In their desperate attempt to find an inhabited planet, some media people have jumped to the conclusion that any planet close to 8000 miles (13,000 km) in diameter will be inhabited. One of the candidates orbiting a star in our galaxy is called K2-141b, and it is reasonably close to us in size and location, a little under 200 light-years away. However, K2-141b is not another Earth.
Astronomers have discovered that its atmosphere has all the elemental components of rocks. That has to mean that the surface temperature of the planet is hot enough to vaporize rocks. That would be more than 5400 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 C). K2-141b is not another Earth.
At this time, when people are concerned about global warming, we must consider how many factors on Earth and the surrounding area give use the proper temperature for life to exist. Without the variables that keep our planet cool, we could not have a surface temperature of less than 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 C). The size, temperature, and activity of the Sun have to be just right. The amount of ocean surface that reflects solar heat back into space is crucial. The factors that restrict greenhouse gases, the relatively low value of volcanic activity, the lack of exothermic chemical reactions, the reflectivity of clouds, and many other factors all influence our temperature.
Even though K2-141b is not another Earth, there may be other planets with conditions that permit surface temperatures between 0 and 100 degrees Celsius, allowing liquid water. But evidence shows that such planets are rare, and their design would be from the same source as our planet. If God has created life elsewhere on a planet that will allow life to exist over the long haul, it will be another demonstration of incredible wisdom and design. Our planet is exceptional, and taking care of it should be a high priority for all of us.
An asteroid belt exists between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers believe that this belt of material is either a planet that disintegrated or one that never formed because of the gravitational pushes and pulls of Jupiter and Mars. In 2007, NASA launched a probe called Dawn. In 2015, it arrived at one of the largest asteroids named Ceres. The Dawn probe revealed several strange white spots, especially in the Occator Crater. In August of 2020, astronomers presented several papers dealing with evidence that the white spots are ejections of salty water produced from holes punched into Ceres’ surface by space rocks.
Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute was involved in the NASA research on Ceres. He is quoted as saying that this discovery is “one of the most profound discoveries in planetary science in the space age.” The Occator Crater is 57 miles (92 km) wide. The material erupting through fractures looks very much like Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
Astronomers suggest that our solar system has large amounts of water stored in the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto’s surface. Trying to put together a model that explains the formation of wet moons and objects like Ceres is proving to be quite difficult. It appears that whatever the cause, our solar system has a unique water signature.
The abundance of water in the Milky Way Galaxy may turn out to be very important if humans venture into space and start establishing colonies on other worlds. Did God prepare a stepping stone for humans to move beyond Earth’s limitations by placing essential water in our solar system? Perhaps, but as we have said before, we face many other challenges as we venture away from our home planet.
In the early 1920s, Edwin Hubble (in whose honor the Hubble Space Telescope was named) was peering through his telescope. As he examined many of the points of light that astronomers had thought were stars or “spiral nebulae” in our galaxy, he realized that they are much more than that. He discovered that they are other galaxies!
By the mid-1920s, everyone knew that our Milky Way is only one of a myriad of other galaxies. Since then, we have learned many things about our galaxy, but we still have much to learn. The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy in the shape of a large saucer. Other types of galaxies–which are the majority–cannot support planets and therefore are not suitable for life.
We are spinning around our spiral galaxy at about 120 miles (200 kilometers) per second. At that rate, it will take us 250,000,000 years to make one complete orbit of the galaxy. We can’t take a picture of the entire Milky Way because to travel outside of our galaxy would take many thousands of years–even at the speed of light. We can take pictures of other galaxies, and this one is another spiral galaxy named M74.
The Milky Way’s disk is about 100,000 light-years across, and we are about 27,200 light-years from the center. It’s good that we are not near the center because that is the location of a giant black hole. It is also fortunate that we live in an area of the galaxy that is not crowded with quasars, black holes, and other major hazards. The galaxy area with the most gas and dust is less than 500 light-years from the central plane–far away from us. That means we are in an area relatively free of debris, so this is an excellent spot to get a good view of our galaxy as well as other galaxies and stars.
Is it just a coincidence that we are in the right kind of galaxy and in the best position in that galaxy to be safe and to be able to study and observe the universe? We think God wanted us to be in a hospitable place where we could see the majesty of His creation.
More and more data shows that leaving Earth and venturing into outer space away from Earth’s constant gravity and the protection of our atmosphere and magnetosphere is much more destructive than anyone imagined. One of our regular readers sent us a quote from NBC News about the potential health problems of space travel. Here is what it says:
“The number of deaths due to heart disease among the Apollo lunar astronauts is almost five times greater than that in non-flight astronauts, or astronauts who never flew missions in space, researchers from Florida State University found. Compared to astronauts who flew only in low Earth orbit (LEO), the heart risk among Apollo astronauts is four times higher. There were no differences between LEO and non-flight astronauts.”
