Sunspots and Earth’s Climate

Sunspots and Earth’s ClimateYesterday we mentioned sunspots and their potential effect on our planet. Sunspots are areas where the local magnetic field is thousands of times stronger than on the rest of the Sun’s surface. We know that sunspots adversely affect electric grids and orbiting satellites. There are unanswered questions about sunspots and Earth’s climate.

When sunspots occur, the stronger magnetic field constricts the hot plasma of the Sun, creating a somewhat cooler area. Why is it, then, that historically in times when sunspots are rare, Earth’s climate has become colder? Are sunspots the cause, or was it just a coincidence?

Scientists refer to the period from 1645 until 1715 as the Maunder Minimum, because sunspot activity was minimal. That also corresponds with the coldest years of what is sometimes called the Little Ice Age. It was not a true ice age, but the Northern Hemisphere experienced winters that were longer and colder than usual. European rivers froze, Vikings abandoned Greenland, and farmers in Norway lost farmland to advancing glaciers.

So the unanswered question concerns sunspots and Earth’s climate. Does the lack of sunspots cause lowered temperatures on Earth, or have past trends been coincidental? We don’t know, and science cannot find an explanation. Many scientists are predicting reduced sunspot activity in the coming years. Perhaps God is providing a way to counter-balance present concerns about global warming, but only God knows what the future holds.

It is interesting that the years 1643 to 1715 also mark the reign of Louis XIV of France, known as “Louis the Great.” He was also known as “the Sun King” because he chose the Sun as his symbol, and his subjects (or perhaps Louis himself) compared him to Apollo, the ancient Greek sun god. Louis the Great reigned for 72 years during the Maunder Minimum. But even the so-called Sun King could not control the Sun. Only the Creator of the Sun, Moon, and stars can do that, and only He knows if there is a connection between sunspots and Earth’s climate.
— Roland Earnst 2019

Interesting Sun Facts

Interesting Sun FactsWe all know some things about the Sun. We know it is powered by thermonuclear fusion, that it is a G-2 type spectral star, and that it is the primary energy source for the Earth. Many of us have seen a solar eclipse when the Moon blocks out the photosphere of the Sun and lets us see its corona. We know that the Sun is not just a ball of fire but a complex globe. Here are some more interesting Sun facts that are relatively new to us:

The light that we see coming from the Sun is from its photosphere. The photosphere is a thin incandescent layer that is just 200 miles (322 km) thick. That is less than one four-thousandth of the Sun’s diameter and is like the outer skin of an onion, only thinner than that.

The energy of the Sun is created in its core, which is a very small sphere, just one two-hundredth of the Sun’s volume. Every second that small ball emits the energy of 96 billion 1-megaton hydrogen bombs. The Sun’s weight decreases by 4 million tons every second as mass is turned into energy and radiated from the photosphere.

The Sun spins on its axis once a month, just as the Moon does. The center 70% of the Sun spins uniformly like a solid ball. The remaining 30% has different spins with the poles turning more slowly than the equator. These zones spinning at different speeds meet in a recently discovered zone 130,000 miles (209,000 km) below the surface. That zone is called the tachocline, and it’s where the Sun’s magnetic field originates.

Sunspots are areas where the local magnetic field is 5,000 times stronger than on the rest of the surface. The stronger magnetic field constricts the Sun’s plasma. When sunspots are rare, it seems that Earth’s climate becomes colder. Starting in 1645 there were few sunspots for 70 years. During that time, Earth became colder, people abandoned fishing colonies in Iceland and Greenland, and the Thames River and Venice canals went through periods of freezing solid.

As scientists probe more in-depth, they learn many interesting Sun facts. Just as in many other areas, the more we learn, the more questions we have. What effect do sunspots have on life on Earth? How can they affect our climate? What will happen in the next sunspot cycle? Tomorrow, we will look more into questions about sunspots. As we learn more interesting Sun facts, we realize the amazing design wisdom of the Creator to make life on this planet possible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Astronomy magazine, July 2019, page 20.

Jupiter Is in Opposition

Jupiter Is in OppositionJune 10, 2019, is an excellent time to observe the largest planet in our solar system. The reason is that Jupiter is in opposition to our Sun.

