Best Meteor Show of the Year

Phaethon gave us the Best Meteor Show of the Year

This year, 2020, has been a bad year for many things. However, it should be a good year for the Geminid meteor shower. It usually is the best meteor show of the year, but this year it might be even better. It will peak tonight in the late hours of December 13 and early hours of December 14.

If you are familiar with meteor showers, you know that they are caused when the Earth, on its journey around the Sun, passes through the remnants of a comet. As comets travel through our solar system, the Sun’s heat vaporizes the outer layers of those rocky snowballs leaving debris in the comet’s path. When our planet crosses that path, tiny rock fragments enter our atmosphere and burn up as friction with the air superheats them. The annual December Geminid meteor shower is different and not caused by a comet.

One difference is that the Geminids are younger than other annual meteor showers, which people have observed for hundreds or thousands of years. People first observed the August Perseids in A.D. 36. The Lyrids, which occur in April, were recorded by the Chinese in 687 B.C. However, the Geminids were first seen in December 1862. Since then, they have returned every year, and they have gradually become more numerous as they reach more than 100 meteors per hour.

So if a passing comet does not cause the Geminids, what does? Astronomers solved that mystery in 1983 when the Infrared Astronomical Satellite discovered a small asteroid, which they named Phaethon. It travels in a very elliptical orbit around the Sun in a little less than a year-and-a-half. That orbit takes it closer to the Sun than Mercury and then beyond Mars to the asteroid belt. The asteroid becomes superheated in its close pass by the Sun. Phaethon also spins on its axis about every three-and-a-half hours meaning that the surface fries as it faces the Sun’s heat and then freezes in the cold of space. The freezing and thawing crack the surface, and the centrifugal force throws out fragments.

Most of the particles resulting from the rapid temperature change and spin are probably only about a millimeter in diameter. For that reason, astronomers believe that Phaethon was struck by another space object in the recent past, causing more meteoroids, which could explain the Geminid show’s quality. This year should be better than average, because the Moon will be new, meaning we will have a dark sky. Another thing that makes the Geminids the best meteor show of the year is that they came in at a much slower speed, so they move more slowly across the sky.

If you have clear skies and can find a dark place with an open view of the sky, you could be in for a treat. However, for those of us in the north, it will be cold. Wear warm clothes, lean back in a lounge chair, cover yourself with a blanket, and be patient. According to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the peak should occur around 8 p.m.EST December 13 (0100 GMT December 14). However, there should be plenty to see for hours before and after that.

As you look at the night sky, remember that the shepherd boy David was looking at the same sky around three millennia ago when he wrote, “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalms 19:1).” I am sure that David enjoyed an open dark sky with no light pollution from electric lights, but he also didn’t get to see the Geminids, the best meteor show of the year.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Fake Asteroids and Space Junk

Fake Asteroids and Space Junk
Space Junk – Exaggerated Illustration

Politicians and the media often use the word “fake” in all kinds of dubious ways. Now we can apply the word to an asteroid known as 2020 SO (Space Object). It seems that this fake asteroid is just space junk.

There has been concern among astronomers for many years about the large number of rocks in our solar system. Right now, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has almost a million identified asteroids and comets, some of which could strike the Earth and cause massive destruction. The idea is that by cataloging these objects, we can know if any are on a collision course, so we might intervene to alter the trajectory.

It turns out that at least one of the cataloged asteroids is a fake asteroid. It is actually space junk. A NASA scientist determined that it is the upper stage of a Centaur rocket that put NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander on its way to the Moon in 1966. This rocket is just under 32 feet long and 10 feet in diameter and traveling at 1500 miles per hour. Another fake asteroid has turned out to be the third stage of the Saturn five rocket, which NASA launched in 1969 during the Apollo 12 mission.

Scientists are concerned about the amount of material that humans discard. That includes plastics that clutter the oceans and provide a constant headache at landfills. Chemicals dumped into rivers and lakes have had a very destructive effect on fish and other life forms, including humans. Space is also becoming more and more cluttered with human space junk. The material left from space launches is becoming a hazard to communications satellites and even space vehicles, including the International Space Station.

