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

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.

Reality of Space Travel

Reality of Space Travel and Little Green Men

Although space-travel movies are exciting and fun, they are not very realistic. Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that it’s impossible to travel at the speed of light. There is overwhelming proof that he was right. That fact has an impact on the reality of space travel.

Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross wrote an excellent book entitled Why the Universe is the Way It Is. In this book, he states that due to the laws of physics the top speed of a spaceship would be limited to about one percent of the speed of light, or 6.7 million miles (10.8 million km) per hour. Based on that, he says that for aliens to travel from any other planetary system where intelligent beings could possibly exist would take at least 25,000 years! (Remember that it will take nine months just to travel to Mars, our neighboring planet.)

So when you watch a two-hour movie in which people travel from one planetary system to another at hyper-light-speed, remember that it’s only Hollywood. The reality of space travel is not what we see in the movies. We live in a universe designed by a Creator who gave us a special place with everything we need to live. Is there any kind of life, not just intelligent life, anywhere else in this vast universe? We don’t know, but the chances of meeting intelligent beings from another planet are very, very slim. That’s the reality of space travel.

By the way, my picture is poking a little fun at a statement made by the well-known atheist biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. He begins chapter 1 by stating, “Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: ‘Have they discovered evolution yet?’”

So does discovering evolution indicate advanced civilization and the level of our intelligence? More importantly, does evolution explain the reason for our existence? Personally, I think the reason for our existence is not found in evolution, but begins in Genesis chapter 1 and is developed in the rest of the Bible.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

There Was a Beginning

There Was a Beginning

One of the strong arguments for the existence of God is the data that shows there was a beginning to time, space and matter/energy. If you admit that there was a beginning, then you have to deal with what was the cause of that beginning. There must be a causer of some kind.

Atheists have avoided this discussion in the past by saying that there was no beginning and that the cosmos is “self-existing.” One version of this self-existing concept is that the cosmos may be oscillating. The hypothesis is that the cosmos will eventually slow down, stop, and collapse on itself leading to another “big bang” to start the process over again. This oscillating model could be eternal thus avoiding the whole question of cause and causer.

There are several difficulties with the oscillating model. The most telling one is the evidence about the movement of galaxies and the cosmos as a whole. The newest data collected by NASA shows clearly that the universe is accelerating in its expansion. Data from doppler measurements at various wavelengths and further analyses of inter stellar-reddening continue to support the fact that the acceleration is not slowing down.

There are several possible causes of this acceleration. One is the shape of space. The fact that light bends when it goes around a massive object suggests that the curvature of space is causing the acceleration. Another view is that there is a “great attractor” beyond the cosmos that is producing the acceleration. A third view is that dark matter is producing the acceleration. Scientists are devising various ways to test these hypotheses. It is an exciting time to be a student of astronomy and astronomical evidence. Whatever the cause of the acceleration, it adds to the data that leads us to reject the oscillating universe theory.

Most discussions about this subject end up with the conclusion that there are dimensions outside of the X, Y, Z system which we experience. Theories like string theory suggest eleven spatial dimensions. Because there are so many possible equations to describe such a proposal, it falls more in the realm of fantasy than of testable, falsifiable science.

The evidence that there was a beginning is overwhelming. The biblical descriptions of God indicate that He is outside of space/time. Thus God is a logical answer to the question of what caused the beginning. “In the beginning, God” turns out to be a highly complex statement, but one that is strongly supported by the evidence.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Sirius Shining Brightly

Sirius Shining Brightly

On a clear night look around to find the brightest star. (Don’t get confused with planets which sometimes are more brilliant than stars.) The brightest star in the sky is Sirius.

The name comes from an ancient Greek word which means “glowing.” It’s in the constellation Canis Major which means “big dog.” Sirius is at the base of the dog’s neck. It looks bright because it’s 25 times more luminous than the Sun and is “only” 8.6 light-years away. Other stars are more luminous, but they don’t appear as bright because they are farther away from the Earth.

We see Sirius as a single star, but it’s more than that. It is actually a binary star consisting of Sirius A and Sirius B. A binary star is two stars orbiting around a central point. There are star systems composed of 2, 3, 4, or more stars orbiting each other which look like a single star to us. Astronomers estimate that half or more of the stars we see in the night sky are actually multiple star systems.

If our Sun had been part of a multiple star system, we wouldn’t be here. Imagine being on a planet orbiting a star which is orbiting one or more other stars. Gravitational forces would pull the planetary orbit apart. Days and seasons and years would be completely chaotic. Life would not be possible.

Genesis 1:14 tells us that God established the Sun and Moon to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” It’s no coincidence that we are orbiting a single star to light the day, and we are orbited by a moon to light the night. Together it is an unusual and extraordinary system. It is a gift from God.

–Roland Earnst © 2019

Vastness of Space

Vastness of Space and the Big Dipper

One of the struggles we all have in dealing with the creation of the cosmos is understanding the vastness of space. When someone tries to give a naturalistic explanation for Earth and its abundance of life, they assume that the variables necessary for the creation of life and the conditions required for life to exist have just happened naturally. Because of the number of stars and planets, they assume that the creation can be a product of blind opportunistic chance.

In 1961 Frank Drake (a founder of SETI) presented what is known as the Drake equation. It involves multiplying seven variables that are necessary for creating a planet with intelligent life by the odds of each of those variables happening by chance alone. Let’s say the odds of having one of Drake’s seven variables are 1 in a million. Those promoting chance explanations of the creation would say that since there are 100 billion stars in the galaxy in which we live, the odds are reasonable for the creation to happen by chance.

There are many problems with this equation and the chosen variables. One statistical problem is that you can’t just have one variable which is isolated from all the other variables. If there are seven variables, then they all have to be accomplished at the same time in the same place. You can’t have variable one at one place at one time, and variable two at a different place and at a different time.

We don’t seem to comprehend the vastness of space, and how isolated stars are from one another. An excellent example of this is the asterism we call the Big Dipper. Seven stars make up the Big Dipper. When seen from Earth, they seem to be close together. The fact is that the stars are nowhere near each other. Mizar, the second star from the end of the handle is 78 light years away from Earth. (A light year is how far light goes in a year – roughly 588 quadrillion miles.) Dubhe, the star at the top edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper is 124 light years away. Merak which with Dubhe makes up the pointer stars of the Big Dipper is 79 light years away from Earth and 45 million light-years from Dubhe.

The size of the cosmos is incredible, but that size does not make chance explanations of the creation accurate. Having the right size planet going around a star that is a red giant would not support life. If you had the right size planet going around a spectral G-2 star (like our Sun), it would not support life if it were located at the core or in the equatorial plane of the galaxy. All variables have to work together at the same time and place, and that is unlikely considering the vastness of space.

When wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 she says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the Earth was.” The vastness of space isolates us from the destructive forces that exist throughout the cosmos. It also reinforces the statement of Romans 1:20 which says “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”

–John N. Clayton © 2019

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