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.

Another Blood Moon

Another Blood Moon
This past Sunday night the Western Hemisphere experienced another blood moon. We often hear the phrase “blood moon” applied to total lunar eclipses. That’s because the Moon takes on an orange or red glow when the eclipse becomes total. It has nothing to do with blood and nothing to do with Bible prophecy. Lunar eclipses are natural phenomena which occur when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in perfect alignment. Earth’s shadow falls across the Moon and gives it an eerie, orange glow.

I took this picture at about midnight local time when the temperature was hovering close to zero degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the cold, I didn’t get a good focus and didn’t stay outside very long. Numerous other people took better photos and posted them on the web. They all look similar since we were all seeing the same view. Our Moon always keeps the same face toward us. Some people refer to the back side of the Moon as “the dark side of the Moon.” However, there is no dark side. The Sun shines on the back side each time the monthly “new moon” occurs. The Moon is in tidal lock with Earth keeping the same side facing us year-round.

For those of us who live in North America, this will be the last total lunar eclipse for a while. We will not see another blood moon until May 16, 2022. (Asia, Australia, and the Pacific will see another blood moon on May 26, 2021.) Perhaps this will give us a little break from those who try to convince us that lunar eclipses are a prophetic sign. The only sign we see in total lunar eclipses is that the solar system God created is still working in the way He designed it to work. Days, months, seasons, and years (Genesis 1:14) continue as they will until God decides it is time to bring this present world to a close. And nobody knows when that will be.

Last July we posted an explanation of why the red color and what causes lunar eclipses. We encourage you to read that post by clicking HERE.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Martian Meteorite

Martian Meteorite
The picture shows a slice of a Martian meteorite. It landed in Morocco sometime in the past and was found there in 2011. On the edges, it shows evidence of the extreme heat of entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

How do we know that this piece of rock came from Mars? The Viking Landers analyzed the chemical composition of surface rocks on Mars, and the Mars Curiosity Rover examined the Martian atmosphere and argon level. Based on a chemical analysis of the element and isotope composition out of 61,000 meteorites found on Earth more than 130 give evidence of originating on the red planet. Their chemistry matches the Mars profile.

How did these meteorites get from Mars to Earth? They were dislodged by an impact of an asteroid on Mars which sent rocks flying out with enough force to escape the gravity of Mars. The surface gravity of Mars is only 38% of Earth’s gravity. After traveling through space, they were eventually pulled in by Earth’s gravity.

Some scientists have suggested that they detected evidence of organic (life) material in some Martian rocks. News media have been quick to attempt to say that this proves life existed on Mars in the past. Some even suggested that perhaps life came to Earth from another planet. However, further studies have disputed the organic origins or indicated that the organic evidence was actually picked up on Earth.

We have said before that the existence of life anywhere else in our galaxy is doubtful. At the same time, we have said that life elsewhere in the universe would not disprove the existence of God. We believe that God has the ability to create life anywhere He wants to, and He would not have to tell us about it. A Martian meteorite can only tell us that physics and gravity can do interesting things.
–Roland Earnst © 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

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere
A cosmic coincidence took place on November 5, 2018. It had to do with our Sun and two probes that NASA sent into space.

To the average person, the solar system refers to our Sun and the eight (or nine) orbiting planets. However, between Mars and Jupiter there are asteroids and beyond the planets there dwarf planets and smaller bodies called planetesimals. So where is the edge of the solar system?

A bubble surrounds the solar system which scientists call the heliosphere. The Sun sends out charged plasma particles called the solar wind. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from most harmful effects of the solar wind, but we can see the effect of that “wind” as it ionizes molecules in the upper atmosphere creating the aurora we call the northern and southern lights. There is a limit to how far the solar wind reaches, and that is the outer edge of the heliosphere bubble. NASA’s Voyager 2 reached it on November 5.

Also on November 5, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe reached the inner edge of the heliosphere by flying toward the Sun. The fact that both probes arrived at the extreme boundaries of the heliosphere at the same time was not and could not be planned by the scientists at NASA. We would have to call it a cosmic coincidence.

