For a hundred years, scientists looked for the answer to a perplexing question. In 1859 British astronomers observed what we now call a solar flare. The next day there was a disturbance of Earth’s magnetic field called a geomagnetic storm. Scientists were puzzled over what was happening. After a century of study, the answer came down to solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield.
In 1958, American astrophysicist Eugene Parker described the phenomenon and named it “solar wind.” The solar wind consists of charged particles ejected from the corona (extended outer layer) of the Sun and traveling at high speed into space. This material is plasma, a mixture of negative electrons and positive ions. Since electric charges and magnetic fields interact, the planet’s magnetic field steers the solar wind away from the planet’s surface when it reaches Earth. Because Earth’s magnetic field originates from the North and South poles, we see the interaction in those regions as beautiful auroras, the Northern and Southern lights.
What if Earth did not have a magnetic field? The solar wind would reach Earth’s surface and significantly damage living cells, bringing an end to life. Our neighboring planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury have little or no magnetic field and therefore are bombarded by the solar wind.
Why is our planet different? Why do we have the protection of a magnetic field? The motion of the molten iron in Earth’s core produces the magnetic field. Why does Earth have a molten iron core? Heat generated by the decay of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium keeps the iron core from becoming solid.
The bottom line is this: Hidden inside our planet is a magnetic-field generator powered by unseen radioactivity that gives us an invisible magnetic shield protecting us from invisible destructive particles coming from the Sun. This same process also gives us beautiful auroras we enjoy watching. The solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield give us one more example of the beautiful design of the planet we call home. Did this all happen by accident? We don’t think so.
Scientists have recently conducted a fascinating study of the North Pole region. The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. With North Pole ice melting, the question is, “What effect will this warming have on Earth’s climate?”
To investigate that question, The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) involved 600 scientists and experts from around the world. They equipped the icebreaker RV Polarstern with a large number of scientific tools and accommodations. The plan was to freeze the ship into an ice floe and let it drift for a year to study the North Pole’s climate as never before.
The scientists did much of the work on the ice floe itself, even setting up camp there. Sometimes they fell through but were saved by their protective flotation clothing. They gathered large amounts of data, which will take years to analyze thoroughly. It will give a wealth of scientific information about the changes that are taking place on our planet.
The team started the project in October of 2019, but by July 30, the floe had broken up, and the Polarstern was in open water. They decided to head directly to the North Pole. On August 19, still in open water, the ship arrived at the pole and found very little ice.
We humans don’t always like the winter snow for its inconvenience and sometimes safety threat. For many animals, the snow-cover makes winter the best time of year. Scientists who study life in this seasonal microenvironment under the snow call it the subnivium ecosystem. It allows many species of plants and animals to exist that could not survive without snow.
The first scientific writings about the subnivium world were circulated by a lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies) named Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov was investigating butterflies whose caterpillars eat plants known as blue lupines. These butterflies lay their eggs on the stems of the lupines a few inches above the ground. When snow covers the area, the eggs are protected from the very low temperatures of the mountains where the butterflies live. Scientists conducted a study of those same butterflies in 2019 when there was a significant decrease in the snow cover. They found a 43% decrease in the number of butterflies produced.
This is just one example of life in the subnivium ecosystem. Ruffed grouse burrow into the snow at night and stay in an igloo-like area that can be 50 degrees warmer than the outside air. In wintertime, a surprising number of animals live in the warmer subnivium ecosystem. Wolverines, martens, voles, mice, shrews, red squirrels, and even bears take advantage of heavy snow cover. The protection of snow allows abundant life at high elevations and in polar areas.
Every part of Earth is home to living things because of the design of the animals and plants and the design of water that gives snow thermodynamic properties. It is easy to overlook the statement God made to Job about “the treasures of the snow” (Job 38:22). The simplicity of those words describes a whole world of life in the subnivium ecosystem and the treasure of water stored on snow-covered mountains. The treasure house of snow speaks of the intelligence built into every corner of creation.
One of the things that has entered the debate about life in space has been the presence of water. Astronomers have found methane, ethane, and other compounds in oceans on other planets and moons in our solar system. Unlike water, they are not polar molecules. The polar structure of water makes it an apparent necessity for life. Scientists have debated about whether water has existed or does now exist on Mars, our Moon, or one of the many moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Now there is evidence of massive amounts of water in our solar system.
We have posted before about NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website (apod.nasa.gov). On January 15, 2021, the page showed this picture taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015, as it flew by Pluto. The photograph shows areas of frozen nitrogen and carbon monoxide. It also shows massive amounts of water ice frozen into mountains reaching up to 11,000 feet (3,353 m), which is comparable to mountains on Earth.
There is more and more evidence that, at least in our solar system, water is quite common. Because of the temperatures in the outer planets, that water is in a frozen state. Liquid water has a very narrow range of temperatures, and that means the zone in which a planet can have liquid water is very small. Because of that, life on another planet is improbable, but the potential for humans establishing or supporting life elsewhere is relatively high.
