. The conclusion they have reached is that the Milky Way is in a relatively open area of space about two billion light-years across. We live in a quiet neighborhood.
The computer image from the Millennium Simulation Project illustrates the dense filaments of dark matter stretching through space. Galaxies are mostly clumped along the filaments. The Milky Way resides in one of the voids between those strands. What are the implications of that? Galaxies tend to be in clusters, and our cluster is called the Local Group. A typical galaxy cluster will have 10,000 galaxies close together. (Close by cosmic standards.) The Local Group has only forty galaxies, and all of them are dwarf galaxies except the Milky Way and Andromeda which are medium-sized. If there were large galaxies close to us, their gravity could distort the spiral structure of the Milky Way making advanced life on Earth impossible.
The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy—the only kind of galaxy capable of supporting advanced life. Star formation drives the spiral motion. Star formation requires the infusion of gas and dust which the small galaxies provide. Clusters of galaxies reside inside superclusters. Our Local Group cluster is on the outer fringe of the Virgo supercluster. If it were near the center of Virgo, the massive clusters there would absorb the Local Group and make life impossible. Also, our solar system is located in the best position within our galaxy at about two-thirds of the distance from the center. In the center of the Milky Way (and most galaxies), there is a massive black hole that would swallow our solar system if we were anywhere near it. If we were farther out in the spiral, the solar system would be subject to massive instability, again making life impossible.
Of course, Earth is also located in the solar habitable zone where we are not too close or too far from the Sun. One final thing to note is that in this cosmic void and the position in our galaxy, we are at the optimum location for observing all of the things I mentioned. We have an excellent view of the universe. We are in more than a quiet neighborhood. We are in the “Goldilocks Zone” where everything is “just right.”
What happened to the dinosaurs? The prevailing theory for the extinction of dinosaurs involves an asteroid collision at Chicxulub in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Whether you accept that theory or not, there is no question that there are vast numbers of asteroids in space. They are apparently leftovers from the formation of the planets. At least nine times an asteroid has hit the earth leaving a crater that can be studied and mapped today. Some of the craters are huge. The largest is a crater 186 miles (300 km) wide in South Africa called the Vredefort crater. The question is, “Why would God allow such objects to exist knowing they could become a threat to life on Earth?”
First, we need to realize that such collisions are incredibly rare and so far they have never impacted humans. There are more than half-a-million known asteroids. The largest is Vesta (pictured) which is 329 miles (530 kilometers) in diameter. The smallest are only 33 feet (10 meters) in diameter. Objects smaller than that are called meteoroids. According to NASA, the total mass of every known asteroid is less than the mass of our Moon.
Scientists are studying their chemical composition of asteroids. What they have found is that they are very rich in rare-earth metals as well as iron, nickel, and cobalt. In the future, we may replace depleted resources on Earth by mining asteroids. Experts have estimated that the value of minerals in asteroids is in the trillions of dollars. Two American companies are gearing up to pioneer asteroid mining operations–Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.
We commented in a previous post about extra-solar planets (planets orbiting other stars), and whether those planets could have life on them. The media seem to convey the idea that there are hundreds of “earths” all containing life-forms similar to us. They suggest that if there are many Earth-like planets with life on them, then that indicates that Earth and the life on it came about by chance processes. In February, NASA called a special news conference to announce that they had found a star they call TRAPPIST-1 which had seven Earth-sized planets orbiting it in the “Goldilocks Zone.” The Goldilocks Zone is the area where water could exist in the liquid state. Many media sources were quick to announce that NASA had found seven planets that were “Earth twins” and almost surely would be inhabited.
Let us emphasize again that finding life in space is not an issue of whether God exists. If scientists find life in space, it will have been created by God and will have a purpose in existing. This particular find, however, is just another example of how quickly and irresponsibly the media will jump to promote an agenda that will sell. As more data has become available, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this seven-planet system is not an ideal place for life. In fact, any life form that happened to be there would be destroyed by the properties of the system.
TRAPPIST-1, the star that serves as the “sun,” is a very cool dwarf star. That means it gives off a very limited spectrum of light. The critical wavelengths required for photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are simply not present. The masses of these planets range from .4 to 1.4 times the mass of Earth. That means the smaller planets will almost surely not have an atmosphere since they are smaller than Mars. The length of time for the planets to orbit their star varies from 1.5 days to 20 days. That makes a very short year. They are all less than 6 million miles from their parent star. That means all activity on the star would likely be lethal to life-forms on the planets. For a comparison, Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun is separated from it by 36.8 million miles. Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun.