The need to make full use of everything and recycle is vital to our safety and health. When a terrible disease or deadly accident occurs, many people blame God. But more and more, we see that human neglect and carelessness causes most of our problems.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

References: Associated Press report by Marcia Dunn, October 12, 2020, and space.com

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

Sinus Iridium on the Moon

Sinus Iridium on the Moon
Sinus Iridium on the Moon

Yesterday we mentioned that the Sun was at the exact angle to illuminate the Moon’s Jura Mountain Range. The effect is sometimes called the Golden Handle of the Moon because it resembles a small handle on the side. Since the sky was clear here in southwest Michigan last night, I took a picture of it. The tiny “handle” that you see is a semi-circular ridge surrounding a flat plain called the Sinus Iridium (Latin for the Bay of Rainbows). Sinus Iridium is actually an impact crater which has filled with lava, and the “mountains” that the Sun is illuminating is the edge of the crater.

Sinus Iridium on the Moon

In the NASA photo, you can see wave ripples on the surface as the lava flowed into the basin of the crater and hardened.

On our Does God Exist? educational tours of the Canyonlands we always visit Meteor Crater in Arizona. It is perhaps the best-preserved impact crater on Earth. At three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) across, it is awe-inspiring to see. By comparison, the Sinus Iridium crater is 150 miles (240 km) across. You can also see several smaller impact craters that were formed after the lava flow.

As you examine the surface of the Moon, you will see that it is covered with impact craters caused by meteor and asteroid collisions. Earth has been bombarded with asteroids in the past. There is evidence of a large (93 mile, 150 km) impact crater called the Chicxulub Crater near what is today the Yucatan Peninsula.

Since Earth is a bigger target for impacts, why is Earth’s surface not pockmarked with craters like the Moon’ surface? Scientists have found evidence of about 190 impact craters on Earth. Most of them were early in Earth’s history, and erosion, plate tectonics, and other forces have hidden them from view. More importantly, we are protected from many of the impacts by our atmosphere. The heat from friction as a meteor enters the atmosphere at high speeds usually, but not always, causes them to burn up before they touch the ground. The more we see of God’s creation, the more we see His wisdom and power.

You can read more about impact craters and their effect on life on planet Earth in our previous posts by using these links. METEOR CRATER (also called the Barringer Crater) and the CHICXULUB CRATER. You can read about a Martian Meteorite HERE.

–Roland Earnst © 2019

Billion-Dollar Picture

Billion-Dollar Picture
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How often have you heard that phrase? It may very well be true, but this picture is worth more than that. What you see could be called a billion-dollar picture. At first glance, this picture may not look like much. However, you need to take a good look at the large white dot in the center. That’s us.

In September of 2016, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx. The name stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Its purpose is to study asteroids. Specifically, it was launched to study a near-Earth asteroid named 101955 Bennu. It will not only study the asteroid, but if all goes as planned, it will take a sample from Bennu and return that sample to Earth. The total cost of the project will be about one billion dollars, but it’s much more than a billion-dollar picture.

On January 17, 2018, OSIRIS-REx turned its NavCam 1 camera toward Earth and snapped this picture. The spacecraft was almost 40 million miles (63.6 million km) from Earth and traveling away at 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 km per second). The largest and brightest spot in the picture is Earth. The smaller dot close to it is our Moon. The cluster of stars in the upper left is the Pleiades. In the top right is Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries. Surrounding the Earth and Moon are five stars that are the head of the whale in the constellation Cetus.

OSIRIS-REx reached the vicinity of Bennu on December 3, 2018. It will be orbiting the asteroid and scanning the surface looking for a good place to land. That process will continue until July of 2020 when it will land and gather a sample. Scientists plan for OSIRIS-REx to deliver that sample to Earth in September of 2023.

Scientists hope that by studying the asteroid sample, they will learn more about the formation of our solar system. They hope to learn more about asteroids in general and what we might do to prevent one from slamming into our planet. There is also hope for mining useful minerals from asteroids and getting a better idea of the history of Earth. The whole list of scientific objectives for this space probe is contained in that long name for which we use the acronym OSIRIS-REx.

Forgetting about the cost and ambitious objectives, we enjoy looking at this view of Earth from far, far away. It reminds us of what a big solar system and universe we live in and how amazing is the God who designed it all. It also reminds us of the challenge God gave to Job about the Pleiades in Job 38:31-33. We encourage you to read God’s entire challenge in Job 38:1 to 40:2 as you look at this billion-dollar picture.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

This report is an update of our previous post on February 26, 2018.

Why So Much Stuff in Space?

Why So Much Stuff in Space?
One of the questions people ask about God’s creation is why so much stuff in space? If humans are the focus of God’s creation, why did He create so many planets, galaxies, and stars? If God’s purpose was to have the human race as the battlefield for the struggle between good and evil, surely He didn’t need to create 100 billion other stars in our galaxy and billions of other galaxies.