Verse two of Genesis 1 tells us that the early Earth had water in the liquid state: “And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Massive amounts of water apparently dominated the planet. Verse six tells us that there was “a firmament in the midst of the waters” that divided the waters. It isn’t until verse nine that dry land appears. The keyword in these verses is the word translated firmament in English. The Hebrew word used here is “raqia.” It is used nine times in Genesis 1 and eight times elsewhere in the Old Testament. Four of those eight are in the visions of Ezekiel 1:22-26.
The Bible’s economy of language leaves us to understand the “firmament” from its context. The most accurate understanding is what, in modern terms, we would call an “interface,” a zone of change. In many cases, that zone is the atmosphere, so in verse 20 of Genesis chapter one, we have birds flying in the firmament. Genesis 1:14-15 tells us that the Sun and the Moon became visible as the darkness (Genesis 1:2) of the cloud cover (Job 38:8-9) in the firmament cleared. Ezekiel saw his chariots in the firmament.
The discovery of mountains of frozen water elsewhere in the solar system indicates that the original cosmos had massive amounts of water, as Genesis 1:6 implies. It also tells us that when the Earth’s temperatures settled to between zero and 100 degrees Celsius, the water became seas covering the planet. This is one more evidence for the integrity of the Genesis account as it describes the creative design of God, simplified so that all humans can understand it.
Bacteria are single-cell microorganisms that we do not think of as having social behavior. However, scientists are studying Myxococcus xanthus bacteria working together. They are rod-shaped bacteria that live in the soil and organize into structures of thousands of cells to hunt food or to survive when food is not available.
Myxococcus xanthus bacteria are predators that eat other microbes. When they organize into 3-D structures, they can be visible to the naked eye. In this complex form, they swarm toward their prey in a single mass of bacteria working together in “ripples.” You can see them on the left side of the picture.
To capture their food, the swarms of Myxococcus xanthus microbes secrete enzymes that kill and digest the prey and then take in their nutrients. These predator bacteria hunt together because individually they can’t produce enough of the antibiotics to kill the prey, but together they are deadly to other microbes.
When there is a food shortage, scientists still find these bacteria working together to survive. They form a structure called “fruiting bodies” as pictured on the right. In that form, they can survive for years if necessary. As single cells, they would not survive.
Studying how these microbes work can help scientists design new antibiotics or pest-resistant seeds for agriculture. Myxococcus xanthus rods are alive and can crawl, so their movement applies the laws of physics and the biological laws that govern living things. Studying these bacteria may help materials scientists gain new ideas for constructing liquid crystal display screens in electronic devices.
We learn much by looking at what is functional in the natural world. A wonder-working hand has moved before us and gives us tools for developing new materials to improve our lives. Also, bacteria working together can serve as a lesson to remind us that humans can accomplish more when we work together.
The media often overlook how many things have to be “right” for life to exist on a planet. Planetary atmospheric pressure is one factor.
By “life,” we mean the standard textbook definition of organisms that can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce. The problem is that many conditions make other terrestrial planets (planets with hard surfaces) unlikely to harbor life. Life is even less likely on Jovian planets that are primarily gaseous. You can postulate balloon-like living organisms in Jupiter or Saturn’s atmosphere, but radiation and electrical problems make that unlikely as well.
Planetary atmospheric pressure depends on the weight of the gases above a planet’s surface. The air pressure on Earth’s surface is 14.696 pounds per square inch a sea level. That pressure allows water to exist as a liquid, and it will enable various gases to dissolve in the water. We all know what happens when you shake a bottle of carbonated beverage and then quickly remove the cap. The sudden drop in pressure causes an explosion as the dissolved carbon dioxide escapes from the liquid. For organisms to absorb oxygen dissolved in water, which fish do, the atmospheric pressure must be high enough for the oxygen to dissolve. The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars is .01 of the pressure on Earth. That means water on Mars would contain no oxygen or dissolved gases.
There has been discussion about finding water on the Moon or Mercury, but those atmospheric pressures are considerably lower than those on Mars. That means water would not be in a liquid state. On the other end of the pressure spectrum is Venus, where atmospheric pressure 92 times greater than on Earth. At that pressure, toxic gases would be dissolved in any water that existed on the planet.
Planetary atmospheric pressure is just one more variable that must be carefully and precisely chosen when constructing an environment that will support and sustain life. The creation is far more complicated than most of us realize. As we learn more, we must stand in awe of the God who created our planet.
A skeptic recently complained that mountains are a mistake. “They block travel, cause avalanches, create deserts, and are just a general nuisance. If God were the creator, He wouldn’t have made these huge obstacles to human well-being.” In response to this skeptic, we consider, “Why do we need mountains?” For one thing, mountains are a very practical solution to one of humanity’s greatest needs–water.
In a basic geography or meteorology class, we learn about orographic uplift and rain shadows. As air comes across a flat area, it picks up moisture. But to make rain, there must be more than just water. Condensation requires a cool enough temperature and nuclei on which the water vapor can condense. Mountains provide both the cooler temperatures and the condensation nuclei.