Scientists have difficulty finding information about dinosaurs. Much of what we know about them has come from indirect information. I spent a great deal of time studying coprolite, which is petrified dinosaur droppings. By analyzing the solid wastes left by a dinosaur, we can tell what the animal ate. Sometimes we find plant materials–leaves, stems, seeds, etc. Sometimes it’s animal remains–teeth, bone fragments, and complete bones. It is extraordinarily rare to find a complete skeleton of a dinosaur, but now we have something even better.
Until recently we had never found an animal with skin in place and internal organs visible. In 2011 miners working in northern Alberta came across an amazing find that has given scientists their first complete mummy of a dinosaur. This dinosaur was a plant-eating nodosaurus, which means “knobbed lizard.” This animal is complete with its armor, spiky skin, and internal organs. Paleontologists have spent some 7,000 hours carefully extracting the creature. Caleb Brown, who is a researcher on the project, said, “We don’t just have a skeleton, we have a dinosaur as it would have been.”
Dinosaurs were the agents that prepared Earth for humans. Without that preparation, we would not be able to have our crops, our domesticated animals, and our advanced civilization. Dinos were key agents in preparing an ecosystem suitable for us. They lived in an environment very unlike what we have on Earth today. Having a find like this will greatly enhance our understanding of Earth’s history.
What do people do when they won’t believe in God, but they can’t explain the complexity of the cosmos or the unique nature of humans? A common answer to that question is that they believe space aliens created us. We began our printed periodical in 1968. In that year, proposals of space aliens appeared on the front pages of American newspapers. A man named Eric von Daniken wrote a series of books which he claimed proved that aliens were in control of humans and they had a purpose for our existence. He based his claims on “evidence” from statues on Easter Island and ground paintings in South America.
Recently some on the internet were proposing that ancient art in Catholic churches showed aliens coming to Earth. The subject of the artwork was God coming to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ. Now there is a book by Graham Hancock entitled Magicians of the Gods. He claims that a comet wiped out our ancestors about 12,000 years ago. He says the comet collision was so devastating that all evidence of it was destroyed. He cites evidence of a mass extinction and an arrangement of stone pillars called Gobekli Tepe in what is now Turkey. Hancock cites this as proof that a superior alien civilization created us.
All of these claims are easily disproven. The point is that when people reject the notion that God created the cosmos and gave humans the ability to make impressive structures, the result is bizarre explanations. God gave humans the intelligence and tools to do incredible things. But we resist living in the peaceful, positive, constructive, serving manner that God calls us to. When we search for other ways to explain the creation, the result is violence and selfishness. Rebellious humans invent explanations that are ignorant and unsupported by evidence.
Those of us who live many miles from the ocean may not think about what goes on under the water. Similar to the land, there is an enormous diversity of plants in the sea. Just like land plants, ocean plants have flowers and pollinate and reproduce. Seagrass grows on the floor of the ocean and provides habitat for sea turtles, manatees, and many other marine animals. There are some 60 species of seagrass, and those grasses bloom and release pollen. Like land plants, seagrasses need something like the bees that help pollinate land plants. So are there underwater bees?
Researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico have reported that hundreds of crustaceans and other small insect-like animals visit plants and bring pollen with them. These invertebrates are the “underwater bees.” Along with ocean currents, they allow ocean vegetation to flourish.
As scientists study ways in which carbon can be locked up to avoid high concentrations in our atmosphere, they find that the ocean is a major factor in avoiding runaway greenhouse heating of the earth. Life in the oceans is essential to life on land.
Here is another design feature of this planet which is critical to the long-term existence of life on Earth. In the 1950s, scientists thought that there were maybe five or six factors which would be critical to the existence of life. The famous Drake Equation of how many planets could have life on them only considered five factors in its original format. Now we know there are a huge number of things that have to be “right” to allow life to exist.
A recently discovered asteroid is raising new questions. The cosmos is one of the great evidences for the existence of God. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Psalms 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork…” We see a constant stream of new proposals year after year giving possible scenarios about how the solar system and Earth were produced. In the nearly 50 years that we have been writing, we have seen a dozen or so theories advanced and discarded because they couldn’t account for new observations.
This month Science News (May 13, 2017, page 5), carried a story about a strange asteroid. This will once again cause some rearranging of the current best guesses as to how the solar system and the Earth were formed. Research reported in Nature magazine (March 30, 2017) shows an asteroid that revolves around the Sun backwards, even though it is in Jupiter’s orbit. If you were to look at the solar system from the north star, you would notice that everything revolves around the Sun in a counterclockwise direction. Moons, asteroids, and planets are basically all in one plane and all moving the same way. Jupiter is the most massive planet in the solar system, and it has a multitude of rocks called asteroids that orbit around the Sun in the same direction. Now we have an asteroid that is in Jupiter’s orbit but revolves clockwise around the Sun.
