M Dwarf Exoplanets

Imagined M Dwarf Exoplanets
One of the interesting scientific discoveries of the past decade has been that there are planets orbiting other stars (called exoplanets) and that many of these planets may have temperatures that would allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. There has been a special interest in M dwarf exoplanets.

In theory, all stars could have a possible planet in a zone where the temperatures would be between zero and 100 degrees Celcius. However, that zone could be very small, and there are many factors required to make life possible, and many that would make life impossible. In an article in Science News dated June 24, 2017, (page 18) some of those factors were mentioned. They include stellar flares, gravitational locking, and especially the life expectancy of the star.

Stars age and the period during which their habitable zone could exist in a stable form is very short. M dwarf stars are held up as having long enough lifetimes for water to exist and biological processes to take place. Since they are the most common type of star in the Milky Way (70% of all the stars in our galaxy) scientists are studying them closely. We have reported before on one of them called TRAPPIST-1.

As more data comes in, it is becoming apparent that although M dwarf exoplanets remain as they are for very long times, they are still not stable enough to sustain life. Scientists hoping to find another “earth” orbiting another star are learning that M dwarfs are not good candidates even though they have some of the conditions necessary for life.

As we have said before, if God wanted to, He could create life elsewhere in the universe. However, the special nature of Earth continues to be more apparent the more we learn. As we learn more about the universe, we see more clearly that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Listening for E.T. Continues

Listening for E.T.
The media seems to be obsessed with the quest to find life in outer space. They are especially interested in a “Mr. Spock” type of life–human in appearance but with super powers. SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has been going on now for almost 60 years. Billionaire Yuri Milner has committed $10 million dollars per year until 2025 to keep the SETI project listening for E.T.

We have pointed out many times that finding life in space would not invalidate Christianity or the Bible in any way. Humans seem to be dedicated to finding an alternative to God’s way as revealed in His Word. Many seem to believe that finding an advanced alien civilization would be such an alternative.

The September 2017, issue of Astronomy magazine, has an interesting article by associate editor John Wenz. The article on pages 34 and 35 is cleverly illustrated with cartoons by Theo Cobb. It shows 16 different “alien” cases that all turned out not to be messages from E.T. Wenz traces the misguided attempts to find alien signals from outer space that would indicate intelligent life out there wanting to interact with Earthlings. He goes back to 1960 when SETI’s first project called OZMA claimed to have received a signal from Epsilon Aurigae, a star about 2,000 light-years from Earth. The team, including Frank Drake who founded SETI, thought that they were receiving a signal from space, but it turned out to be terrestrial in origin.

Again, this is not an apologetic issue, but it does show the desire of humans to find a better existence. We would suggest the better existence comes from reading and understanding God’s Word, not from seeking alien help in straightening out the mess we have made. Those listening for E.T. may be waiting for another 60 years–or perhaps thousands.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Toxic Martian Cocktail

Toxic Martian Cocktail
Mars researchers have discovered a new issue in their attempts to find life on Mars—a toxic Martian cocktail.

One reason scientists believed that life might be possible on Mars was that tests from Martian soil samples show chemicals that are a potential energy source for bacteria. However, because Mars has such a thin atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation levels are very high. A Recent sampling of the Martian soil has also shown that it contains perchlorates, which are toxic to living cells. An article in Scientific Reports on Nature.com said that the UV rays combined with perchlorates as well as iron oxide and hydrogen peroxide together give what the researchers are calling a “toxic cocktail.” The bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which is often found in spacecraft and can survive extreme conditions of space, is wiped out in 30 seconds when exposed to this cocktail.

In other words, the surface soil on Mars can kill living cells. On July 6 Popular Science reported on these findings and indicated that you would have to go six feet below ground to get away from this toxic mix. Surface expressions of life on Mars are almost certainly not going to be found. Deep underground testing is the only possibility for finding life on Mars.

The mass media often oversimplifies what it takes to make life possible on a planet. This oversimplification continues to be bombarded by the facts. Just being in the zone where water can exist as a liquid, called the “habitable zone,” doesn’t qualify a planet as a dwelling place for life. The “uninhabitable zone” keeps getting larger.

