Did Science Find Life on Venus?

Did Science Find Life on Venus?
Venus

The media loves to jump on any sensational scientific finding, even if their headlines totally misrepresent what science has discovered. We have seen several headlines suggesting that scientists have found life in the atmosphere of Venus. Did science find life on Venus?

The fact is that a Japanese robotic satellite that has been orbiting Venus since 2015 records data in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The satellite has detected spectra for the chemical phosphine (PH3). Phosphine is a flammable, toxic gas made of one phosphorous atom attached to three hydrogen atoms. It is difficult to make in a typical chemistry lab. Biologists know that there are microbes that can make phosphine. Finding the chemical in the upper clouds of Venus, where the temperatures are low enough for the gas to exist, raised some questions about whether microbes could have produced it.

It is possible that the phosphine could have been produced by conditions on Venus that are not available on Earth. Such conditions could be very low pressures, long term effects of ultraviolet light, and long periods of time. The environment of Venus is highly toxic, even to microbes, so microbe production is unlikely. Scientists have found many of the chemicals essential to life or possibly produced by living organisms on several moons in the solar system. The creation process produces chemicals that can be associated with life, including water. The environmental parameters of all of these places are so extreme that no astronomer expects to see an alien walking around.

The Bible doesn’t say that Earth is the only place where life exists, and it may be that God has created life elsewhere. As humans leave our planet searching for chemicals and materials to meet the 21st century’s needs, we may find a storehouse of essential materials, both metallic and biological. Did science find life on Venus? No. This newest media hype does not tell us anything we didn’t already know, but the discovery is interesting.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Our Atmospheric Shield

Our Atmospheric Shield

One of the fantastic and vital features of planet Earth is our atmospheric shield. We have often mentioned the NASA website Astronomy Picture of the Day (apod.nasa.gov). Every day NASA posts a different astronomy picture to show us something of the cosmos. This is an excellent service because most of us don’t have access to giant telescopes, and we can’t see light in wavelengths outside of the visible spectrum.

On September 12, 2020, NASA’s posting showed a time-lapse series of pictures taken by the New South Wales observatory in Australia. This observatory is located at 33 degrees south latitude in an area with minimal light pollution, so there is minimal obstruction of the night sky. The pictures were recorded on 372 nights and run like a movie. What you see are sporadic meteors, fireballs, meteor showers, and even a lightning sprite. The series shows over 1000 meteors.

Remember that this picture sequence shows a relatively small area of sky. This does remind us that there is a constant rain of dust, pieces of rock, and other debris coming down upon our planet. People working with communication satellites are well aware of this because of constant damage to the orbiting objects. For those of us on Earth’s surface, our atmospheric shield burns up most of the solid space material. We don’t have to worry about getting hit by space debris or getting sandpapered by the small dust particles coming from outer space. That is just the solid stuff. Our atmospheric shield also refracts away non-solid radiation such as x-rays and gamma rays.

Providing a place where life can exist is not as easy as some think. One of the reasons we are not finding life in outer space is that designing and implementing our atmospheric shield was vital for the existence of life, and doing that was not simple. It required intelligence and a carefully implemented design. The simple statement, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth” doesn’t tell us the incredible difficulty of doing that.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Largest Art Gallery in the Universe

The largest art gallery

The Louvre in Paris is the largest art gallery museum in the world. The building began as a twelfth-century fortress and became a museum at the time of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century.

Housed in the Louvre are some of the world’s most outstanding artworks, including the Mona Lisa. Visitors number over nine-million per year. If you visit the Louvre, you will be overwhelmed by the enormous building and the vast number of paintings and statues.

Similarly, as we look at the enormous universe around us, we are overwhelmed by the galaxies, stars, and planets–and the life we see on this planet. Rice Broocks, in his book “God’s Not Dead,” writes, “There is evidence for an intelligent Creator everywhere you look. To say that there is no evidence for this Creator is like saying the thousands of paintings in an art museum couldn’t have been painted because there are no artists visible in the gallery.”

