Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light - X-rays from the Whirlpool Galaxy

The Whirlpool Galaxy M51 and companion M51B. The green glow at the center of each is X-ray radiation from black holes.

The third verse of the first book in the Bible quotes God, saying, “Let there be light.” Most people don’t understand the full meaning and impact of that statement. For the past two days, we have examined how the ability to see invisible light revolutionized astronomy. First, we looked at the forms of light at frequencies below the visible spectrum. Today, let’s look at frequencies above the light we can see.

Higher frequencies mean shorter wavelengths, and electromagnetic energy above the frequency of visible light has wavelengths short enough to penetrate living cells and damage them.

Ultraviolet is the first band of light above the visible spectrum. The Hubble Space Telescope is the leader in observing ultraviolet light coming from the hot and energetic formation of young stars. Auroras on gaseous planets like Jupiter also emit ultraviolet light. The ability to see the invisible UV light helps us understand more of the process God used in creation.

Our Sun is also a source of ultraviolet light, and everyone knows UV light can cause painful sunburns. Because of its short wavelength, UV light can penetrate and damage cells resulting in skin cancer. God has given Earth an upper atmosphere ozone layer that absorbs much of the ultraviolet radiation. While protecting us from health damage, the atmosphere makes ultraviolet astronomy impossible on Earth. That’s why the Hubble Space Telescope leads in UV observation of the universe.

Above ultraviolet light, we find X-rays that are even more harmful to living cells. This band of invisible light energy can penetrate matter. Because of that, they are useful in medicine for doctors to see inside your body. However, medical X-rays must be limited because they can cause DNA mutations leading to cancer.

In astronomy, X-rays allow astronomers to study some of the hottest places in the universe, such as supermassive black holes and neutron stars. Thankfully, God has placed us far from black holes and neutron stars. However, our Sun also produces X-rays, but Earth’s atmosphere blocks X-rays. Therefore, X-ray telescopes, such as NASA’s NuSTAR mission, must be located in space.

Finally, let there be light at the top of the invisible spectrum. Astronomers use the shortest wavelength, gamma rays, to study the creation. Unfortunately, gamma rays have the highest energy and are the most dangerous to living cells. Supernova explosions release gamma rays, and space telescopes such as NASA’s Fermi and Swift can detect them. Fortunately, those gamma-ray-producing events are far from Earth. However, nuclear explosions on Earth also produce gamma rays, and the Sun occasionally produces gamma-ray flashes in solar flares.

By studying all of these forms of light, astronomers today know much more about the universe and the processes God has used to create and sustain it. As we look into the night sky, we are looking back in time and seeing the various frequencies of electromagnetic energy. It is light, both visible and invisible, and it tells us of the power and wisdom of the process that brought our planet and the life upon it into existence. Light is energy, and energy is matter (e=mc2). Knowing that, we realize what a profound statement Genesis 1:3 contains – “Let there be light.”

— Roland Earnst © 2023

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