Known Exoplanets Number 5009

Known Exoplanets Number 5009

As new space telescopes look out into the cosmos, astronomers discover more planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. NASA reports that known exoplanets number 5009. The process God used to create “heaven and earth” resulted in a lot of extra material in various forms throughout the cosmos. In 1999, astronomers discovered the first exoplanet, and since then, the number has kept growing.

At first glance, one might feel that since there are so many planets, some of them must be inhabited by sentient beings like ourselves. However, we find that is not the case when we examine the breakdown of the types of planets that astronomers have discovered. Even though known exoplanets number 5009, only 200 are worlds like Earth, made up of solid rock. The rest are gas planets like the Jovian planets Jupiter or Neptune, or they are huge solid planets with massive gravitational forces that would crush living beings. We should remind you that a world suitable for sentient life requires at least 47 other variables that we have listed in a chart you can see at THIS LINK.

When God “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), His methods involved forging massive amounts of gases and very few solid materials. Known exoplanets number 5009 now, but the number is sure to increase. Studies continue to show that our solar system and planet are unique. God’s wisdom in creating Earth the way He did becomes more evident as we explore space and realize how many resources we have available on this planet.

The “heavens declare the glory of God and the sky shows His handiwork” (Palms 19:1). We see more of His power and wisdom as our technology produces better images of the cosmos and how it was created in the beginning.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Science News April 23, 2022, and Time magazine for April11/April 18, 2022.

New Research into Bird Songs

New Research into Bird Songs

One of the adverse effects of evolutionary theory is that it closes off research that might offer important insights into animal behavior. Classic evolutionary theory says that males do what they do to secure mates. For example, a male has more color to attract females and improve the chances of securing a mate. Evolutionary theorists claim that male birds sing to secure a mate and more elaborate songs are more likely to attract females. New research into bird songs has given new insights.

Recent studies show that more than 64% of female birds in North America sing for the same reasons that male birds sing. A bird doesn’t sing only to attract a mate. Evolutionary theorists comparing bird singing to animals wearing antlers make an invalid comparison.

Territory is a significant concern for birds, and birds sing to mark territory. We have a woodpecker that drums on the flashing around our chimney, making a very loud sound. That drumming warns others of his species to stay out of the area he dominates. As I write this, a male cardinal is singing in a tree across the street, warning all other male cardinals to stay out of this region. We may think the song is purely to attract a female cardinal, but it is part of the cardinal defense mechanism.

Females also need to establish a territory. Females sing to communicate with their mates and later with their offspring. Assuming that bird singing is merely to attract a mate limits the design built into animal behavior. New research into bird songs has told us more about the singing behavior of female birds. Female bird songs have been neglected until recently, perhaps because male ornithologists were doing the research. As women became more involved in bird research and researchers paid less attention to forcing bird behavior into evolutionary theory, scientific literature has revealed new discoveries.

Since God created birds
, it is logical that He would have built into males and females the ability to communicate and secure their territory’s boundaries. As scientists conduct new research into bird songs, it reminds us of how much we have to learn about living things. We wonder what other things scientists will discover about animal behavior if they can overcome misunderstandings based on the evolutionary assumption of “survival of the fittest.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Scientific American May 2022, page 10.

Medical Challenges of Space Travel

Medical Challenges of Space Travel
NASA Kennedy Space Center

Space exploration presents many challenges, but the medical challenges of space travel may dwarf the technical challenges. Spending lengthy sojourns on the International Space Station (ISS) has already shown some of the problems that future space travelers will face.

One problem astronauts face is space anemia caused by a lack of red blood cells. On Earth, the human body makes two million red blood cells every second to replace the ones that are lost. In space, the astronauts’ bodies lose three million red blood cells each second, and they must replace those cells. Anemia results from a shortage of the red blood cells needed to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. It causes fatigue, dizziness, and weakness.

Space anemia was well-known, but scientists thought the body would adapt and correct the problem after an extended time in space. Unfortunately, a recent study of 13 astronauts has shown that it is not corrected after six months on the ISS. Furthermore, it took three to four months to restore a near-normal red blood count after the astronauts returned to Earth. There was still a thirty percent greater loss of red blood cells even after that.