NASA launched Voyager 2 forty-one years earlier in 1977. On its journey out of the solar system, it flew past and took pictures of all four gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). In late August of 2018, its plasma detectors, called Faraday cups, began to indicate that it was reaching the edge of the heliosphere. After 310 days of crossing that boundary, scientists determined that it passed out of the solar wind on November 5. Earth is about 93 million miles (150 million km ) from the Sun. Voyager 2 had reached 120 times Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Meanwhile, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on August 12, 2018, and it traveled toward the Sun. In three months it arrived at the Sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona. Parker’s job is to investigate how the solar wind originates. Scientists want to know how the Sun’s superheated atmosphere generates the solar wind plasma and blasts it into space at speeds of a million-plus miles per hour.

So, the cosmic coincidence is that two NASA probes launched 41 years apart arrived at almost the same time at the outer and inner limits of the heliosphere. Their mission is to give us new information about our solar system. Their arrival at the same time was a pure cosmic coincidence. The marvelous system they are investigating and that supports life on this planet is certainly not a coincidence. It shows the power and wisdom of the Creator.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Alien Life Without Water

Is Alien Life Without Water Possible?
For all of my life, there have been articles, videos, and public presentations claiming that there must be life elsewhere in the universe. Now that we know there are thousands of planets in the creation, we see attempts to maintain that with so many planets there must be life somewhere. Scientists are even speculating alien life without water.

We need to remember that the Bible doesn’t say that this is the only planet where God created life, so this is not a biblical issue. The latest attempts to expand the window of what life is has rejuvenated the need to show the design built into the development of life. Life on Earth is based on carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. The National Science Foundation has just funded a three-year program at Saint Louis University to explore what building blocks might be used to make a different kind of life. The chemicals they are considering are hexane, ethers, and chloroform. There is particular interest in whether these materials can form membranes that could be considered life.

The first problem is the definition of life. Life has traditionally been defined as “that which can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli and reproduce.” An extraordinary chemistry is necessary to meet all of these criteria. Water is the basic substance of life on Earth. The water molecule is polar, meaning that one end of the molecule is negative and the other end is positive. Oxygen is the negative end. Oxygen’s bonding orbitals allow the attachment of two hydrogen atoms making that end positive. This polarity allows water to dissolve other molecules. Salt, for example, is made up of sodium which is positive and chlorine which is negative. When you put salt in water, the sodium is attracted to the oxygen end of the water molecule, and the chlorine is attracted to the hydrogen end of the molecule because unlike charges attract each other. This pulls the salt molecule apart and allows the salt to dissolve. Alien life without water seems impossible.

Hydrocarbons like methane have four hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atom symmetrically. That makes the molecule non-polar and unable to dissolve salt. Numerous experiments are underway to circumvent this problem including the use of vinyl cyanide (also called acrylonitrile) which has been found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. Coming up with a formula for alien life without water will be difficult. How a substitute for oxidation would work has not even been publicized, so respiration would be an equally great challenge.

Chris Butch, a chemist of the Earth Life Institute, says “It’s like trying to build a car in your backyard out of lawnmower parts, versus having the Maserati factory build a supercar.” As science looks for something that can be called life elsewhere in the solar system, we should be impressed with the wisdom involved in the original building of life on planet Earth.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy magazine, February 2019, page 29-35.

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun
Yesterday we discussed the question of what real creation is about. Our point was that the study of real creation involves the study of how time, space, and matter/energy came into existence. Those sciences are in the embryonic stage, but they point to there being a purpose that involves wisdom and contributes to our understanding of the nature of God. One important finding of the study of creation is the critical initial mass function of the Sun.

As we study the Sun, we see that much is unique about our star. It is not just an average star of the billions formed from the “big bang” and classified in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. As we watch stars forming today and, as we look at the composition of the galaxy we live in, much stands out in our understanding of the Sun. Our mathematics indicate that there is what we call a critical initial mass function of the Sun, or IMF for short. IMF is the mass needed for star formation to take place. When stars begin to form from the material in the creation, they must have enough mass to allow gravity to fuse hydrogen into helium. If that mass isn’t there, what you have is a brown dwarf. If the mass is .08 of the solar mass, a red dwarf will form.

