Exoplanets and TESS

Exoplanets and TESS
Data is coming in from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS for short. It is the most powerful telescope ever deployed to look for planets orbiting other stars. Over two years, TESS can cover all 360 degrees of sky visible from Earth’s orbit. Our previous satellite called Kepler could only scan a small segment of the sky. Already Tess has identified over 300 probable exoplanets including one named HD 21749b which has the lowest known temperature for a planet orbiting a bright nearby star. (“Nearby” being 53 light-years away.)

The problem with this is that what astronomers consider “cool” is not cool from our standpoint. The surface temperature of HD 21749b is 150 degrees Celsius, which is way too hot for liquid water. (Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.) A year on that planet equals 36 Earth days as it makes a complete orbit around its star. Most of the other exoplanets found at this time are vastly hotter than HD 21749b.

Astronomers have found other planetary systems, but they again have properties that would preclude any kind of life. Some of them have a planetary density equal to that of pure water. Some have orbits that are highly eccentric. Pi Mensae b, for example, has an orbit that varies widely. Its closest distance to its star approximately equals the distance from Earth to our Sun. The longest distance is similar to Jupiter’s distance from the Sun.

All of this continues to tell us that Earth is a unique planet orbiting a unique star. It is possible that those stars with exoplanets are undergoing an evolutionary process that could result in Earth-like planets billions of years from now. As we study them, we are learning more and more about what God did to create the “heaven and the earth.” God’s power and design become more amazing to us as we learn more about the universe. The more we learn, the more we see what Frank C. Baxter, who hosted the old Bell System Science TV Series, called “the wonder-working hand that has gone before us.”
–John N. Clayton © 2019

If you would like the nostalgia of watching Frank Baxter in the Bell System Science Series click HERE or HERE.

Heat Transfer Design

Heat Transfer Design
During this time when record cold temperatures have covered much of the United States, we should consider the design of heat transfer. One of the evidences for the existence of God is the wisdom built into the physical creation that makes it possible to move energy. God created a system of heat transfer design that is far more complex than most of us realize or can imagine.

The primary source of heat for the surface of our planet is the Sun. The question is how heat from the Sun can travel 93 million miles to Earth through what is essentially a vacuum. Realize that there is no substance between the Sun and us, so the heat can’t travel by contact. Atoms are constructed in such a way that they release excess energy by generating small energy packets called photons. Photons from the Sun carry the energy to Earth.

Photon particles are very strange. They have an electric property and a magnetic property, so they are called electromagnetic radiation. Photons have no thickness. They are two dimensional, vibrate with a frequency, and can exist only if they are moving. If you stop a photon, it disappears, and its energy is absorbed by whatever it struck.

Because photons are particles, they can travel across the vacuum of space from the Sun to the Earth. Their vibration frequency determines how we perceive them. We have different names for the frequencies. Xrays, gamma rays, ultraviolet, infrared, radio waves, and visible light are different only in their frequencies. The higher the frequency, the more energy is involved. Gamma rays have a much higher frequency than visible light, so they pack more energy.

Everything radiates some energy, even our bodies, but this is just one way heat is transferred. Besides radiation, heat transfer design also involves conduction and convection. We take for granted the various ways in which heat is transmitted in and around us, but the complexity of heat transfer design is amazing. It is that design which allows us to exist on this planet. We will look at the other two heat transfer methods tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Comets and Cats

Comets and Cats
More than five years ago there was an event that reminded us of a comparison of comets and cats. The media proclaimed comet ISON “the comet of the century.” Experts predicted that it would outshine the full moon. Some said that it would be visible in daylight. Astronomy magazine predicted that it could “become the brightest comet ever seen by anyone now alive.” Excitement was in the air as people waited to see this remarkable comet in the fall of 2013. What happened to it?

Comets have been described as dirty snowballs in space. They consist of water ice, other frozen gasses, and rocks orbiting through the solar system. When they pass near the Sun, the solar radiation vaporizes the solids, and the vapor reflects the sunlight creating a visible ball called a coma. The solar wind causes the appearance of a tail pointing away from the Sun.

The comet that brought such excitement was named ISON after the International Scientific Optical Network based in Russia that initially discovered it. Because its perihelion (closest passage to the Sun) was going to be only 1.8 million kilometers in November of 2013, astronomers expected it to be a rare and “dazzling” sight. However, as the comet came close to the Sun, it disintegrated. What was left instead of being “fifteen times brighter than the full moon” was almost, or entirely, invisible to the naked eye. Star-gazers were disappointed.