There are so many assumptions involved in this question that it would take many more pages to explore them all. First, this question assumes that God’s creation of life only happened here. It assumes that there are no other planets anywhere in the creation that have sentient beings living on them. You can argue that forever, but the Bible doesn’t give an answer. The Bible only describes Earth because it presents a message for our planet and its people.

The question also assumes that God only intended for us to live on the surface of this planet. I get letters regularly from people who suggest that we have no business going into outer space because God intends for us to live here and nowhere else. That is a massive assumption, and one that I suggest is misguided. One recent discovery has given another possible answer to why so much stuff in space. Humans are rapidly exploiting the mineral wealth of planet Earth. We know that the Earth contains a finite amount of iron, nickel, cobalt. If we should survive on Earth for much longer than the 21st century, we are going to run out of resources.

Japan’s robotic spacecraft Hayabusa 2 visited asteroid 162173 Ryugu (pictured) in June of 2018. Data from the spacecraft indicates that this asteroid is composed almost entirely of nickel and iron. The spacecraft was returning a sample to Earth for analysis. This asteroid is one kilometer wide, and at the current market value, the iron and nickel in the asteroid are worth over 80 billion dollars. God’s plan for us may be far greater and longer than we realize. Space contains a wealth of mineral resources. God has provided for us in many ways, and we always seem to have just enough of a resource to get us to the next source. We had just enough wood to get us to hydrocarbons, and just enough hydrocarbons to bring us to nuclear and solar power.

Our problem is not resources. Our problem is being able to get along with each other well enough to avoid destroying ourselves. Jesus Christ has the answer to that major issue, but the size of the cosmos merely reflects God’s power and wisdom. As we wonder why so much stuff in space, we have to think of the words of the psalmist, “What is man, that you are mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet” (Psalms 8:4-6).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on asteroid Ryugu click HERE.

‘Oumuamua: Mysterious Space Visitor

'Oumuamua: Mysterious Space Visitor
In October of 2017, astronomer Robert Weryk using a telescope in Hawaii discovered an object careening through our solar system from somewhere in interstellar space. Astronomers assumed it was an asteroid from some other stellar system in our galaxy. UFO promoters saw it as a spaceship from some other star system that was spying on our planet. The name given to it is ‘Oumuamua which is Hawaiian for “scout.”

The object was quite narrow and seem to be less irregular than most asteroids. Closer examination has shown that the surface of the object is a reddish color which is typical of some comets which have a crust covering an icy interior. Its size is approximately 800 by 100 feet (230 by 35 meters).

Studies of the trajectory of ‘Oumuamua show it is tumbling and changing directions in a way that indicates a force other than the Sun’s gravity working on it. Naturally, the UFO promoters were overjoyed saying that this proves that alien spacecraft are all around us, and we just happened to catch this one. The SETI Institute used its powerful Allen Telescope Array to examine the object but detected no radio signals indicating intelligence. The problem with the UFO idea is that the change of direction is much smaller than what rockets on a spacecraft would cause. The overall trajectory of ‘Oumuamua has not changed significantly as it heads out of the solar system. It is traveling to fast for any of our existing spacecraft to reach it, but it will still take 20,000 years to be completely clear of our solar system.

After much study, astronomers concluded that ‘Oumuamua is a comet. When comets get near the Sun, they spew gases from their interior. This jetting of gas always has some effect on the trajectory of the comet. The amount of change in ‘Oumuamua’s trajectory is consistent with the effect of a comet’s gas jets.

As we have emphasized before, the Bible doesn’t say that Earth is the only place in the universe where God chose to create life. At present, however, there is no credible evidence that there is life elsewhere, although microscopic forms may exist on Mars and some moons in our system. The idea of alien visitation is pure speculation with no evidence to support it.

The Lord tells us how to live in another existence. Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 to learn more about it. Waiting for an E.T. to come and whisk you away to a heaven is wishful thinking. Waiting for the Lord to come again has much more promise and much more supporting evidence.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks
In our post yesterday we mentioned that the Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night August 11-12 and 12-13. Earth is making its annual journey through the trail of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. When those pieces of rock, mostly ranging in size from a grain of sand to pea-sized, enter Earth’s atmosphere at supersonic speeds, they burn up from the heat of friction. We see the streaks as “shooting stars.”

