The Cords of Orion – What Are They?

Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula – NASA
cords of Orion

In the book of Job, God asks the character Job, “Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons?” What are the cords of Orion?

Since ancient times, people imagined that the asterism in the Orion constellation resembles a hunter holding a sword. The sword appears to consist of three stars. However, if you look closely, you can see that the central star is a little “fuzzy.” With a telescope, you can see that it’s not a star, but a nebula.

The picture of the Orion Nebula was taken by NASA’s Hubble space telescope. Nebulae are star factories, where clouds of dust and gas are collapsing to form stars. At “only” 1344 light-years from Earth, Orion is our closest star factory. Astronomers have observed about 700 stars in various stages of formation in the Orion Nebula.

There are many more nebulae where stars are being made today, as they have been since the universe began. These star factories are responsible for creating the billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy and beyond. They show that God is not a magician who pulls a universe out of his sleeve. God is an engineer who has designed an amazing system that makes possible everything we can see, and much more that we can’t see.

As we look at the cords of Orion, here is something to consider. God, who is outside of time, created a star factory in time, which then generated a star we call the Sun. Then He provided a home for us on the third planet from that star where we can look up and see star factories, like the Orion Nebula, at work.

— Roland Earnst © 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

All That Is Or Ever Was Or Ever Will Be

Cosmos - All That Is Or Ever Was Or Ever Will Be

“500 + amazing facts you need to know about galaxies, black holes, Einstein’s Relativity, the Big Bang, Dark Matter, and more!” Those are the words on the cover of Astronomy magazine’s special issue titled “Cosmos – Origin and Fate of the Universe.” The magazine has a great listing of discoveries made in the last decade, and it’s full of photographs, artwork, and a variety of charts. David Eicher, the magazine editor, opens the issue by quoting Carl Sagan’s famous line, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” That is Sagan’s religious view, and Eicher plugs it by ending with, “We pack it all in here, and hope you will enjoy reading, and thinking about all that ever was, or ever will be.”

The magazine’s factual matter is impressive, but the philosophical and religious beliefs raise far more questions than they answer. The size of the cosmos has been a subject of intense study. Research shows that the number of galaxies in the cosmos is at least two-trillion –10 times greater than was previously thought. That amount of mass in the cosmos means that any explanation of how the creation happened is outside of current scientific understanding. It is becoming increasingly clear that only 4.9% of the universe is made of ordinary matter. The rest is mysterious dark matter (26.8%) and dark energy (68.3%).

The magazine presents the current scientific theory of the creation process with a “puffy giant dark star” made of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS). These WIMPS collided, annihilating each other and producing a halo of dark matter and black holes. This inadequate explanation makes it clear that the universe did not come into existence on its own. There was a beginning, and that beginning was caused. The cosmos is not self-existing. Those of us who believe in God would suggest that if these theories are correct, they are just God’s tools for creation. They may explain the methods He used, but it is clear that the cosmos we see is not all that is or ever was or ever will be.

This current scientific explanation of creation has implications for other scientific fields. For example, evolution depends on a religious belief called uniformitarianism, which says that no process has operated in the past that is not going on today. Much of what the magazine discusses is not going on today.

Two things are certain from this issue of Astronomy. We know little about the creation, and we deal poorly with what we do know. It’s evident that the cosmos is not all that is or ever was or ever will be. We suggest that a periodical like this one shouts again, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalms 19:1).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Fermi Paradox – Where Is Everybody?

Fermi Paradox – Where Is Everybody? - Arecibo Message

There are billions of stars in the galaxy, so there must be billions of planets in the galaxy. For many years people have speculated that there must be intelligent life out there and even civilizations that have developed space travel. In a casual conversation among scientists in 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi asked, “If these civilizations do exist, where is everybody?” That question came to be known as the Fermi Paradox, and it led to the picture, which we will explain.