Famed comet hunter David Levy made the statement: “Comets are like cats. They have tails, and they do precisely what they want.” Yes, comets and cats are unpredictable. However, one thing we know is that the design of our solar system makes it unlikely that one will collide with Earth. What the Sun doesn’t stop, the “comet sweeper” giant outer planets will—especially Jupiter which captured one of the comets that David Levy discovered. Although Levy said that comets do what they want, it might be more accurate to say that comets do what God wants.
–Roland Earnst ©2019

Gravity Force and Life

Gravity Force and Life
Four fundamental forces impact our lives: electromagnetic force, strong and weak nuclear forces, and gravity force. We couldn’t live without them. More than that, we couldn’t live without them being exactly what they are and carefully balanced against each other.

Gravity is the weakest by far. For example, the strong nuclear force is 10 to the 38th power stronger than gravity. That is one followed by 38 zeroes. That strong nuclear force holds the nucleus of atoms together, but it acts over very short distances within the atom. The gravity force acts on larger objects over much greater distances.

If gravity were as strong as any of the other three forces, it would crush you and everything else as well! Because gravity is relatively weak, you can stand and walk. But it’s strong enough that you can also jump without flying off into space. Gravity holds our planet together. It also holds Earth in orbit around the Sun at the right distance to allow life to exist. Gravity keeps our Moon in orbit around Earth, and the Moon’s gravity stabilizes Earth’s rotation and causes the tides which clean our ocean shores.

Gravity is also a major force in our weather, causing air masses to move as their density changes. A stronger force of gravity would create strong and destructive winds. Gravity even makes plants grow upward no matter which direction you place the seed in the ground.

As matter moves around in the cosmos, it’s attracted to other matter by gravity. Gravity formed the stars and planets. Planets are spherical because gravity force pulls them into that shape. It is also the gravity force that pulls hydrogen molecules together to form stars. When the hydrogen molecules reach enough mass, the gravity force squeezes them tightly enough to cause nuclear fusion. The fusion of hydrogen atoms turns them into the essential heavier elements that make up planets and our bodies.

The gravity force is just right to make the universe, stars, planets, and life possible. If it had been slightly more or less, none of these things would exist. We think the precision of the forces of nature is not an accident, but the design of a wise God.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Membrane Structure and Water – A Response

Membrane Structure and Water
In our January 10, 2019 post we discussed attempts to redefine life. Some scientists are doing that to justify the assumption that there are massive amounts of life in the cosmos. Is that true? We have pointed out that the Bible is silent on this subject. However, this question brings up some other issues about membrane structure and water. Dr. Phillip Eichman is a scientist with a Ph.D. in biology who has written many articles for our printed journal. He also wrote a book titled Understanding Evolution: A Christian Perspective. He made this observation of our previous post.

“I found your blog about the search for non-water-based life forms interesting. I took a course at IUPUI (Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis) called “Biological Membranes.” We spent a whole semester studying the structure and function of different types of biological membranes. It was one of the best courses that I have taken, and it really helped to pull a lot of things together.

“The professor had been a student or post-doc of Sidney Fox and was very critical of his proteinoid microsphere theory. He (my prof) believed that any life form must have a lipid membrane to survive.

“If you think about it, water is as essential to the formation of a membrane as are the phospholipids. It’s that hydrophobic/hydrophilic interaction that allows the membrane to form. Those compounds you mentioned are all aliphatic hydrocarbons and are nonpolar, so they won’t form any type of membrane like what we know about on Earth.

“When I was teaching even basic courses like Fundamentals of Biology, I spent a lot of time on the nature of the water molecule and also on membrane structure. Biology just doesn’t make sense without understanding those things.

“They may find something out there with a different type of membrane, but I will wait to see it myself. I used to tell my students that the membrane keeps the inside in and the outside out. Without that, a cell as we know it just won’t work.

“P.S. I wrote a short article on membrane structure 20+ years ago. It has been cited several times even though it was in an obscure journal. It is still accessible even though it is probably dated now. Here is the link: http://shipseducation.net/9-2/membrane.htm

–John N. Clayton and Phillip Eichman © 2019

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere
A cosmic coincidence took place on November 5, 2018. It had to do with our Sun and two probes that NASA sent into space.

To the average person, the solar system refers to our Sun and the eight (or nine) orbiting planets. However, between Mars and Jupiter there are asteroids and beyond the planets there dwarf planets and smaller bodies called planetesimals. So where is the edge of the solar system?