The number of variables that have to be tweaked to allow life continues to grow as scientists make new discoveries. The toxic Martian cocktail is another factor that has generally been ignored. God’s creation shows the hand of a Master Engineer arranging all of the variables that make life possible to create the unique planet on which we live.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Chaos Mathematics and Solar System Design

Chaos Mathematics and the Solar System
One of the ongoing mysteries about the solar system is the question of how the orbits of the planets and other objects function. If the solar system consisted of only the Sun and the Earth, the motion of the Earth could be easily calculated by a simple formula. When you add other planets and moons, all tugging and pulling on Earth in different ways at different times, no simple mathematical formula explains what is taking place. The solar system seems to be incredibly stable, but why should that be? Chaos mathematics helps us see design in the solar system.

For hundreds of years, astronomers and mathematicians have wrestled with the questions that relate to the consistency of the solar system. Why does Mars not get pulled out of its orbit and crash into Earth? Why does Earth not drift closer to the Sun when it is pulled on by the gravitation of the inner planets? How does the Moon’s gravity affect Earth’s orbit and rotation?

Modern computers have given us spectacular advances in understanding planetary motions. The simple calculation gets complicated when you add a second planet to the solar system. With three objects tugging on each other and the Earth no longer follows a precisely elliptical orbit. Earth experiences different gravitational pulls at different times depending on the distances between the objects. With each planet, moon, and even asteroid the calculations become more difficult.

Since no simple formula accurately describes the planetary motions, French astronomer Jacques Lasker and others have used an advanced technique called chaos mathematics. The term chaos in this application does not mean a disorderly system. Chaos refers to situations in which the behavior of a dynamic system depends sensitively on the initial variables that control the final outcome. In this case, each of the planetary gravitational effects is written as an equation called a differential equation. By carrying all of the equations out to include many variables and then averaging the equations, Lasker was able to describe the orbits very successfully. Other scientists have found that adding other influences such as the effects of relativity increase the accuracy and predicted stability of Earth’s orbit.

The importance of this work is that it shows why the solar system consists of many objects and not just the Earth and Sun. A resonant system of gravitational forces is needed to keep the stability and consistency of our orbit around the Sun. Chaos theory and the use of computers that can do incredibly complicated calculations have opened the door to a better understanding of our complex solar system.

Romans 1:19-22 tells us that we can know that there is a God through the things He has made. Psalms 19:1 and Isaiah 40:26 tell us to examine the heavens and see the handiwork of God. Chaos mathematics tells us that the initial state is crucial to the outcome. God established the initial state which has given us our present stable solar system.

The more we learn of the creation, the more we learn of the Creator. Chaos theory in mathematics shows us the wisdom and planning built into the orbit of our planet around the Sun.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Dark Matter and Black Holes

Dark Matter and Black Holes
Dark matter is the glue that holds our universe together. We have discussed a variety of ways that dark matter is critical to the existence of our solar system and of galaxies in general. We have also reported on unsuccessful experiments to try to find that mysterious dark matter. We have discussed the concept of WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) and the idea of attempting to see dark matter by smashing protons together. Now scientists think there may be a connection between dark matter and black holes.

A new study reported in Scientific American (July 2017, page 39-) reports that primordial black holes are now appearing to be the cause of dark matter. The computer model shows that when the creation process usually called “the big bang” took place, seeds of primordial black holes were produced. Those black holes could cause all of the phenomena that we observe and attribute to dark matter. This would be a much simpler cause of the dark matter than previous models would indicate. Dark matter would be a bi-product of the creation process.

From an apologetic standpoint, this is very interesting. God’s power is so great that when He applied that power in the creation process, massive numbers of primordial black holes were produced. If this hypothesis is correct, it tells us something of the power of God and explains the structure we see in the cosmos. It will be interesting to see if future research will confirm or deny this new observation.

The authors of the research document into dark matter and black holes are Juan Garcia-Bellido and Sebastien Clesse.
The Scientific American article is here.
The scientific document is available here.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Jupiter Comet Shield

Jupiter Comet Shield
Jupiter Struck by Shoemaker-Levy 9

There is a significant amount of debris left over from the formation of the solar system existing in clouds outside the solar system. That debris eventually gets attracted toward the Sun. In 1992 scientists observed Jupiter pulling the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 apart and breaking it into more than 20 pieces which eventually slammed into Jupiter’ surface in 1994. We learned that we have a Jupiter comet shield to protect our planet.