The Fermi Paradox points out the lack of any evidence for what many see as a high probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy. Since no space aliens have landed on Earth and announced their arrival, some scientists decided to search for them by electromagnetic radiation. In 1960 astronomer Frank Drake began a coordinated project which became known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Ever since then, millions (or billions) of dollars and millions of hours have been spent listening for any transmission of any intelligent beings on other planets. The results have been zero. Where is everybody?

In 1995 the SETI Institute established Project Phoenix, which concentrated only on the 800 closest stars and their planets. Working from 1995 until 2004, the project concluded that there is no species as technologically advanced as humans in the universe within 200 light-years of Earth.

Because of the laws of physics and the dangers of space, any space traveler would be limited to no more than one percent of the speed of light. (Exceeding, or even approaching the speed of light is only possible in the movies.) So traveling at maximum speed from the nearest possible location, a space alien would need 20,000 years to reach the Earth. You could add to that another 5,000 years to dodge space objects (including stars, planets, and asteroids) on the trip. So for a space alien to reach Earth would take at least 25,000 years, and probably much longer.

So what is the picture? It’s a digital representation of what is called the Arecibo message. In 1974, scientists sent out a radio message from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. They aimed it a star cluster called M13, which is 25,000 light-years away. If there is any intelligent life there able to receive and decode it, the message tells about planet Earth and humanity. (You can find the “decode” HERE.) Of course, if there are any intelligent beings in M13 wondering “where is everybody,” they should receive the message in 25,000 years.

The Fermi Paradox is still unsolved. As the leader of Project Phoenix, Peter Backus, said, “We live in a quiet neighborhood.” God, on the other hand, being unlimited by time and space (remember that He created time/space and matter/energy) is always near and ready to hear our prayers unless we are unwilling to acknowledge His existence.

— 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

Time Debate and Genesis

Time Debate and Genesis

Several years ago, I was involved in a three-way debate in California between a Young Earth Creationist, a Modern Apologist Scholar, and myself. I was supposed to present design arguments while the other two engaged in an intellectual tug-of-war over the Genesis account. I learned from that experience not to get involved in that kind of time debate again.

I have engaged in debates with atheists for over 50 years, but those debates were easy to understand, and the different views were clear. This Califonia debate was between believers. Because the subject was the integrity of the Genesis account, I used a chart that shows that the SEQUENCE of the Genesis 1 account and the fossil record are identical. The Apologist Scholar denigrated my chart by saying that the events described occurred over a 600 million year period, and, therefore, the Genesis account could not be viewed as historically accurate. The Young Earth Creationist reacted to that claim, and they engaged in a free-for-all about the time issues and the purpose of Genesis 1. The point of my chart was lost in the time debate.

Humans always get hung up on the time issues. God created time. Psalms 90:4 says, “A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night.” God is outside of time, and the Bible tells us over-and-over not to restrict Him by demanding a time-scale for what God does. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power” (Acts 1:7).

The message of Genesis is not about time. The first verse of the Bible describes an event and process that is not dated or timed. The fact that the first chapter gives an accurate account of the SEQUENCE in which God created the Earth and all that is on it is excellent evidence that it came from the Creator. Since God created time, there is no reason for us to get hung up on how long God chose to do His work.

Theologians have led us down a rocky road of ascribing dates and times to the things God has done or will do. The birth of Christ certainly did not happen on December 25. Denominations have been created by theologians who try to establish when Christ will come again and when the judgment will take place. This is even though Jesus said, “…of that day and hour knows no man, no not the angels of heaven – only my Father” (Matthew 24:36).

People want to know when things will happen so that they can be prepared, but 2 Peter 3:11 anticipates that and warns us to always be prepared. It is hard for us to comprehend the fact that time for us ends when we die. It is equally difficult to realize that God acts outside of time. Many people stumble by putting the Genesis account at odds with the scientific evidence or relegating the Bible to symbolism and mythology rather than being literally true. Don’t get caught up in the time debate and make time an enemy of faith in the God of love, truth, and wisdom portrayed in His Word.