A new study on cosmonauts in the ISS shows another area of concern. Scientists studied the brains of twelve cosmonauts just before and after their space flights and again seven months after they returned to Earth. They used computer reconstruction of data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the structure (gray matter) and connectivity (white matter) in the brain. The research showed shape changes in the brain, especially in the corpus callosum, a large bundle of nerve fibers that connect the brain’s two hemispheres. In addition, researchers detected “changes in the neural connections between several motor areas of the brain.” But, perhaps, the most concerning is that in the brain scans taken seven months after the cosmonauts returned to Earth, the changes to the brain were still present.

A journey to Mars and back will take more than twenty months. During that space flight, astronauts will need protection from radiation, food for proper nourishment, and to replenish red blood cells while they experience “rewiring” of their brains. The many medical challenges of space travel remind us how blessed we are that God has given us the perfect planet to call home.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: EurekAlert.org and Frontiers In Neural Circuits

Newly Discovered Human Body Parts

Newly Discovered Human Body Parts

It would be an understatement to say that medical science has learned many things about the human body. But, at the same time, it would be correct to say that we have much more to learn. Recently, scientists have reported two newly discovered human body parts.

One of the recent discoveries is located inside the passageways of the lungs and plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the respiratory system. Researchers found some unique cells they named respiratory airway secretory cells (RAS). They discovered the RAS cells in the lung’s delicate, branching passageways known as bronchioles. Tiny air sacs called alveoli located at the tips of the bronchioles remove carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen in the blood vessels. The RAS cells are designed to transform into new alveoli cells to replace ones that become damaged. When pollution causes damage, the RAS cells stand ready to come to the rescue. But, of course, humans sometimes abuse their lungs by smoking or vaping, which can cause more damage than the RAS cells can correct.

The other recently discovered body part is critical for chewing our food. The masseter muscle raises the lower jaw as we chew. Medical scientists knew that there were two muscle layers inside the masseter. However, researchers have found a third muscle layer deep inside the masseter. They said that the newly discovered layer helps stabilize the lower jaw and is the only part of the masseter that can pull the jawbone backward. The researchers propose to name this muscle layer the “Musculus masseter pars coronidea.” Perhaps we can abbreviate that to MMPC.

When science assumed that anatomical research had discovered every part of the human body, they found something new. Both of these discoveries can benefit medical treatments. The RAS cells may lead to new therapies for lung damage. Knowing the existence of the MMPC may help doctors when performing surgery on the jaw region. Finding these newly discovered human body parts indicates that we still have more to learn about our “fearfully and wonderfully made” bodies (Psalms 139:14).

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: Nature.com and ScienceDirect.com

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars
Oak Trees are Keystone Superstars

As we think of the design of life in our world, we tend to focus on animals, birds, and fish. As scientists study the things that support these life forms, it becomes apparent that all land life on this planet depends on keystone plants and caterpillars. Plants capture solar energy during photosynthesis, but how that energy gets into a bird or other animal is primarily through caterpillars.

Caterpillars transfer more energy from plants than any other form of life. Ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds depend on the protein-packed bodies of caterpillars for food. Most of us are familiar with monarch butterflies that deposit their eggs on milkweeds because they are the only plants their caterpillars can eat. North America has 17,000 native plant species, and having a caterpillar that can eat plants from only the milkweed genus is very rare. Some plants are called “keystone” plants because they support many different caterpillars and other species.

The superstars of the keystone plants are the oak trees that provide food for 952 species of butterfly/moth (Lepidopteran) caterpillars. In addition to that, nesting birds, woodpeckers, squirrels, and other animals survive because of oak trees. A single oak tree will support tens of thousands of individual species of life in its lifetime. Goldenrod is another keystone plant, and it blooms from late summer to fall when other plants can’t support caterpillars. There are more than 100 goldenrod species in America, and they support both caterpillars and bees.

North American ecosystems are designed so that caterpillars are available to support birds and other caterpillar eaters. God’s intricate design of life is evident in keystone plants and caterpillars that eat them, transferring energy from the Sun to many birds and other animals.

As we learn about the creation we live in, we see more and more examples of God’s wisdom in design that sustains all life and speaks of the complexity of what may appear to be simple things.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife, April-May 2022, pages 29-35.