It is obvious that Jupiter is essential to the survival of life on Earth if for no other reason than the shield it gives us. Right now a spacecraft named Juno is orbiting Jupiter and sending back data and pictures that are amazing. The spacecraft has made five elliptical orbits since last July dipping to within 2100 miles of Jupiter’s atmosphere, collecting data, and taking photographs. ScienceNews.org has some of the amazing pictures.

Here are some things we have learned about Jupiter:

*Polar cyclones 900 miles wide circle the planet.

*Jupiter has a powerful magnetic field about ten times stronger than Earth’s.

*Powerful auroras work in the polar areas of the planet but are different from what we observe on Earth in both structure and function.

*There is a concentrated band of ammonia near the planet’s equator.

There is still much to learn about this giant planet. The observations we are making assist us in understanding how the solar system was formed. They also show us what affect Jupiter has on us today as well as in the future. Psalms 19:1 tells us that “The Heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork.” It is an exciting time to be alive and to watch as we use new tools to understand the creation and how God has given us a Jupiter comet shield.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Galactic Collision Is Coming!

Andromeda Galaxy on Galactic Collision Course
Andromeda Galaxy

A skeptic remarked to me, “If a wise God created the universe, it would have been designed better. Our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy are on a galactic collision course. They are going to smash into each other and tear each other apart. That’s the end of life on Earth. You’re God must not be very smart.” What could I say? Yes, it’s true that astronomers have determined that there will be a galactic collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies resulting in the destruction of both. But there is more to the story.

Recently I read an article about scientists who are studying two black holes that appear to be orbiting each other 750 million light-years from Earth. The scientists are watching them to see what will happen when two black holes collide as they spin into each other. The reason for the scientists’ curiosity is they want to know what will happen when the black holes in the center of the Milky Way and Andromeda come together. (It seems that most galaxies have black holes in their center.) Of course, the center of the galaxies will not meet until long after the outer spirals have destroyed each other, and Earth as well. Still, the scientists want to know what will happen when black holes collide. Will they swallow each other and become a super-super-massive black hole? Will they disappear? Who knows?

The scientists have been watching those distant orbiting black holes for about 12 years now. How much longer will they have to wait to find the answer? They estimate that those black holes orbit each other every 24,000 years. How many orbits will it take for them to converge in a catastrophic explosion of energy? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. The bottom line is that it’s going to take a lot longer than 12 years, or even 12 hundred, or 12 thousand, or maybe even 12 million. The scientists working on the project will not be around to learn the answer.

Let’s get back to the expected Milky Way-Andromeda catastrophy. When will it happen? Oh, let’s say in a billion years or so. We have many more important things to worry about than the coming galactic train-wreck. So why was the skeptic saying that there can’t be an all-wise, loving, and powerful God because our two galaxies may be destroyed in a billion years? That’s a very weak excuse for not believing in God. The point is that God never intended for this universe and our planet to last forever. He even told us so. (See 2 Peter 3:10-12.) God had a specific plan in mind to give us a chance to learn to love and serve him and to grow toward becoming the people he called us to be. There is a much better universe coming. (You can read about it in Revelation 21.) There is no need to worry about a galactic collision. In the new universe: There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
–Roland Earnst © 2017

A Quiet Neighborhood is a Good Neighborhood

Beyond the Quiet Neighborhood
At a June 7 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Benjamin Hoscheit presented information gained from studying 120,000 galaxies. The study agreed with earlier findings that our Milky Way galaxy is located in the largest cosmic void that we can observe. When scientists look one billion light-years out into the universe, they find that the cosmic density becomes much greater. The conclusion they have reached is that the Milky Way is in a relatively open area of space about two billion light-years across. We live in a quiet neighborhood.

The computer image from the Millennium Simulation Project illustrates the dense filaments of dark matter stretching through space. Galaxies are mostly clumped along the filaments. The Milky Way resides in one of the voids between those strands. What are the implications of that? Galaxies tend to be in clusters, and our cluster is called the Local Group. A typical galaxy cluster will have 10,000 galaxies close together. (Close by cosmic standards.) The Local Group has only forty galaxies, and all of them are dwarf galaxies except the Milky Way and Andromeda which are medium-sized. If there were large galaxies close to us, their gravity could distort the spiral structure of the Milky Way making advanced life on Earth impossible.