— John N. Clayton © 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

Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the distance to stars is not as hard as you might think. As an earth science teacher at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I enjoyed seeing a student’s eyes light up when they came to understand some scientific fact. They had thought it was beyond them, and suddenly it made sense. Knowing the distance to a star was always one of those facts. Let me show you how easy it is:

Look at a picture on the other side of the room. Hold your finger in front of your face and close one eye. Line up your finger and the object on the wall. Now close that eye and open the other eye, Does your finger appear to jump? If you drew a line between your eyes and extended a line from each eye to the picture, you would have a triangle. The apex angle at the picture is controlled by how far away it is from you. If you do the same experiment with an object that is closer, there will be a different angle.

The illustration on the right shows the Earth making its yearly orbit around the Sun. A line from the Earth to the Sun will establish a triangle. In six months, it will look like objects at the apex angle have moved. How much they will have moved depends on how far away they are. My classes do simulations of these measurements on the football field, and it becomes apparent how easy measuring the distance to stars can be.

The measurement unit astronomers use is based on how far away a star must be for the angle at the apex to be one arcsecond. We call that distance one parsec, and it is 3.26 light-years. If the parallax angle is .5 seconds of arc, the star must be 6.52 light-years away. The smaller the angle, the farther away the object is. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which has been underway since 2013, can measure the parallax angle to a millionth of a second of arc. Objects that move such a small amount are tens of thousands of light-years away.

The cosmos is much larger than most of us can imagine. The light we see from some of those stars left the stars hundreds of thousands of years ago. Measuring the distance to stars gives new meaning to passages like Isaiah 40:22: “He stretched out the heavens as a curtain and spread them out as a tent to dwell in.”

If it has taken the light from the stars God created many tens of thousands of years to get here, it is evident that the creation didn’t happen a few thousand years ago. Verses describing the process of creation are untimed and undated. Let us not allow human traditions to challenge the integrity of the Bible. God created time, and He certainly is not limited by anything He created.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Mass and Acceleration at Light Speed

Mass and Acceleration at Light Speed

Yesterday we looked at the two postulates of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. We saw how our view of time is changed by taking the two postulates and applying them to motion at or near the speed of light. Now let’s look at mass and acceleration at light speed.

Looking at the top equation, which we presented yesterday, you can see that at the speed of light, the equation’s denominator becomes 1 – 1, which is zero. Time stops. If the velocity could somehow exceed the velocity of light, the denominator would be the square root of a negative number, which is not possible.

Another one of Einstein’s equations is a description of length in the direction of motion. The second equation shows that an object’s length in motion (L’) is equal to its length at rest (L) times the quantity square root of 1 minus the velocity (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared. Thus the faster you move, the thinner you are in the direction of motion. An object one meter long at rest would be .765 meters at half the speed of light. At the speed of light, it would disappear, because it would have no length. There would be energy, but no physical length. What travels at the speed of light? The answer, of course, is light itself. Light is two-dimensional. It has no thickness in the direction in which it is moving, precisely what Einstein’s postulates predict.

Mass is another quantity that is affected by Einstein’s postulates. The equation for mass is similar to the equation for time. The mass in motion (m) equals the mass at rest (m’) divided by the square root of 1 minus the velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared. As an object moves faster, its mass increases, but it can never reach light speed. What, then, can we know about mass and acceleration at light speed?

One of the fundamental laws of physics is Newton’s Second Law. It says that when we apply force to a mass, the force (F) depends on the amount of the mass (M) and how much we want it to accelerate (A). The equation is F=MA. At the speed of light, the mass of an object would be infinite, and the force required to accelerate it to that speed would also be infinite. Because of the magnitude of the force, the mass would collapse into a black hole long before reaching light speed. So, it is not possible to achieve mass and acceleration at light speed.

Scientists have verified these formulas experimentally. When you accelerate a sub-atomic particle to a high velocity in a particle accelerator, its mass increases. So what created the mass in the first place? Infinite force – one of the properties of God. Proverbs 8:22-31 finds “Wisdom” is the tool God used for everything He created. Einstein has given us an excellent way to get a small understanding of the creation we live in and the wisdom and power of the God who created it.

— John N. Clayton © 2020