When astronomers say that Jupiter is in opposition, they mean that planet Earth is passing between the Sun and Jupiter. At this time, Jupiter will rise in the east as the Sun sets in the west, and it will set in the west as the Sun rises in the east. In other words, Jupiter will be visible all night long, and it will be at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night.

The picture was taken by the JunoCam on NASA’s spacecraft Juno which is currently orbiting Jupiter. NASA posts the raw images online and encourages individuals to download and process them. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill enhanced this one. You can find access to the raw images and see the work of other citizen scientists by clicking HERE.

When you see Jupiter in the sky tonight, it will not look like this picture, but it will be the brightest object in the sky. Jupiter is not a rocky planet like Earth. It’s a gas giant which if were 80 times more massive, would be hot enough to set off nuclear reactions in its core. Then it would be a star giving off its own light instead of just reflecting the Sun’s light. However, if you could lump all the other planets in our solar system together (including Earth), Jupiter would be 2.5 times more massive than them all.

Why do we need such a huge gas giant in the outer solar system? As we have said in previous posts, Jupiter is a comet sweeper. With its massive size and gravity, Jupiter protects us from objects such as comets coming from outside our solar system. In the 1990s, NASA observed Jupiter pulling apart and destroying comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. You can read about that in our previous post HERE. Jupiter also affects Earth’s climate cycles, which you can read about HERE.

Jupiter is in opposition about every 13 months. Last year opposition occurred in May. Next year it will be on July 14. If you miss seeing Jupiter tonight because of cloudy weather or any other reason, don’t despair. Jupiter will be closest to Earth on June 12, and it will continue to be visible, but right now it’s visible all night long.

While Jupiter is in opposition, or at any other time, look up and thank God that He has created such a marvelous and unique solar system to make life possible.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

How The Sun Works

How The Sun WorksWe depend on the Sun every day to generate the energy that makes life on Earth possible, but have you considered how the Sun works?

The key to the Sun’s energy-supplying ability is a delicate balance between gravity and electromagnetism. Gravity curves space and pulls together all objects that have mass. The greater the mass, the greater the force of gravity. Right now gravity is pulling us toward the center of the Earth, but we are being held in place by the strength of the Earth’s crust and whatever floors or objects we have below us. The strength of the surfaces supporting us comes from electromagnetic forces between electrons and the protons in the nucleus of atoms. Those forces bond atoms of elements to each other forming compounds.

Since the Sun’s mass is more than a million times that of Earth, its gravity is more than a million times as great. The tremendous force in the core of the Sun overcomes the electromagnetic force and squeezes atoms of hydrogen tightly together igniting a thermonuclear reaction producing helium.

The creation of helium atoms releases high energy gamma-ray photons. If those gamma rays reached Earth, they would kill us. But the vast majority of them are transformed before they leave the surface of the Sun. On the way from the core to the surface they bounce off protons and electrons heating the hydrogen gas in the outer portion of the Sun. That heating increases the gas pressure enough to overcome the pull of gravity. Otherwise, the Sun would collapse on itself.

The bouncing of those gamma rays slows them so much that it takes hundreds of thousands of years for them to reach the Sun’s surface. If they could travel in a straight line, it would take only seconds, but they would emerge as deadly gamma rays that would reach the Earth in eight minutes, destroying all life. By the time those sterilizing gamma-ray photons reach the Sun’s surface, their energy has mainly been reduced to life-giving optical photons. There are still some dangerous rays that reach the Earth, but our atmosphere takes care of most of those.

That is a very simplified description of how the Sun works. Our Sun is a special star that provides the energy needed to sustain life on Earth without the high-energy rays that would destroy it. As you enjoy a beautiful sunset, you don’t have to know how the Sun works, but the Creator did. This finely-tuned system shows evidence of design by a Master Engineer, not a chance accident.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

How Far Away Is the Sun?

How Far Away Is the Sun?Does it matter how far away the Sun is? Absolutely yes. The picture shows the order of the planets in our solar system, but not their distance from the Sun. So how far away is the Sun from Earth?