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy—the only kind of galaxy capable of supporting advanced life. Star formation drives the spiral motion. Star formation requires the infusion of gas and dust which the small galaxies provide. Clusters of galaxies reside inside superclusters. Our Local Group cluster is on the outer fringe of the Virgo supercluster. If it were near the center of Virgo, the massive clusters there would absorb the Local Group and make life impossible. Also, our solar system is located in the best position within our galaxy at about two-thirds of the distance from the center. In the center of the Milky Way (and most galaxies), there is a massive black hole that would swallow our solar system if we were anywhere near it. If we were farther out in the spiral, the solar system would be subject to massive instability, again making life impossible.

Of course, Earth is also located in the solar habitable zone where we are not too close or too far from the Sun. One final thing to note is that in this cosmic void and the position in our galaxy, we are at the optimum location for observing all of the things I mentioned. We have an excellent view of the universe. We are in more than a quiet neighborhood. We are in the “Goldilocks Zone” where everything is “just right.”

You could say that we got lucky and all of these things, and many others, are merely freak accidents. We believe that God had a reason for putting us where we are, and has given us a purpose for being here.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Asteroids Have Value

Vesta, Largest of Asteroids

What happened to the dinosaurs? The prevailing theory for the extinction of dinosaurs involves an asteroid collision at Chicxulub in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Whether you accept that theory or not, there is no question that there are vast numbers of asteroids in space. They are apparently leftovers from the formation of the planets. At least nine times an asteroid has hit the earth leaving a crater that can be studied and mapped today. Some of the craters are huge. The largest is a crater 186 miles (300 km) wide in South Africa called the Vredefort crater. The question is, “Why would God allow such objects to exist knowing they could become a threat to life on Earth?”

First, we need to realize that such collisions are incredibly rare and so far they have never impacted humans. There are more than half-a-million known asteroids. The largest is Vesta (pictured) which is 329 miles (530 kilometers) in diameter. The smallest are only 33 feet (10 meters) in diameter. Objects smaller than that are called meteoroids. According to NASA, the total mass of every known asteroid is less than the mass of our Moon.

Scientists are studying their chemical composition of asteroids. What they have found is that they are very rich in rare-earth metals as well as iron, nickel, and cobalt. In the future, we may replace depleted resources on Earth by mining asteroids. Experts have estimated that the value of minerals in asteroids is in the trillions of dollars. Two American companies are gearing up to pioneer asteroid mining operations–Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.

We think too small when we think that God planned for humans to be limited by the resources of Earth. What appeared to be a threat in the past may turn out to be an incredible blessing from God in the future.
Data from Discover Magazine, July/August 2017, pages 50-51 and https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/asteroids/indepth.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Gravitational Glue

Carousel and Gravitational Glue
As scientists study the motions of things in space, a great mystery continues to grow. The fact that everything spins at very fast rates allows stability in the cosmos. Galaxies, which are island universes containing billions of stars, spin fast enough that they don’t collapse into their cores and yet they don’t fly apart. Scientists call the force that makes this possible “gravitational glue.”

If you were sitting on a carousel horse and spinning at ten rotations per second, there is no way you could hang on. You would be thrown off the carousel. Galaxies spin so fast they should fly apart, but they don’t. Attempts to explain the glue that holds them together have included exoplanets, galactic gas clouds, and black holes–all of which we can’t see. The problem is that they are all too weak to do the job.

Adding to the mystery, we see light bending as it travels through space and we call that “gravitational lensing.” There is not enough visible mass in the cosmos to bend the light as much as we observe. Massive filaments of gas connect groups of galaxies, and they are controlled by something invisible.

There are two proposals of subatomic particles that could be the cause of these mysteries. One is WIMPS, which we have discussed previously. WIMPS is an acronym for “Weakly Interacting Massive Particles.” These particles would have to be heavier than protons and neutrons. The other proposal is Axions. They would be “ghost particles” that have a low mass but are super-abundant. So far all attempts to detect either of these possible explanations have failed. To find the answer will require a very complicated detection system.

This is just one more example of why the creation of the cosmos cannot be explained by naturalistic chance. The complexity of such simple things as having a planet in a solar system within a galaxy defies any chance explanation. This complex system can better be explained by God designing from a dimension far beyond the four dimensions we see. Proverbs 8:22-32, authored by Wisdom, suggests the wisdom in the design of the universe.

The gravitational glue that holds everything together is just another wonderful creation of God that allows us to exist.
Data from: Discover Magazine July/August 2017, page76.
–John N. Clayton © 2017