There are roughly 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, and 300 billion of them are red dwarfs – also called M dwarfs because of their spectral identification. There are roughly 15,000 places in our Milky Way galaxy where we see stars forming, so we can watch the way in which the IMF functions. When our Sun was formed, an IMF had to be carefully chosen so that it would produce a spectral G type star. Other star types such as O, B or F types would be too hot, too active and have too short of a lifespan. The most numerous stars in our galaxy – the red dwarfs mentioned earlier – have similar difficulties with their activity including stellar flares and coronal mass ejections. None of these types of stars can be seen as possible solar systems where life could exist.

The critical initial mass function of the Sun seems to be fine-tuned for life to exist. While we may have believed that by faith for many years, we now have scientific evidence to support that belief.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy February 2019, page 21-27.

Real Creation and Science

Real Creation and the Big Bang
In virtually all areas of science, one thing is always true. That is when we answer one question, we find many others. No area demonstrates this better than the subject of real creation.

By real creation, we mean an understanding of how the cosmos came into being out of nothing. What we are not talking about is the processes of biological change which is known as evolution. Darwinian evolution is not an alternative to creation because it is an entirely different subject. Darwinian evolution studies changes in biological systems which have already been created. It has nothing to do with the processes involved in creating the physical universe including time, space, and matter/energy.

There is massive evidence that the cosmos began in a singularity–a point of incredible temperature and density. We call that the “big bang” understanding, but science has no idea what banged or who banged it. We can describe with mathematics what happened between 10^-35 and 10^-32 seconds after that event. But quantum mechanics agrees with the biblical account that it was not a physical process which can be explained by classical physics. We can use classical physics to describe what continued the formation of the cosmos as we see it today. However, that is still not real creation because it only deals with changes in what was already created.

Astronomy magazine published an excellent article by William Jones in their February 2019 issue, page 68. Dr. Jones, a professor at Princeton University, gave a summary of how cosmologists approach the question of real creation:

“The answer is the combination of a big extrapolation and even bigger assumption based on a solid hunch and the surety of our ignorance regarding what is really going on. The truth is, everything about the early universe is speculative, and that is precisely why we study it.”

Dr. Jones then goes on to explain what our current guesses are and what we base them on. For those of us with a scientific interest and background, this kind of study helps us comprehend the nature and power of God. We hope to learn more about the processes involved in preparing a place for us creatures created in God’s image to exist as we transition to the dimension where it all started.

In addition to helping us comprehend God’s nature, these studies help us see the wisdom of God and His planning. Proverbs 8:22-32 brings us to understand wisdom’s role in real creation. Tomorrow we will take a look at the intricacies of making a star and placing it so that life can exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

How Many Moons Are Enough?

How Many Moons Are Enough?
When it comes to moons, it seems that Earth got cheated. We have only one moon while Mars has two. Neptune has fourteen moons. Uranus has twenty-seven. Saturn not only has rings, but it also has sixty-two moons. Lucky Jupiter has sixty-seven! To add to the embarrassment, puny little Pluto, which is no longer considered a planet, has five times as many moons as Earth has! The only bragging point we have is that we can say we have more moons than Mercury and Venus. (They have none.) So how many moons are enough?

Actually, one works very nicely. Our single moon is critical to the existence of life on Earth. It’s because of the moon that Earth has a stable tilt on its axis of 23.5 degrees. That tilt prevents temperature extremes on this planet. With no inclination, the area of the Equator would be extremely hot and the poles extremely cold and dark all year. With a greater tilt, seasonal weather changes would be extreme all over the planet. Because of the angle of the inclination, we have proper seasons, and the air gets mixed to temper the weather extremes.

Our moon has the right mass at the right distance to keep Earth’s tilt stable. The moon plays several crucial roles in making our planet a great place to live, but stabilizing the tilt is one that’s extremely important. So how many moons are enough? I would say that one moon of the right size and at the right distance is just right.

Oh, and those other planets with more moons — none of them are habitable. Guess who has bragging rights now? Thank God that he gave us a just-right moon, and we don’t need any more. We see evidence of God’s design in every detail of our planet.
–Roland Earnst © 2018