Any star that has planets orbiting it may potentially create a “habitable zone” where the light and heat are just right for the possibility of life to exist. Earth resides in the middle of the Sun’s habitable zone with Venus and Mars near the edge of the zone. Of course, there are many other factors required to support any kind of life, and it appears that Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has all of those factors. Earth has everything needed to support not just primitive life, but advanced life.

So what is the range of the habitable zone? That depends on the star. The size and brightness of the star are critical. Another essential factor is the type of radiation emitted by the star. Our Sun has the just-right radiation. Other stars may emit x-rays, gamma rays, or other deadly radiation in amounts that would destroy all life and prevent a habitable zone from existing.

Back in the eighteenth century, scientists determined the distance to the Sun by watching a transit of Venus across the Sun. Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun twice every hundred years or so. By measuring the time of the transit of Venus from two locations on Earth, scientists were able to use triangulation and simple math to calculate the distance to the Sun.

But the question was, how far away is the Sun? The Sun is about 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 km) away from us. Since the speed of light is 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, it takes about eight and one-third minutes for the light from the Sun to reach the surface of the Earth. The energy the Sun delivers to our planet is just right to make life possible.

If someone asks you “how far away is the Sun,” you can say it is the “just right” distance. There are so many “just right” features of our planet that we can genuinely say we are in the “Goldilocks Zone.” Some think it was all just an accident, but we believe it was God’s plan and design.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Properties of Light

Properties of LightWhen you open your eyes in the morning, take a minute to thank God that you can see. We should reflect upon how good it is to have light instead of the darkness of night. The properties of light make it unique and special.

I am keenly aware of my gift of sight because of a long association with Glynn Langston, who is blind and manages our outreach to the visually impaired. In my lectures, I frequently refer to Edwin Abbott’s book Flatland to help people understand dimensions and how the spiritual is different from the physical. Glynn was born blind, so he is unable to visualize the concept of a sphere crossing a plane and leaving the outline of a circle. He has been kind about it, but my wife once said to me, “How do you expect a blind man to visualize anything!” Even those of us who can see have trouble understanding the properties of light beyond what meets the eye. Radio waves, gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet rays, and infra-red rays are all light!

The properties of light make it difficult to comprehend. The most general definition of light is that it is the energy released when a charge changes momentum. The bundle of energy released is called a photon, and the amount of change in momentum determines the energy of the released light. Even in the visible spectrum for humans, the different colors we see are determined by how much energy the light has. Violet has much more energy than red. Ultraviolet has more energy than violet. X-rays and gamma rays have even more energy, but they are still light. Infrared, and radio waves have lower energies than red. That is why infrared warms you and ultraviolet gives you a sunburn. It is also why radio waves can pass through the walls of your home without causing damage and gamma rays can also pass through things, but they will do significant damage.

In the creation process, there had to be special accommodations for the properties of light coming to Earth from the Sun and from outer space. The ozone layer had to be in place to absorb ultraviolet and avoid damage to life. The eyes of every living thing that uses some form of sight had to be designed to function in the part of the spectrum that fit its diet. Rattlesnakes, for example, have specialized sight organs to see in the infrared. Because they eat rodents whose bodies give off radiation in the infrared, a rattlesnake can see its prey on the darkest night. Nearly every insect sees some part of the spectrum other than the colors visible to humans. That is how a mosquito finds you and how insects navigate at night.

Not every star in the sky gives off the properties of light that are needed for life to exist. Some stars radiate in the X-ray part of the spectrum, and others radiate energies too low to be useful to life. Even our trees and shrubs require light in the green part of the visible spectrum to know when to shed their leaves in preparation for winter. In Job 38-41, God spoke to Job to show His wisdom and design and convince Job of his ignorance. Many of the designs God pointed to are connected to light. “Where is the way where light dwells, and where is the location of darkness?” (38:19) “By what process is light parted which scatters the east wind upon the earth?” (38:24) “How does the eagle seek the prey and see that which is afar off?” (39:29)

The Bible speaks of light that is not produced by the acceleration of an electric charge. The most important of these is described in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Let those of us who are Christians not only be amazed by God’s design of the properties of light and the world in which we live, but let us also strive to be the light Jesus calls us to be.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Scientific Method Is a Friend of Faith

Scientific Method Is a Friend of FaithOur mission statement is: “Science and faith are friends and not enemies.” One of the challenges that we hear from atheists and skeptics is that statement is bogus because the scientific method can not be applied to it.