A bubble surrounds the solar system which scientists call the heliosphere. The Sun sends out charged plasma particles called the solar wind. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from most harmful effects of the solar wind, but we can see the effect of that “wind” as it ionizes molecules in the upper atmosphere creating the aurora we call the northern and southern lights. There is a limit to how far the solar wind reaches, and that is the outer edge of the heliosphere bubble. NASA’s Voyager 2 reached it on November 5.

Also on November 5, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe reached the inner edge of the heliosphere by flying toward the Sun. The fact that both probes arrived at the extreme boundaries of the heliosphere at the same time was not and could not be planned by the scientists at NASA. We would have to call it a cosmic coincidence.

NASA launched Voyager 2 forty-one years earlier in 1977. On its journey out of the solar system, it flew past and took pictures of all four gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). In late August of 2018, its plasma detectors, called Faraday cups, began to indicate that it was reaching the edge of the heliosphere. After 310 days of crossing that boundary, scientists determined that it passed out of the solar wind on November 5. Earth is about 93 million miles (150 million km ) from the Sun. Voyager 2 had reached 120 times Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Meanwhile, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on August 12, 2018, and it traveled toward the Sun. In three months it arrived at the Sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona. Parker’s job is to investigate how the solar wind originates. Scientists want to know how the Sun’s superheated atmosphere generates the solar wind plasma and blasts it into space at speeds of a million-plus miles per hour.

So, the cosmic coincidence is that two NASA probes launched 41 years apart arrived at almost the same time at the outer and inner limits of the heliosphere. Their mission is to give us new information about our solar system. Their arrival at the same time was a pure cosmic coincidence. The marvelous system they are investigating and that supports life on this planet is certainly not a coincidence. It shows the power and wisdom of the Creator.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Alien Life Without Water

Is Alien Life Without Water Possible?
For all of my life, there have been articles, videos, and public presentations claiming that there must be life elsewhere in the universe. Now that we know there are thousands of planets in the creation, we see attempts to maintain that with so many planets there must be life somewhere. Scientists are even speculating alien life without water.

We need to remember that the Bible doesn’t say that this is the only planet where God created life, so this is not a biblical issue. The latest attempts to expand the window of what life is has rejuvenated the need to show the design built into the development of life. Life on Earth is based on carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. The National Science Foundation has just funded a three-year program at Saint Louis University to explore what building blocks might be used to make a different kind of life. The chemicals they are considering are hexane, ethers, and chloroform. There is particular interest in whether these materials can form membranes that could be considered life.

The first problem is the definition of life. Life has traditionally been defined as “that which can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli and reproduce.” An extraordinary chemistry is necessary to meet all of these criteria. Water is the basic substance of life on Earth. The water molecule is polar, meaning that one end of the molecule is negative and the other end is positive. Oxygen is the negative end. Oxygen’s bonding orbitals allow the attachment of two hydrogen atoms making that end positive. This polarity allows water to dissolve other molecules. Salt, for example, is made up of sodium which is positive and chlorine which is negative. When you put salt in water, the sodium is attracted to the oxygen end of the water molecule, and the chlorine is attracted to the hydrogen end of the molecule because unlike charges attract each other. This pulls the salt molecule apart and allows the salt to dissolve. Alien life without water seems impossible.

Hydrocarbons like methane have four hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atom symmetrically. That makes the molecule non-polar and unable to dissolve salt. Numerous experiments are underway to circumvent this problem including the use of vinyl cyanide (also called acrylonitrile) which has been found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. Coming up with a formula for alien life without water will be difficult. How a substitute for oxidation would work has not even been publicized, so respiration would be an equally great challenge.

Chris Butch, a chemist of the Earth Life Institute, says “It’s like trying to build a car in your backyard out of lawnmower parts, versus having the Maserati factory build a supercar.” As science looks for something that can be called life elsewhere in the solar system, we should be impressed with the wisdom involved in the original building of life on planet Earth.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy magazine, February 2019, page 29-35.

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun
Yesterday we discussed the question of what real creation is about. Our point was that the study of real creation involves the study of how time, space, and matter/energy came into existence. Those sciences are in the embryonic stage, but they point to there being a purpose that involves wisdom and contributes to our understanding of the nature of God. One important finding of the study of creation is the critical initial mass function of the Sun.

As we study the Sun, we see that much is unique about our star. It is not just an average star of the billions formed from the “big bang” and classified in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. As we watch stars forming today and, as we look at the composition of the galaxy we live in, much stands out in our understanding of the Sun. Our mathematics indicate that there is what we call a critical initial mass function of the Sun, or IMF for short. IMF is the mass needed for star formation to take place. When stars begin to form from the material in the creation, they must have enough mass to allow gravity to fuse hydrogen into helium. If that mass isn’t there, what you have is a brown dwarf. If the mass is .08 of the solar mass, a red dwarf will form.