We recently reported on the astronaut twin study, which showed physical changes even in low Earth orbit. We don’t yet know what potential health problems of space travel may become evident in the long-term.
Micro-gravity and exposure to radiation seem to combine to cause bodily harm. Earth’s magnetic field is more protective than science has understood. Working in the International Space Station is less of an issue because the LEO means that some of Earth’s protections still function.Going to Mars may be impossible with the present spaceship design.
We will be interested in future data on travel to the Moon and prolonged existence in outer space. We know that God’s design of planet Earth makes it suitable for life, but we are not fully aware of the potential health problems of space travel. You can read the full NBC report from HERE.
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.
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.
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.
Every time we get a better view of outer space, a new mystery steps forward. In 2015 a spacecraft called New Horizons went past Pluto and raced into outer space. The computers onboard the spacecraft were programmed to block out all light from known objects in the Milky Way galaxy. You would expect that if no light from stars or galaxies could get into the light measuring devices on New Horizons, it would measure only total and complete darkness. Instead, what New Horizons told us is that outer space is not dark but incredibly brilliant.
Outer space has an amount of light equivalent to the light from all the known galaxies in space! Tod Lauer, a spokesperson for the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory in Tucson, says, “There’s something out there unknown.” The most likely scenario for this unexplained light is that there are still more galaxies and stars or clusters of stars beyond the reach of our telescopes, illuminating the distant clouds of matter.
Astronomers have said that the size of the cosmos is not only larger than we can describe with our known science and mathematics, but it is also larger than we can imagine. David wrote in Psalms 139:7-12, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. … If I say ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you…”
One of the most exciting experiments conducted on the Space Station has been the twin study in space. Mark and Scott Kelly are identical twins, and both are astronauts. Scott lived aboard the International Space Station for a year. Mark remained on Earth and lived his normal lifestyle. Both men took daily blood and urine samples so that scientists could evaluate any changes caused by living in space.
Life aboard the space station is very regimented and very different from Scott’s previous life on Earth. On the Space Station, fluids swelled around Scott’s upper body and head, his immune system worked overtime, and his metabolism was altered. Of greatest interest to scientists was that Scott’s genetic makeup – his DNA – had been damaged.
There are protective structures called “telomeres” at the ends of our chromosomes. These structures get shorter with age and put the person more at risk for age-related illnesses. In Scott’s case, the telomeres temporarily lengthened and then became shorter. This means that space flight could put the body at risk for age-related conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
What conclusion can we draw from the data of the twin study in space? First, the human body was designed for living on planet Earth. Even a small change in environmental characteristics can make genetic changes that can be detrimental to human health.
People give many different explanations of what the ”wise men” saw that led them to the Christ child. (See Matthew 2:1-12.) One of those explanations says there was a planetary alignment in the constellation Virgo (the Virgin). Since the magi may have been Zoroaster astrologers, they knew Christ had been born and followed “the star.” There is no connection between the star of Bethlehem and a planetary conjunction.
This December 21, at the winter solstice, there is a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. If you go outside about an hour after sunset and look to the southwest, you will see that the two planets are separated by less than a minute of arc, even though they are hundreds of millions of miles apart. If your eyesight is not very good, they may look like one very bright star.
This planetary conjunction is an exciting astronomical event, but it is not a good explanation of the star of Bethlehem. Whatever the magi saw, it could not have been a celestial star. Herod could have seen a celestial star for himself and would have had no reason to question its appearance as Matthew 2:3-10 describes. He could have had his people follow the star to find Christ and kill him.
Matthew 2:9 tells us that the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the young child was.” The closest star to planet Earth, outside of the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, and it is 4.2 light-years away. No stars move that way, and a planetary alignment is not a star.
The Bible does not present the star of Bethlehem as a natural object but as a miraculous act of God. Anytime the Bible says something is a miracle, it becomes a matter of faith, not science. How Jesus rose from the grave is not something we can scientifically explain. You either accept it, or you reject it, but all attempts to explain it naturally fail–and there have been many.
The star of Bethlehem was a miracle to show God’s acceptance of the Gentiles and to give Mary and Joseph the resources to move to Egypt and avoid Herod’s infanticide. The star of Bethlehem was not a natural event, but today’s planetary conjunction is. As we said yesterday, today’s event is not an omen and has no religious importance, but it is a rare, predictable astronomical event.