Earth has been passing through the Swift-Tuttle debris since July 17 and will not be clear of it until August 24. So even though the Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend, it is possible that you might see some of the meteors over the next few days. However, on these two nights, they should be visible at the rate of about one per minute. The best time to see them is after the Moon sets, and the best place is an area free of lights and with an open sky.

Every day anywhere from 100 tons to 1,000 tons of meteoritic material enters the Earth’s atmosphere. This material can come from comets or asteroids. The asteroid 3200 Phaethon produces the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December. There are other pieces of rock, dust, and debris in space that sometimes get trapped in the Earth’s gravitational field, and contribute to the hundreds of tons of material that reach Earth every day.

So what are the lessons we get from all of this? For one thing, Earth is not a static planet. It is gaining new mineral wealth every day. Our planet is vibrant and alive and has changed over the eons of its existence. The design of Earth’s defensive shield is incredible. With all of this material left over from the creation processes, it is critical that we have an atmosphere that is dense enough to burn up the space junk that comes toward us.

Every time scientists get a meteor sample we learn more about our neighbors in space. We knew a lot about the makeup of asteroids before science actually landed a spacecraft on one. Our knowledge of comets was advanced before we were able to leave Earth’s gravity and examine one up close. We continue to learn about the unique nature of the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and the material that makes up our solar system.

While you are outside, take a look at Mars which is still closer and brighter than usual and visible until about 4 AM local time. Saturn will be visible until 2 AM. Venus will set about 9:30 PM and Jupiter at 11 PM. The planets travel near the ecliptic, the path of the Sun and Moon across the sky, so here’s your chance to enjoy them all. As the Perseid meteor shower peaks, it reminds us of the words of the psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Believing in Uniformitarianism Raises Questions

Believing in Uniformitarianism Raises Questions
Evolution makes a very large number of assumptions. One of those assumptions called uniformitarianism is the belief that no process has ever operated in the past that is not going on today. Believing in uniformitarianism gives some answers, but it raises many questions.

Today we know how glaciers work and how volcanoes form and shape the land. We are aware of all of the various forms of erosion and the chemical processes that alter materials of the Earth. When we look at something like the Grand Canyon, we assume that those same processes deposited the rocks and shaped the canyon. There are places high in the canyon where there are beach deposits that look like the beaches we see along the shores of Lake Michigan. That leads us to believe that at one time there was a lake in what is now the canyon. When we look at the Coconino sandstone in the Grand Canyon, we see the remains of sand dunes that look like the ones I see out the window of my house. The angles of the dune faces, the frosting of the sand grains, and the footprints of lizards that sink deep into the dune faces all cause us to rule out a flood as the cause of the Coconino sandstone.

At the same time, processes going on today don’t explain catastrophic events that seem to have happened in the past. In the 1980s scientists found evidence suggesting that an asteroid struck the Earth and altered the history of our planet. Some scientists expressed strong resistance to the asteroid proposal and gave all kinds of alternative explanations. If an astronomical event of that magnitude took place wiping out a majority of land species, the evolutionary theories of that day would have to be modified or discarded. This gave support for proposals like punctuated equilibrium, but it also caused many people in the scientific community to reject the asteroid as a possible cause. Those believing in uniformitarianism and naturalism resisted any attempt to suggest that catastrophic events may have shaped the Earth’s history.

From a biblical standpoint, we see that there have been catastrophic events in the past that are not happening today. The flood of Noah, the crossing of the Red Sea, the deaths of the firstborn in Egypt, and all the miracles the Bible describes are not happening today and thus are not uniformitarian. These, however, are rare and are the exception to what happens on a daily basis.

New evidence shows that believing in uniformitarianism as the single cause of the Earth’s history is not valid. Evidence shows that about 12,800 years ago there was a very rapid cooling of the Earth called the Younger Dryas. One proposal is that a massive pulse of cold freshwater from glaciers flooded the ocean cooling the planet. Another suggestion is that a comet exploded in the atmosphere triggering wildfires which produced enough soot to block the Sun and cool the planet. In 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, an event like that occurred when a meteoroid exploded producing as much energy as 1000 Hiroshima bombs and gave support to the idea that astronomical catastrophes caused some structures on Earth.

Scientific literature is full of current research reports supporting catastrophic change in the Earth’s history. Scientists will continue this debate, and new finds will establish support for various theories. It remains clear that believing in uniformitarianism and naturalism to explain the total history of our planet is on shaky ground.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Science News, July 7, 2018, P 18.

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