If you think about that for a minute, you will see that it would logically follow that in the first orbit this asteroid would have slammed into Jupiter like a car driving the wrong way down a one-way street. In time at least, Jupiter should have sucked in this wayward hunk of rock. The orbit of asteroid 1015 BZ-509 is such that in one orbit it goes on one side of Jupiter and on the next orbit it goes on the other side of Jupiter, so the gravitational jerk of Jupiter is canceled out. Computer simulations show that this arrangement is permanent. It has been going on for a long time and will continue into the future.
Climate change is a fact, as we have noted before. However, we have also noted before, that climate change has taken place in the past, and that humans are not the sole cause. Much of the media hype has been based on reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The problem is that the general public has no way of checking the alarmist claims of that group. Some of the dire predictions of what climate change would bring seem to be unjustified. The problem has been that because of limited data or no access to unbiased information most people had no choice but to believe what they were told.
Some scientists have formed an organization called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate (NIPC). This group maintains that the reports of what climate change will bring are grossly exaggerated and based on bad data and shoddy science. They have released a book titled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.
The atmospheric oxygen level in Earth’s early history allowed life-forms to grow much larger than they do today. We find fossil remains of insects that grew to incredible sizes. There are wonderfully preserved fossils of a dragonfly called Meganeura which was the size of a modern-day hawk. Ants a foot (30 cm) long and centipedes that were as long as two feet (61 cm) show up in the fossil record. There are also fossils of mammals that were larger than any land mammals living today.
A major key to the huge sizes is the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere at the time those animals lived. New laboratory techniques in nuclear chemistry give us accurate methods of determining the oxygen level of the atmosphere in the past. Ice cores and tree rings confirm the measurements. Studies show that Earth’s atmosphere has had oxygen content as high as 35 percent in the past compared to 21 percent today. This higher oxygen level would have some negative consequences, with fires burning much hotter and faster and corrosion happening faster. Its effect on some living things, however, would be very positive.
Laboratory experiments have also shown us how oxygen content affects the size of living things. Insects do not breathe with lungs since oxygen diffuses into their bloodstream directly. Dr. Robert Berner at Yale has shown that a 35 percent level of oxygen in the atmosphere would increase the diffusion rate of oxygen in an insect’s bloodstream by as much as 67 percent. Body size varies directly with oxygen concentration, and experiments with fruit flies and mealworms consistently show high growth rates with increased oxygen. Studies done on alligators have shown that variations in egg development and growth are in direct proportion to the oxygen in the atmosphere. It is the same for mammals. Dr. Paul Falkowski of Rutgers has said, “Pound for pound, mammals typically need three times as much oxygen as reptiles do.” An oxygen level that would support reptiles might not support mammals.
All of this is very helpful in understanding a variety of issues relating to the Bible and the evolution/creation controversy. It is increasingly obvious that dinosaurs and humans could not survive together on this planet. At the time of the dinosaurs, the oxygen level was too low for mammals to survive. Competition for food and living space between humans and dinosaurs would be most difficult. Domestication of reptiles is impossible so humans would not be able to train dinosaurs to help with heavy chores.
The Bible does not mention dinosaurs, and no Hebrew word in Genesis 1 could legitimately be interpreted to mean dinosaurs. The emphasis that the Bible gives to the breath of living things as seen in the Hebrew word “nephesh” becomes more and more relevant as we learn more about how vital that concept of breath is. (See Genesis 2:7; 7:22, etc.)
Many people seem to feel that dinosaurs were unnecessary to human existence and that their presence denigrates evidence of God’s creation. The balance between the composition of the atmosphere and the abundance of life on Earth is critical. For plants to grow, there has to be soil, and soil is not as simple as it looks. Dirt must have the critical elements for food chains and cell reproduction. The production of all of those resources is not simple. As plants take in carbon dioxide and lock carbon into the soil, they release oxygen into the atmosphere. The ecological system of the planet at the time when the dinosaurs lived allowed not only the formation of soil but also the massive amounts of coal and fossil fuels we need.
In our day of concern over carbon emissions and global warming, it is always good to see something positive taking place in the environment. Every day there is a new view in space posted by NASA at the website apod.nasa.gov. On April 24, 2017, there was a photograph taken from space of the Black Sea showing a bloom of coccolithophores. So what are they and why should you care? Coccolithophores are phytoplankton, tiny organisms that live in the large bodies of water such as oceans and seas around the world.
Why should you care? The answer to that has to do with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There are also viruses called coccolithoviruses that attack the coccolithophores. To protect themselves, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with calcium to make shells of calcium carbonate–chalk. The White Cliffs of Dover are made of this chalk material that was produced by coccolithophores. In the process of protecting themselves, these organisms remove carbon dioxide from the air. It appears they may have been the agents that allowed oxygen to rise in our atmosphere to the level where animal life could exist.