One Daily Drink Can Shrink Your Brain

One Daily Drink Can Shrink Your Brain

A new study in the U.K. shows that even light alcohol consumption harms the human brain. The study involved more than 36,000 participants between 40 and 69. The conclusion was that as little as one daily drink can shrink your brain.

Many studies have shown that drinking alcohol has long-term effects on cardiovascular and brain function. Chronic excessive alcohol consumption contributes to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, accelerated aging, and malnutrition. However, some earlier studies suggested that limited alcohol consumption might benefit your health. The researchers involved in this study wanted to determine the effect of small to moderate alcohol consumption. The results were surprising.

The 36,678 participants reported their alcohol consumption, and the researchers performed an MRI scan on their brains. Researchers grouped the subjects by average daily intake of one, two, or three or more alcohol units–or none. A unit was about eight ounces of beer or three ounces of wine. The researchers adjusted for age, genetic ancestry, and sex.

Those who consumed even one alcohol unit per day showed noticeable differences in the brain structure, especially in the brain stem, putamen, and amygdala. Those areas regulate heart rate, breathing, learning, motor control, and processing of emotions. The regions of white and gray matter in the brain shrank exponentially with increased alcohol consumption. The brain’s gray matter is that area that processes information, and the white matter enables communication between gray matter regions. One daily drink can shrink your brain, leading to decreased cognitive ability.

The more units of alcohol consumed, the more significant were the differences compared to those who drank no alcohol. For example, for people who reported drinking three alcoholic units per day, their brains appeared to be 3.5 years older than those who drank none. For those who drank four units, their brains aged by ten years.

Interestingly, the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men limit their consumption to two drinks per day. This study shows that one daily drink can shrink your brain. So the bottom line is that if you want your brain to stay young longer, avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

You can read the complete study with charts on Nature Communications at THIS LINK.

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth
Electron Microscope View of New Diatom Species Epithemia pelagica

We seldom think about the importance of microscopic organisms. Diatoms are essential for life on Earth because they generate 20-30% of the oxygen we breathe. They are single-celled algae with a cell wall made of silica. In March 2022, the National Science Foundation announced the discovery of two unique diatom species in the waters around Hawaii.

Diatoms live in the oceans and waterways. You may be familiar with diatomaceous earth, which has many commercial uses, including pest control in organic gardening. It consists of the empty silica shells that diatoms leave behind. In addition to generating oxygen, diatoms are essential for life as part of the food chain in the oceans.

Like green plants, diatoms need nitrogen to grow. Marine diatoms thrive in nutrient-rich ocean areas such as the Gulf of Mexico. However, the open ocean waters around Hawaii lack significant nitrogen nutrients. Ocean waters contain dissolved nitrogen gas, but the diatoms can’t use it. These two species of diatoms solve that problem by having a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. These bacteria do not contain chlorophyll for photosynthesis, but they can extract nitrogen from ocean water and convert it to ammonia. In turn, the diatoms can use the nitrogen from the ammonia. In a symbiotic relationship, the newly discovered diatom species take the nitrogen-fixing bacteria into their shells to nurture their own personal nitrogen generators.

We have mentioned many symbiotic relationships before, but here is a microscopic one. Diatoms are essential for life because they provide much of the oxygen we breathe. This symbiotic relationship between diatoms and bacteria is another example of God’s wisdom and design for life. Everywhere we look, we see that God has designed and implemented systems that sustain life in all kinds of environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation

The Incredible Journeys of Birds

The Incredible Journeys of Birds - Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

One of the great examples of design that we see in the natural world is the ability of birds to migrate thousands of miles from one area of the world to another. In the past, we have reviewed several of these incredible journeys of birds.

Bar-tailed godwits hold the record, with some individuals traveling over 8100 miles without food or rest and covering 7000 miles one way in nine days. We are also amazed by Hudsonian godwits, arctic terns, and many other birds. Even the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is amazing, flying 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop with wings beating 50 times per second.

Our knowledge of bird migration has improved with the advent of microchips and new technology to track movements and analysis of bird DNA. Even so, there are still unanswered questions. For example, how do birds prepare their bodies for flight? How do birds know when to migrate? How do migrating birds find their way? How do birds sleep on long migratory flights? These are just a few of many questions researchers are looking to answer about the incredible journeys of birds.

