Did Science Find Life on Venus?

Did Science Find Life on Venus?

The media loves to jump on any sensational scientific finding, even if their headlines totally misrepresent what science has discovered. We have seen several headlines suggesting that scientists have found life in the atmosphere of Venus. Did science find life on Venus?

The fact is that a Japanese robotic satellite that has been orbiting Venus since 2015 records data in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The satellite has detected spectra for the chemical phosphine (PH3). Phosphine is a flammable, toxic gas made of one phosphorous atom attached to three hydrogen atoms. It is difficult to make in a typical chemistry lab. Biologists know that there are microbes that can make phosphine. Finding the chemical in the upper clouds of Venus, where the temperatures are low enough for the gas to exist, raised some questions about whether microbes could have produced it.

It is possible that the phosphine could have been produced by conditions on Venus that are not available on Earth. Such conditions could be very low pressures, long term effects of ultraviolet light, and long periods of time. The environment of Venus is highly toxic, even to microbes, so microbe production is unlikely. Scientists have found many of the chemicals essential to life or possibly produced by living organisms on several moons in the solar system. The creation process produces chemicals that can be associated with life, including water. The environmental parameters of all of these places are so extreme that no astronomer expects to see an alien walking around.

The Bible doesn’t say that Earth is the only place where life exists, and it may be that God has created life elsewhere. As humans leave our planet searching for chemicals and materials to meet the 21st century’s needs, we may find a storehouse of essential materials, both metallic and biological. Did science find life on Venus? No. This newest media hype does not tell us anything we didn’t already know, but the discovery is interesting.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Our Atmospheric Shield

Our Atmospheric Shield

One of the fantastic and vital features of planet Earth is our atmospheric shield. We have often mentioned the NASA website Astronomy Picture of the Day (apod.nasa.gov). Every day NASA posts a different astronomy picture to show us something of the cosmos. This is an excellent service because most of us don’t have access to giant telescopes, and we can’t see light in wavelengths outside of the visible spectrum.

On September 12, 2020, NASA’s posting showed a time-lapse series of pictures taken by the New South Wales observatory in Australia. This observatory is located at 33 degrees south latitude in an area with minimal light pollution, so there is minimal obstruction of the night sky. The pictures were recorded on 372 nights and run like a movie. What you see are sporadic meteors, fireballs, meteor showers, and even a lightning sprite. The series shows over 1000 meteors.

Remember that this picture sequence shows a relatively small area of sky. This does remind us that there is a constant rain of dust, pieces of rock, and other debris coming down upon our planet. People working with communication satellites are well aware of this because of constant damage to the orbiting objects. For those of us on Earth’s surface, our atmospheric shield burns up most of the solid space material. We don’t have to worry about getting hit by space debris or getting sandpapered by the small dust particles coming from outer space. That is just the solid stuff. Our atmospheric shield also refracts away non-solid radiation such as x-rays and gamma rays.

Providing a place where life can exist is not as easy as some think. One of the reasons we are not finding life in outer space is that designing and implementing our atmospheric shield was vital for the existence of life, and doing that was not simple. It required intelligence and a carefully implemented design. The simple statement, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth” doesn’t tell us the incredible difficulty of doing that.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Planetary Atmosphere Variations

Planetary Atmosphere Variations - Earth

The dominant theory for the origin of the planets in our solar system assumes that they all evolved from a single mass or nebula. Several factors support that idea. Those factors include the fact that the planets lie roughly in one plane, that they all revolve around the Sun in the same direction, and that there is mathematical predictability to their location. Most of the irregularities that might indicate against a common source, such as variations in planetary tilt, have reasonable explanations. However, new planetary atmosphere variations are difficult to explain.

Recent studies of the atmospheres of the terrestrial planets have shown wide variations. Our atmosphere contains 78% nitrogen, but nitrogen on Venus is 4%, and on Mars, it is 2.7%. Both Mars and Venus have atmospheres that are 95% carbon dioxide, while Earth is 0.1%, and Mercury has none. Earth and Mercury have oxygen in their atmospheres, 21% and 42% respectively, but Venus and Mars have less than 1%.

Astronomers theorize that they can explain these planetary atmosphere variations.
They suggest that the atmospheres are not original to the planets, but were produced by processes that took place after the formation of the planets. The best guess now is that impacts and outgassing formed the atmospheres. This is not a trivial matter because life is not possible without the proper combination of atmospheric gases.