As a public school science teacher I always tried to make sure that students knew what scientific method is and could see how to apply it to the problems we face in the modern age. Sometimes that is incredibly difficult to do. Our textbooks usually gave six steps to use the scientific method:

1. Identify and define the problem.
2. Accumulate all possible data.
3. Formulate a tentative hypothesis that would solve the problem in step 1.
4. Conduct experiments to test the hypothesis – the more experiments, the better.
5. Interpret the results of the experiments without prejudice.
6. Repeat the steps until you find an acceptable solution.

In high school science classes, those six steps are usually easy to do, but sometimes later data alters what we thought was a solid fact proven by scientific method. Suppose we ask, “What causes gravity?” We could say “I think gravity is a property of mass.” All objects with mass have a gravitational attraction for all other d objects that have mass. Other people might say that it’s a property of electric charge, or maybe spin. You write down all the possibilities and conduct experiments to see which hypothesis can be experimentally verified.

To see if mass produces gravity, I fill two large bags with cement, and I hang them close to each other. If mass causes gravity, they should attract each other. That is an experiment I can do. I can also charge two balls electrically and see if they attract each other including the electric forces in the calculation. I can spin the two balls and see if they change their attraction for each other as they spin. The mass experiment works, and all the others don’t. I publicize my results and wait for additional experiments to support or deny what my experiments have shown.

The example I have just described is in most physics textbooks and has been done and repeated hundreds of times. But then a scientist did an experiment that didn’t support this conclusion. He found that when a beam of light passed by a huge object (the Sun), the light curved. This suggested that gravity was actually a product of space, not mass. The difference was that the size of the experiment produced different results when you used a star instead of a bag of cement.

As we have looked at the very large (quasars) and the very small (quarks), we have found that the scientific method is hard to do and sometimes impossible. String theory, brane theory, multiverse theory, and a variety of other proposals simply cannot be tested by an experiment. For the time being at least, we cannot test them by scientific method. They are not alternatives we can hold up as fact. They cannot even be considered as serious scientific explanations since they cannot be demonstrated or falsified by scientific method.

Trying to use the scientific method in areas like psychology, sociology, and matters of faith are also frequently difficult. What we generally do is to rely on statistics to evaluate a potential cure for a psychological difficulty. Does a treatment method work? Is a particular activity statistically helpful in relieving a mental or spiritual problem? As more and more data become available, we examine that data. We must reject some psychological theories (like Freud’s view of sex) and use the data to make a new proposal we can analyze.

Christ challenged his followers to examine the data. When the disciples of John came to Christ to ask if He was the promised Messiah, He responded: “Go and tell John what things you have seen and heard: how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised …” (Luke 7:22). Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to take His word for it. He asked them to look at the evidence. The evidence supports the claims of Christianity. If we honestly examine the evidence, our investigation will lead to a better understanding of how our faith works.

The scientific method is not an enemy of Christianity. The whole basis of our ministry is to ask people not to blindly accept what anyone says. The title of our ministry is “Does God Exist?” and that is the question at hand. We offer data for our readers to evaluate. The tentative hypothesis is that God does exist and that intelligence and design will be seen everywhere we look in the creation. As you continue to look at new data, we hope that you will find the solution for the struggles in life. The scientific method is a friend of faith.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Black Hole Picture and The Beginning

Black Hole Picture

On April 11, 2019, scientists released the first actual image ever taken of a black hole. The black hole picture used wavelengths that are outside of what our eyes can detect. Astronomers used eight radio telescopes to see wavelengths that are beyond human vision. They photographed a black hole that is as large as our entire solar system, so it is a supermassive black hole.

This scientific accomplishment is significant because it allows scientists to test some of the predictions of Albert Einstein even down to the shape of the hole. A black hole is so massive that even light itself cannot escape the gravitational pull. The relationship of gravity and the shape of space is a concept proposed by Einstein that has radically improved our understanding of the nature of the universe.