The National Audubon Society published a special issue of their excellent magazine for spring 2022. This issue is the best we have seen on the design and behavior of birds. It is impossible to read through this magazine and not be impressed with the wisdom and design built into the world of birds. It also challenges us to realize the importance of caring for God’s creatures as human encroachment threatens many birds’ survival.

In Job 39:13-18 and 26 – 30, God challenges Job to understand His creation, including birds. Scientists are still feeling that challenge today. We are just beginning to know how much design is built into the incredible journeys of birds.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

For more on this go to audubon.org or read their article on bird migration.

Methane and Life on Other Planets

Methane and Life on Other Planets

Astronomers are constantly looking for signs of life on other planets or moons. One of the potential clues they seek is methane, a hydrocarbon gas consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It is classified as a “greenhouse gas” because it can trap heat on Earth’s surface resulting in “global warming.” It’s a more effective greenhouse gas than the much-discussed carbon dioxide. Methane is produced by organic decomposition and in the digestion process of ruminants such as cows and other animals. Scientists seek to learn more about a possible connection between methane and life on other planets.

Since living things create methane, scientists regard it as a potential “biosignature” indicating life on an astronomical body. For that reason, astronomers are searching for methane on planetary bodies. News reports have sometimes gone overboard with stories about methane and life on other planets. However, not all methane is created biologically. Volcanic eruptions can release methane gas, and even asteroid impacts can add methane to a planet’s atmosphere. So how can scientists tell if the methane is a sign of life on a body far out in space?

For one thing, gasses from a volcano would contain not only methane but also carbon monoxide. The biological creation of methane would consume carbon monoxide. When examining the gasses in a planet’s atmosphere, a large amount of BOTH methane and carbon monoxide would probably indicate that the methane was not a biosignature. Methane alone would be a more likely indicator of the possibility of life.

However, an abundance of methane without carbon monoxide would not prove the existence of life on a planet. As we have said before, many factors are required to make a planet suitable for any kind of life, especially advanced life. NASA’s James Webb telescope, launched in December, is still working to reach full functionality. When it does, a significant part of its purpose will be to look for methane in the atmosphere of exoplanets.

When results indicate that the Webb telescope has detected methane on a planet, news reporters may sensationalize the facts to suggest more than they deserve. Reputable scientists are more cautious in their predictions about methane and life on other planets. Nevertheless, we are excited about the possibility of learning more about the universe with the new Webb space telescope.

As we have said before, the Bible doesn’t tell us if there is life on any other object in space. If there is, we believe that God put it there. We are not afraid of scientific investigation because the more we learn about the creation, the more we stand in awe of the Creator.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

What Syzygy Means

What Syzygy Means

Syzygy is an interesting word used in astronomy. It’s a great word for Scrabble, but my kids quit playing with me when I used it once. You might wonder what syzygy means. Let me explain.

This spring brings an unusual view of the solar system. If you get up before the Sun now through May, look to the east, and you will see four planets that shine very brightly. The planets from left to right are Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. All of them will be bright enough to see with the naked eye. With binoculars or a small telescope, you will also see some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Astronomers call an alignment of planets like this a syzygy.

We can see these planets in this rare alignment because they orbit the Sun in the same plane, called the ecliptic plane. This is not just some happy accident but is a critical factor in the survival of life on Earth. Objects coming into the solar system along the ecliptic will not collide with Earth because the planets that lie further out in the solar system will intercept them long before they can reach our planet.

We have actually seen Jupiter intercept a comet coming toward the Sun along the ecliptic. The fireball the impact produced was larger than Earth’s diameter. This solar system design is so complete that the gravitational fields of the outer planets overlap so that nothing from outside the solar system can get to the Earth. The only “planet” not in the ecliptic is Pluto, which is inclined to the ecliptic. For that reason, scientists say that Pluto is not a planet but a captured object.

The design of the solar system is far more complex than most of us understand. The more we travel in space, the more we see the effect of not having a designed protection system. As science deals with space travel, the wisdom and planning of God become apparent. Take a few minutes on a clear morning before the Sun comes up to go out and look and wonder at how “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). Now you know what syzygy means, and you can use it the next time you play Scrabble.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: apod.nasa.gov for April 20, 2022, and earthsky.org.