The Genesis account describes the production of Earth’s structure in a sequence. Genesis 1:6-9 indicates separate creations of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. The new data support the idea that once Earth was created, continued activity prepared it for life. Once again, we find the scientific evidence in support of the Bible’s description.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Astronomy magazine, August 2020, page 12.

Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos

Fast Radio Bursts and the Cosmos - Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant
Bright, Spinning Neutron Star in the Center of a Supernova Remnant

Those of us who are interested in the subject of creation have been excited about some new data which will help us understand the cosmos. Apparently God has built into the creation various devices to help us more clearly see what He has created. Among those devices are fast radio bursts (FRBs).

When high mass stars draw in matter, they emit various frequencies of radio waves. Neutron stars and black holes release radio waves in a wide range of different energies. High energy waves travel through space without being affected a great deal by anything. Lower energy radio waves are affected by whatever material they pass through. Recent research has shown that in interstellar space there are variations in the actual speed of radio waves coming from a common source, depending on how much intergalactic material the waves are going through.

The material that slows the radiation is the ordinary particles called baryons, including protons and neutrons. We now know that interstellar space is full of the matter that makes up our galaxy, but at a very low density. These microscopic baryons do not emit light so we have not been able to detect their presence in the past. Fast radio bursts can make it possible for us to observe them because of the effect they have on the speed of the radiation.

Astronomers know from observing the light that was emitted when the universe was young that baryons should be the source of five percent of all the mass and energy in the cosmos. If that was true at the beginning, it should also be true today. However, the stars and gas we can see only account for half of that amount. The baryons are not uniform or isotropic in their distribution, but rather exist as filaments making a sort of web of low density matter which can be measured using FRBs. Astronomers are optimistic that this discovery will account for the “missing mass” in the creation. (This is the missing mass of regular matter, not dark matter, which is still a mystery.)

When the Bible challenges us to “know there is a God through the things He has made (Romans 1:20), it implies that this process is ongoing. In the 21st century we are blessed with new and better tools to see what God has made. Like the microscope, fast radio bursts open whole new vistas for us so that we can see and understand more of the handiwork of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News , June 20, 2020, page 6, and Nature.com

Solar System Design

Solar System Design

The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 10-11) carried an interesting interview with well-known astronomer Dr. Mike Brown. One of the issues raised is the uniqueness of our solar system compared to other known planetary systems in the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers have discovered thousands of extra-solar planets, and the evidence shows that our solar system design is not typical.

Dr. Brown points out that we are finding giant planets that are closer to their suns than our planet Mercury. We also find stars with eight very small planets that are also inside the orbital distance of Mercury. We don’t see a planet as small as Earth located as far from the parent star as we are anywhere else in the Milky Way. That makes the chances of having a planet in the “Goldilocks Zone” (where water could exist as a liquid) very low. It also means that the masses of the giant planets close to their parent stars must be enormous, and the speed of their orbits must be astronomical.

The process of solar system formation is subject to debate. However, the new observations make it difficult to find any explanation that works. The extra-solar discoveries just add more evidence to the fact that our solar system design is a unique product of engineering.

Proverbs 8 finds “Wisdom” speaking, and she says in verses 22-27, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His work before the Earth ever was … when he prepared the heavens, I was there.” The production of our planet was an incredible work of design, not an accident. That certainly urges us to care for what God has created.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Drake Equation and Planet Civilizations

Drake Equation author Frank Drake

In the long history of looking for life elsewhere in the cosmos, one of the exciting discoveries has been learning the things a planet needs to support life. In 1961, American astronomer Frank Drake proposed what is called the Drake Equation. He was looking for a way to calculate the number of inhabited planets in our galaxy with which communication might be possible. Drake’s equation lists seven parameters that would determine the answer to that question. They are:

1) The rate of formation of stars in our galaxy.

2) The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

3) The number of planets per solar system with an environment suitable for life.

4) The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.

5) The fraction of life-bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.

6) The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

7) The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

If you knew each of these probabilities, you could calculate how many planets in our galaxy might be inhabited by intelligent beings with whom we could communicate. Drake gave each of these parameters a number or probability, but they were wild guesses. Once you have the numbers, all you need to do is multiply each of these variables by each other.

Let me explain. What are the odds of drawing the ace of spaces from a card deck twice in a row back to back? The odds of drawing one ace of spades out of a full deck is 1 out of 52 since there are 52 cards in a deck. To calculate the odds of doing that twice in a row would be 1 out of 52 times one out of 52. You multiply the individual probabilities, so the total probability would be one out of 2704. If you knew the likelihood of each parameter in the Drake equation, multiplying them together would give you the theoretical odds that we could receive radio communication from intelligent life on another planet in our galaxy.