Nobody would visit the Louvre and make such a ridiculous statement. How can anyone look at the amazingly complex universe and not recognize that they are seeing the largest art gallery displaying the work of the greatest Artist? Some examples are butterfly wings, colors, structural color, and beauty in Earth’s diversity. The largest art gallery in the universe is the universe.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Earth’s Atmospheric Design

Earth's Atmospheric Design

One of the many things that make our planet uniquely well designed is the atmosphere. Our atmosphere has the right density to burn up the 10,000 plus meteors that speed into it every year. It’s also dense enough to scatter the cosmic rays and X-rays from space, so we are protected from this deadly radiation by our Earth’s atmospheric design.

Also very important, the atmosphere is thin enough to allow light to penetrate so plants can grow. It contains the proper mix of gasses for all living things to use. There is enough oxygen for us to breathe, but not enough to cause dangerous, uncontrolled combustion. It has the right amount of carbon dioxide to allow plants to live and give us the right amount of the “greenhouse effect.” This proper amount prevents too much heat from radiating off into space, keeping Earth at a temperature that promotes life.

The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, which is relatively inert, but plants need it to grow. Because nitrogen is inert, it’s released to the soil by bacteria and certain plants, such as legumes or by lightning or tectonic activity. The atmosphere is topped off with a layer of ozone that absorbs ultraviolet energy from the Sun to keep us from being overexposed to the harmful effects of UV rays.

When we look at Earth’s atmospheric design and compare it to that of other planets, we realize that God has given us just what we need for life on this planet.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Look Through a Telescope

Look Through a Telescope

Modern technology has given all of us a chance to look through a telescope and see what is in outer space. In the “old days” the only people that could look outside our solar system were astronomers who had access to powerful telescopes. Now all of us can look out and see what lies beyond our solar system without buying a telescope because the pictures are available to us on the web. If you go to apod.nasa.gov you can see pictures taken through the world’s largest telescopes. The picture for August 7, 2020, is of the Pipe Nebula. As I stare at the picture, I am awestruck by the number of stars in the cosmos.

Why are there so many? Why is the cosmos so big? If you believe that God created it all, why did He create billions of stars in billions of galaxies? If Earth is the only place with life, why are there other planets, other stars, other solar systems? Why is space full of matter like the Pipe Nebula? Obviously no one knows the answers to all these questions. Anyone who gives a dogmatic answer that invalidates the existence of God is claiming to have more knowledge than the rest of us. Those who claim the pictures are fakes or artistic works have not taken the trouble to go to an observatory and look through a telescope. Most observatories have arrangements that allow the general public to do that. We have no excuse for doubting the credibility of the pictures.

Whether you are an atheist or a religious fundamentalist, your viewpoint makes massive assumptions. Here are a few things you should know, that may make you uncomfortable:

No observation made has ever challenged the basic biblical claim that there was a beginning and that it was caused. You can argue about what the cause was, but attempting to deny that there was a beginning, puts you at odds with the observations and the laws of physics–even at a quantum level.

There is no support for the assumption that planet Earth is the only place in the universe where life exists. If there is life elsewhere, God created it, and the Bible does not say the Earth is the only place where God created life. However, the distances are so huge that we will never know if this is the only place–at least not in our lifetimes. Many years ago, I debated an atheist on a talk show with Larry King. A listener called in and asked the atheist and me “What would you two do if a space ship landed in plain sight and a little green man got out and asked, ‘Has Jesus been here yet?’” That raises all kinds of issues, but it makes the point. By the way, the atheist’s answer was, “Punt.”

As we look through a telescope we are looking into the distant past light-years ago. No one knows what the distant future holds. Could it be that God wants humans to colonize the cosmos? Perhaps our vision of God’s kingdom is too small. Every time I look at one of those pictures of star fields or look through a telescope, I am reminded of Psalms 8:3-4 “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained: What is man, that you are mindful of him?”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Planetary Atmosphere Variations

Planetary Atmosphere Variations - Earth

The dominant theory for the origin of the planets in our solar system assumes that they all evolved from a single mass or nebula. Several factors support that idea. Those factors include the fact that the planets lie roughly in one plane, that they all revolve around the Sun in the same direction, and that there is mathematical predictability to their location. Most of the irregularities that might indicate against a common source, such as variations in planetary tilt, have reasonable explanations. However, new planetary atmosphere variations are difficult to explain.