There are roughly 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, and 300 billion of them are red dwarfs – also called M dwarfs because of their spectral identification. There are roughly 15,000 places in our Milky Way galaxy where we see stars forming, so we can watch the way in which the IMF functions. When our Sun was formed, an IMF had to be carefully chosen so that it would produce a spectral G type star. Other star types such as O, B or F types would be too hot, too active and have too short of a lifespan. The most numerous stars in our galaxy – the red dwarfs mentioned earlier – have similar difficulties with their activity including stellar flares and coronal mass ejections. None of these types of stars can be seen as possible solar systems where life could exist.

The critical initial mass function of the Sun seems to be fine-tuned for life to exist. While we may have believed that by faith for many years, we now have scientific evidence to support that belief.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy February 2019, page 21-27.

Real Creation and Science

Real Creation and the Big Bang
In virtually all areas of science, one thing is always true. That is when we answer one question, we find many others. No area demonstrates this better than the subject of real creation.

By real creation, we mean an understanding of how the cosmos came into being out of nothing. What we are not talking about is the processes of biological change which is known as evolution. Darwinian evolution is not an alternative to creation because it is an entirely different subject. Darwinian evolution studies changes in biological systems which have already been created. It has nothing to do with the processes involved in creating the physical universe including time, space, and matter/energy.

There is massive evidence that the cosmos began in a singularity–a point of incredible temperature and density. We call that the “big bang” understanding, but science has no idea what banged or who banged it. We can describe with mathematics what happened between 10^-35 and 10^-32 seconds after that event. But quantum mechanics agrees with the biblical account that it was not a physical process which can be explained by classical physics. We can use classical physics to describe what continued the formation of the cosmos as we see it today. However, that is still not real creation because it only deals with changes in what was already created.

Astronomy magazine published an excellent article by William Jones in their February 2019 issue, page 68. Dr. Jones, a professor at Princeton University, gave a summary of how cosmologists approach the question of real creation:

“The answer is the combination of a big extrapolation and even bigger assumption based on a solid hunch and the surety of our ignorance regarding what is really going on. The truth is, everything about the early universe is speculative, and that is precisely why we study it.”

Dr. Jones then goes on to explain what our current guesses are and what we base them on. For those of us with a scientific interest and background, this kind of study helps us comprehend the nature and power of God. We hope to learn more about the processes involved in preparing a place for us creatures created in God’s image to exist as we transition to the dimension where it all started.

In addition to helping us comprehend God’s nature, these studies help us see the wisdom of God and His planning. Proverbs 8:22-32 brings us to understand wisdom’s role in real creation. Tomorrow we will take a look at the intricacies of making a star and placing it so that life can exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Design Is an Illusion – Not

Design Is an Illusion – Not
If you read our posts and publications regularly, you probably know that we are continually talking about design in the universe, on our planet, and especially in living things. We think that it is impossible to look at life and say that we see no design. However, some people can see the same things and say design is an illusion. They are willing to accept on faith that everything came into existence out of nothing and evolved by pure accident with no intelligence involved.

One person who refuses to see design in nature is a very well-known evolutionary biologist. Richard Dawkins has written several best-selling books that are supposed to be on the subject of biology. However, they are actually books on theology. The high point (or low point) of his books on theology is The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin 2006). He travels the world giving lectures on theology, under the guise of biology.

Dawkins’ field of study is biology, not theology, so we take his pronouncements with a grain of salt. However, even Dawkins has to admit that his biological studies appear to show design. In his book The Blind Watchmaker he wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” However, he then goes into theology by stating that design is an illusion and there is no designer. That means there is no ultimate purpose in life beyond day-to-day survival. In River Out of Eden Dawkins wrote, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good…”

No design, no purpose, no evil, and no good—that’s the way Dawkins describes the living things he has spent his life studying. Life, of course, includes human beings—you and I. If Dawkins is right, why should he study living things, or why should we? What is the purpose of using our purposeless lives to study purposeless things? Perhaps Dawkins has found his purpose in theology as he endeavors to convince everyone that there is no God.

As we think about this, we have to be amazed at how incredibly ironic the Dawkins delusion is. In the meantime, we will continue to admire the design we see in the world and pay homage to the Designer. Faced with the Dawkins challenge that design is an illusion, we choose to believe our eyes–and our common sense.
–Roland Earnst © 2018