Going back to the card analogy, if you drew one time out of a deck of 52 cards, the odds would be one out of 52. If you drew the ace of spades 52 times in a row, the number would be astronomical since you would multiply the result 52 times! The problem with the Drake equation is that the parameters are unknown and are probably unknowable.

There are also variables that the Drake equation didn’t include, such as the type of star. For example, a supermassive star will have a very short life expectancy. Researchers at Rice University reported in January of 2020 that many stars have extended magnetic fields which overlap the Goldilocks zones of most exoplanets. (As we have explained before, we say that a planet is in the Goldilocks zone when it can contain water in the liquid state). These strong magnetic fields will strip away any atmosphere the planet might have. Our Sun has a magnetic field, but it is not strong enough to strip electrons from atoms and molecules in the Goldilocks zone where Earth is located.

More variables regularly show up, and they tell us that our solar system and Sun have been carefully designed and formatted so that we can exist. Psalms 1:19 continues to take on new meaning with every discovery we make in space. “The heavens (do) declare the glory of God, and the firmament (does) show His handiwork.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Astronomy magazine March 2020, page 9.

Frank Drake was involved in the founding of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), which we have discussed previously HERE and HERE and HERE.

Watching Betelgeuse in Anticipation

Watching Betelgeuse in Anticipation

Astronomers are watching Betelgeuse with anticipation. Something is happening which could teach us about the universe.

In basic astronomy classes, students are exposed to what is known as the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It’s a graphic representation of our scientific understanding of stars. We can measure the changes that happen in stars and watch them age. The problem is that stars live so long and we live such a short time that we will never see a star be made, live its life and die. We see young stars which are blue hot and watch blue hot stars cool becoming yellow. We see yellow stars become red. We sometimes see red stars explode becoming novas or supernovas depending upon their size. In 1987 we watched a star explode and saw the production of new elements that had not been there before. But that explosion was so far away that measurements were difficult.

Located in Orion, Betelgeuse is one of the brightest and most recognized stars in the sky. Since it is only 700 light-years away, Betelgeuse is close enough for us to see and measure well. It is huge! In fact, it is so large that if it were located where our Sun is, the edge of it would extend to the orbit of Jupiter and its flares would go beyond the orbit of Neptune!

Watching Betelgeuse, astronomers can see that it is changing rapidly. It is only half as bright as it was five months ago. Because we have never seen a star explode up close, astronomers have an intense interest in what is happening to this nearby star. If Betelgeuse explodes, it will become a supernova. As we watch from Earth with our naked eyes, it would be as bright as our Moon. Watching God forge new elements in Betelgeuse would be quite a show, but it could happen as you read this or it may be 100,000 years in the future.

One of the many conditions necessary for life to exist on our planet is the location of our solar system and our neighbors in the cosmos. A star exploding close to us would bathe our planet in lethal radiation and even incinerate us. Don’t worry, because an object 700-light-years distant is not a threat to Earth. The closest star to us is 4.3 light-years away, and it is nowhere near the nova stage.

Our ignorance of this method of God’s creation is astounding. We can relate to the message of Job 38:31-33. There God mentions the constellation Orion where Betelgeuse is located when He says: “Can you bind the influences of the Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion? Can you bring forth Mazzaroth (the 12 constellations of the zodiac) in his season, or can you guide Arcturus and his sons? Do you know the ordinances of heaven? Can you set the position of them on the Earth?”

Even today with our technology the answer to those questions is “No.” Watching Betelgeuse, we can realize the truth that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: apod.nasa.gov

Do Exoplanets Disprove God?

Do Exoplanets Disprove God?

One of the interesting developments of the past twenty years has been the study of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. So far, scientists have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets. Those who believe the formation of Earth and its ecosystem is a product of blind mechanical chance seize upon this fact to affirm that God had nothing to do with the creation. They argue that given enough time and enough planets, life was bound to happen somewhere eventually. Do exoplanets disprove God?

One obvious difficulty with this claim is that the real issue of creation is how time, space, and matter/energy came into existence in the first place. How it got into a form that would sustain life is a matter of whether the creation was designed and planned by an intelligence, or whether it was a product of chance. Astronomy magazine, in its January 2020 issue, carries an article about the summer 2019 discovery of the first planet that exists in the habitable zone of its star. The media at that time made wild claims about the probable existence of life on that planet. Known as K2-18b, the planet orbits a red dwarf star which is about one third the mass of our Sun. What that means is that water could exist on the planet as a liquid.