Recent studies of the atmospheres of the terrestrial planets have shown wide variations. Our atmosphere contains 78% nitrogen, but nitrogen on Venus is 4%, and on Mars, it is 2.7%. Both Mars and Venus have atmospheres that are 95% carbon dioxide, while Earth is 0.1%, and Mercury has none. Earth and Mercury have oxygen in their atmospheres, 21% and 42% respectively, but Venus and Mars have less than 1%.

Astronomers theorize that they can explain these planetary atmosphere variations.
They suggest that the atmospheres are not original to the planets, but were produced by processes that took place after the formation of the planets. The best guess now is that impacts and outgassing formed the atmospheres. This is not a trivial matter because life is not possible without the proper combination of atmospheric gases.

The Genesis account describes the production of Earth’s structure in a sequence. Genesis 1:6-9 indicates separate creations of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. The new data support the idea that once Earth was created, continued activity prepared it for life. Once again, we find the scientific evidence in support of the Bible’s description.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Astronomy magazine, August 2020, page 12.

Life in a Lava Tube on Mars

Life in a Lava Tube
Lava River Cave, Arizona

Lava tubes on Earth are dark and cold places. It’s unclear what they may be like on Mars, but perhaps someone will find out. Future Martian explorers may experience life in a lava tube.

Camping out on Mars is not a good idea. There is no breathable atmosphere, and the radiation is deadly. Without much of an atmosphere, the temperature on Mars varies extremely. On a summer day near the equator, the temperature may reach a comfortable 70 degrees F (20 degrees C). However, without the thermal blanket of an atmosphere, the night-time temperature can drop to minus 100 degrees F (minus 73 C). At the poles, the temperature can get down to minus 195 F (minus 125 C). The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees F (minus 60 C).

Transporting materials to build a suitable shelter on Mars would be difficult. Any structure would have to be small and still might not give adequate protection from radiation. The surface of Mars receives unfiltered solar radiation, cosmic rays, and ionized particles from the solar wind. With the lack of an atmosphere or a magnetosphere, which we have on Earth, there is nothing to block the dangerous radiation. The amount of radiation is many times what astronauts experience in the International Space Station (ISS). NASA limits astronaut exposures in the ISS to months. Explorers might have to spend years on Mars. Just getting there will take about seven months.

What does this have to do with life in a lava tube, and what are lava tubes anyway? During a volcanic eruption, molten lava can bore its way through the ground and run out into the open. When the molten lava exits, it often leaves behind a cave-like underground tube. I explored the Lava River Cave (bottom picture) in Arizona, located in the Coconino National Forest. The walls are black basalt, which the lava left behind, and there is no light except at the entrance. The temperature remains constant at around 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). In most places, the ceiling is high enough that I could stand up, but in other areas, I had to crouch down or get on my hands and knees. The top picture shows a larger lava tube in Iceland.

Researchers have detected what appears to be lava tubes on Mars near Hadriacus Mons, which is a volcanic mountain formed long ago when the Martian interior was hot. They suggest that those lava tubes would be the best location for a Martian outpost. The lava tubes would give protection from the radiation, and it might even be possible to seal one off, pressurize it with oxygen, and heat it. They tested the radiation protection concept in some lava tubes on Earth, including the Lava River Cave in Arizona.

All of this drives home how blessed we are to have a home on planet Earth. I can step outside on a beautiful day, breathe the oxygen, feel the filtered rays of sun on my face, enjoy the pleasant temperature, and thank God for the blessings. Stepping out of the lava tube on Mars without the protection of a super-spacesuit would mean instant death. Even though I enjoyed exploring the lava tube in Arizona, I wouldn’t want to live there. Life in a lava tube does not interest me. I enjoy living on this planet, which God designed to give us everything we need if we will just take care of it.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Wandering Stars in the Sky

"Wandering Stars" in the Sky

The ancient Greeks saw the five visible planets and called them “wandering stars” because they moved randomly across the sky instead of staying in fixed positions like the stars. The word “planet” comes from the Greek word for “wanderer.”

We have known for many centuries that the planets are not stars. They appear to wander because they orbit the Sun, just like our planet Earth. They orbit at different speeds, making them appear to wander in the sky. For astronomers to classify a celestial body as a planet, it must meet three requirements:

  1. It must have enough mass for gravity to cause it to become spherical, unlike an asteroid.
  2. It must not have enough mass to cause thermonuclear fusion, which would make it a star.
  3. It must have cleared the area of debris known as planetesimals.