As air pushes up the side of a mountain, it cools, and stirred-up dust provides condensation nuclei. For that reason, it is frequently very rainy on the windward side of the mountain. On the other side, the air is dry because all of the moisture has been removed.
Mountains can also capture and store water as ice and snow.Scientific American (January 2021) published an article with data on how many people get their water from the mountains. There are 78 regional mountain chains or “water towers” that deliver water to almost two billion people and surrounding ecosystems. Without mountains, the amount of land that would be hospitable to humans would be much more limited.
In addition to mountains capturing and storing water, they have also created underground aquifers. Glaciers generated in mountain areas have carved out huge valleys, depositing sand and gravel in permeable layers that allow massive amounts of water to seep into the ground. Here in southern Michigan, continental glaciers produced aquifers that supply us with water. In a large area of the Midwest United States, an underground aquifer called the Teays River has supplied adequate water for agriculture.
God has provided a massive and effective water system for nearly all continents, primarily because of mountains. Why do we need mountains? We need them for the water that allows irrigation as well as drinking and other uses. Mountains are beautiful, they provide recreational activities for humans, and they literally water the world for human survival.
One of our readers wrote the following poem and sent it to us. We share it with you to show one person’s evaluation of this ministry. The title is “Truth in Nature” by Don Betts.
Does God Exist? Of course, He does! My brother John says so. He digs deep for evidence, So you and I may know That God in all His glory lives. His sign is everywhere Extant in oh, so many things, Wonders made for us to share.
John’s compiled a Dandy List, Designs in nature meant to be Proof in things that now exist In which God’s face we see. The truth of His existence Is everywhere we look, And our hope lies in persistence Worded in His Holy Book!
The media seems to be constantly concerned about the harmful effects of our “carbon footprint.” That phrase refers to how much carbon we kick out into the world’s environment in our daily activities. With all the concern about carbon, it is easy to overlook the fact that the carbon atom design makes life possible and demonstrates God’s engineering wisdom.
The carbon atom is one of the lightest atoms in the periodic chart. The relative weight of the standard carbon atom is 12. Uranium, on the other hand, is 25 times heavier. Carbon’s low weight means that things made of carbon are relatively light. Other elements are structured like carbon, but their weights are much heavier. Silicon is twice as heavy, and germanium is six times as heavy.
The carbon atom design makes life possible. Carbon has six electrons, but they are carefully arranged, allowing carbon to have the properties essential to life. All atoms have electrons orbiting the nucleus at different energy levels as you move out from the nucleus. Scientists give these levels letter identifications because of the spectral lines they produce. In a chemistry book, you will see the letters s, p, d, and f used to describe the spectral lines for electron orbitals of all elements in the periodic chart. The d and f orbitals are incredibly complex, but for carbon with only six electrons, the structure is relatively simple.
Carbon has two electrons in the 1s orbital closest to the nucleus and two electrons in the 2s orbital. They orbit the nucleus in a circular path. The next level out from the carbon nucleus is the p orbital, where electrons move in a figure-eight path. Three energy paths are available for two electrons each, and they are at right angles to one another.
Since carbon has four of its six electrons in the first two orbitals, there are only two electrons in the p orbital. That means there are four available openings in the carbon atom’s p orbital, and it fills those spaces by sharing electrons with other elements. If carbon is bonded to hydrogen, which has only one electron in its first orbital, the two elements will share an electron. In that way, hydrogen has two electrons filling its first orbital, and carbon will have one more of the six it needs to fill its last orbital.
Carbon will have to combine with four hydrogen atoms to complete its p orbitals, and the result is methane (CH4). Oxygen has eight electrons, so it needs two electrons to fill its third orbital, and two oxygens will share electrons with one carbon atom giving us carbon dioxide (C02).
Organic chemistry is incredibly complex since many periodic chart elements can share electrons with carbon creating different organic chemicals. This complexity allows life to exist and makes possible all of the medicines and organic materials that are a part of our everyday life. Carbon atom design makes life possible because of the Creator’s engineering wisdom.
In most animal species, the female is the one who gives birth and cares for the young, but that is not always the case. One exception to that rule is the seahorse role reversal.
Females seahorses compete to secure a mate. The female is the leader in the courtship ritual, which involves an extended “dance.” After the ritual, the female will deposit her eggs in a pouch on the front of the male. The male fertilizes the eggs and keeps the embryo sea horses for as long as ten weeks.
At the end of that time, the male ejects the young with muscle contractions, pushing them out into the ocean to fend for themselves. There can be dozens or hundreds of tiny seahorses, depending on how big the male is. Sea horses live in dense seaweed, which supplies food and hides them from predators. Small fish such as seahorses are easy prey for many animals in the sea, so they need to reproduce in large numbers.
Besides the seahorse role reversal, there are other cases in the natural world where a male is the caregiver for offspring. Diversity is the answer to many needs of a balanced life system, and the male and female roles can be different depending on the needs of the ecosystem.
The more we learn of the natural world, the more examples we see of incredible design and planning which reflect God’s actions in preparing this planet for human life. We all have a role in protecting the diversity of living things God has placed in our care.