There are important implications for apologetics in this discovery as well. A significant question that has been debated by atheists and believers for hundreds of years is whether the universe had a beginning or whether it has always existed. The biblical concept is that there was a beginning. Well-known atheists have claimed that matter/energy is eternal and just gets changed from one form to another forever. The nature of a black hole is that it sucks in everything that gets near it, including light. There is no escaping a black hole and attempts to propose a way around this fact such as wormholes and white holes have all been disproven.

If the universe has existed forever, and if black holes are continuously sucking in all matter including electromagnetic radiation, what would be the ultimate result? It seems pretty obvious that everything would have been sucked up by black holes and there would be nothing left but one supermassive black hole. That obviously isn’t the case, so there must have been a beginning to the creation.

If there was a beginning, there had to be a cause to that beginning. Ideas such as string theory and brane theory have attempted to get around this logical point without success. If there was a cause, there has to be a causer. The design, intelligence, and purpose that we see in the cosmos identify some of the properties of that causer, and God fits those criteria uniquely.

The black hole picture is another case where the advancement of science provides evidence for the factual nature of, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth. “

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Are They Space Aliens?

 Are They Space Aliens?

NASA posted this picture on apod.nasa.gov on April 8, 2019. Yang Suite took the photo in northern Norway of a phenomenon that lasted about 30 minutes. Witnesses said that colorful clouds, dots, and plumes suddenly appeared. Can you imagine what would have happened if the sky over Washington D.C. had been filled with what you see in this picture? Are they space aliens?

We have often pointed out that finding life in outer space would have no implications for the integrity of the Bible or the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Bible simply doesn’t say that this planet is the only place where God created life. We have also pointed out that there are no cases where seeing something we don’t understand cannot be explained by natural or human actions. We have also pointed out that people who try to make money from something that the public doesn’t understand must be dealt with skeptically.

In this case, the picture is of a NASA-funded project called Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment (AZURE). Gas tracers were dispersed from two short-lived rockets into the ionosphere at altitudes of 70 to 150 miles (112-240 km). The goal was to measure how the solar wind transfers energy to the Earth and powers auroras. Science still has much to learn about the design of the solar system and how something like an aurora takes place.

So are they space aliens?
No, and anytime we can see something that we don’t understand, we should seek to understand it and recognize the design and intelligence that is involved. The more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

We thank Yang Suite for his kind permission to use his picture.

Physical Forces That Make Life Possible

Demonstration of  Physical Forces That Make Life Possible

I have a bicycle wheel that I use to demonstrate circular motion and forces to my physics students. Some of the forces that we can demonstrate seem to contradict common sense, but they are physical forces that make life possible.

The wheel has a handle on both sides. If you spin it rapidly and put one handle in the crotch of your hand between your thumb and first finger, you can completely let go of the other handle, and the wheel will stay in place, seemingly defying gravity. As the wheel slows down, it begins to wobble, and the slower it goes, the more rapid its turning motion is. This is called precession, and it applies to all spinning objects.

Several years ago when I was teaching this unit in my physics class, I did this demonstration. My class skeptic, who tried to make sure I knew he wasn’t impressed with anything I did, said: “OK – big deal, how does that mean anything to me?” My reply was that he wouldn’t exist if the universe had not been designed with these laws in place creating the physical forces that make life possible.

We live on a globe spinning at roughly 1000 miles per hour. The globe itself is revolving around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour in a solar system that is orbiting the core of our Milky Way galaxy at 515,000 miles per hour. Each of those motions involves forces that make life possible. We would not have weather moving heat and moisture around the globe without the rapid spinning. The Earth would collapse into the Sun if we weren’t traveling at such an enormous speed. The solar system would collapse into the core of the galaxy and be absorbed by the black hole that holds our system together if we weren’t moving fast enough to avoid such a thing happening.

We understand these fundamental laws of physics, but our observations tell us that the picture we have painted here is oversimplified. Stars on the outer edges of the galaxy are circling at roughly the same speed as stars near the core, and that should not be happening. We know that there must be dark matter filling in for the lapses in speed that we measure. Either that or the darkness is simply in our understanding.

The reality of the motions and physical forces that make life possible on Earth are there for us to examine. However, the implications of what we see defy our imagination and speak of the reality of the God who designed and created it all.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Notre Dame Magazine, Spring 2019, page 47-49.