We have five planets that are visible without the aid of telescopes or even binoculars. Two of the visible planets are called inferior planets, not because of importance but because their orbit is inside Earth’s orbit. They are Mercury and Venus. The other three are known as the superior planets since they are beyond Earth’s orbit. They are Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

There is one essential thing the ancient Greeks did not understand about the solar system. They did not know that it is orderly. The Greeks saw a pantheon of gods controlling various aspects of the Earth and skies. Each of their gods had all of the bad traits of humans struggling with each other. It was the Judeo-Christian concept of one almighty and wise creator God who created an orderly system that led to the scientific understanding of the cosmos.

Today, we can study and understand the wisdom of God in creation. Because of that, we can know where the planets and stars, as well as solar and lunar eclipses, will be visible at any given time and from any location on Earth. Those “wandering stars” are not wandering after all.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Spring Arrived in the Northern Hemisphere!

Spring Arrived in the Northern Hemisphere!

Just a few hours ago (11:49 p.m. EDT March 19 or 0349 GMT March 20, 2020) spring arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. Officially it is spring, even though it may not feel like it where you live.

For the next three months, the days will continue to get longer as the Sun moves farther north. This year, the Sun reaches its greatest northern latitude on June 20 when it will be at its highest elevation in the Northern Hemisphere sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, it will be at its lowest elevation. The autumn equinox will arrive on September 22. Then, on December 21, the Southern Hemisphere will have the Sun directly overhead at 23 degrees south latitude while it will be at the lowest point in the north.

At Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Penninsula of Mexico, the Mayans built a huge pyramid to a serpent deity around A.D. 1000. They engineered the pyramid so that at the spring equinox, the Sun’s light resembles a huge snake slithering down the steps on the structure’s face. The Mayans called the equinox “the return of the Sun Serpent.” They recognized the reliable and consistent seasons that make life possible. They could not comprehend everything required to create that consistent reliability. They didn’t know the God who created all things.

What does it mean that spring arrived in the Northern Hemisphere? It means that God has designed the Earth and our solar system to be predictable. He located our planet the just-right distance from a just-right star (our Sun). He gave Earth’s axis a just-right tilt relative to our just-right orbit around the Sun to create the seasons. The result, as we wrote yesterday, is that we have a planet suitable not just for life, but for advanced life.

Scientists today use SETI to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. They use telescopes and space probes to look for an exoplanet suitable for life. So far, after millions of hours and unknown amounts of money spent searching for alien life, the results have been zero.

Whether life exists anywhere else in the cosmos makes no difference for the existence of God. As spring arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, it reminds us that life exists here. As we see life blossoming all around us, we are reminded that every human life is precious God. He put us here for a purpose.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

The orbit of the Earth around the Sun produces variations in the seasons with four orbital positions having particular significance. Today, March 19, 2020, the Sun will pass directly overhead at the equator. The exact time will be 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT March 20, 2020). We can rejoice that the vernal equinox arrives today!

This is the earliest equinox in the United States in 124 years! As you can see in the diagram, the usual date for the vernal equinox is March 20 or 21, depending on where you live on the Earth. The reason it arrives on the 19th this year in North America is somewhat complicated, but it has to do with leap years and daylight saving time. We won’t get into that, but I thought we should explain why the diagram differs from this year’s dates.

There is wonderful history of how the Greek scholar Eratosthenes of Alexandria used the equinox to measure the circumference of the Earth. He knew that on the equinox, a pole stuck vertically in the ground left little or no shadow at noon, depending on location. He compared the length of the shadow of a pole in Syene, a town in southern Egypt, with one in Alexandria in northern Egypt. Using the difference in the shadow lengths, he calculated the circumference of the Earth. His calculation was very close to the known circumference today, and it proved the Earth was round. He did that in 245 BC, long before Columbus sailed.

The four polar positions roughly predict the seasons that have been used by every culture to control planting, harvesting, and preparing the soil. In Genesis 1:14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of space to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” God not only instituted day and night, but He also positioned the Sun and Moon so they could be used to mark the seasons we would need to live on this planet.

As the vernal equinox arrives today, we wish you a happy equinox!! Enjoy the season and the official end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We will have more on the spring equinox tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020