So could life exist on K2-18b? This discovery highlights the incredible complexity of planet Earth. K2-18b is roughly twice the diameter of Earth and eight times as massive. The mass of the planet means that gravity there would be much higher than Earth’s gravity. That would result in a much deeper and denser atmosphere with pressures and temperatures thousands of times higher than we experience on Earth. Also, red dwarf stars emit powerful flares, and the orbit of K2-18b is twice as close to its star as Mercury is to the Sun. There is no way that life could survive the conditions on this planet, even if liquid water were present.

Remember that K2-18b is the first planet discovered that is located in a so-called habitable zone. The study of exoplanets has shown that the creation of planet Earth is a highly unique and special event. Do exoplanets disprove God? As we have said before, God can create life anywhere He wants to. But as more and more data becomes available on what exists throughout the cosmos, support for God as the creator and sustainer of life on this planet grows.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

James Peebles Wins Nobel Prize in Physics

James Peebles Wins Nobel Prize in PhysicsThose of us who have an interest in creation have followed the work of Dr. James Peebles at Princeton University for some time. Since 1964, Peebles has been working to understand the scientific evidence of how the cosmos came into being. For his work, he has won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Dr. Peebles predicted cosmic microwave background radiation, which has been a major tool in understanding the beginning of the universe and in realizing that 95% of the matter/energy in the cosmos is unknown. The “big bang” model describing the universe fits well with understanding God’s role in the cosmos. Peebles has shown that the formation of space/time and matter/energy fits with all available observations, and he has discovered several new processes, such as the baryon model, to describe the physics of the early universe.

The Ostriker-Peebles criterion relating to the stability of galactic formation has helped us understand other galaxies besides our Milky Way. Observing the spin rates in those galaxies has led us to realize that the rapid speeds at which they move require a force that has not been identified to prevent them from flying apart. This realization is the starting point for speculating the existence of dark matter. There has to be a missing mass that is the glue of stable galaxies. Research continues to understand what dark matter is and how it works.

Dr. Frank Baxter once said, “the more we know about the creation, the closer we get to the creator.” The fact that James Peebles has been recognized for his work in cosmology is encouraging. Scientists now agree there was a beginning. The cause of that beginning and the properties of that cause are the next steps toward comprehending the creation of the cosmos.

Proverbs 8:22 finds wisdom saying, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.” Reading Dr. Peebles’ research is intimidating because God’s wisdom and His works in cosmology are so complex. The study of creation in cosmology has only become recognized as valid science in the last few years. James Peebles has been a major player in accomplishing that, and therefore he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. “In the beginning, God created” may sound simple, but what it describes is incredibly challenging to understand. Dr. Peebles has clearly shown that, but he has also opened the door for more study of how God did the creating.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Rossby Waves and Earth’s Climate

Rossby Waves and Earth's ClimateWe have previously discussed the movement of air around the Earth, and the circulation pattern called the Hadley cells. Another important factor in Earth’s climate is Rossby waves.

Because the equator is hot, heated air rises and moves away from the equator, dropping its moisture as it cools. At about 30 degrees latitude, the now dry air falls back to the Earth, producing deserts. As the air reaches Earth’s surface, it moves north and south, creating the trade winds in the subtropical area and the prevailing mid-latitude winds in latitudes between 30 degrees and the polar regions.

A wide range of things alters this simplified picture. When greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide accumulate, they reflect infrared radiation causing the Earth’s atmosphere to become hotter. This effect isn’t uniform, however. Because of melting sea ice, Earth’s poles are affected by greenhouse gases more than the area of the equator. This causes a thermal imbalance between the poles and the equator affecting circulation around the poles and creating Rossby waves.

As the thermal imbalance has become greater and the air more wobbly in recent years, that affects the jet stream. The wobbles this past year have caused the northern jet stream to go further south than usual, bringing cold into Arizona in late spring. When the jet stream swung north, it brought hot tropical air toward the poles. On its way north, it brought unusual amounts of water into Oklahoma while Anchorage, Alaska, got temperatures over 90 degrees for the first time ever. Rossby waves is the name applied to the meandering high-altitude winds that have a major influence on Earth’s weather.

All of this shows us how fragile Earth’s climate is. Weather patterns depend on a wide range of variables which include the:
*size of the Earth’s atmosphere
*tilt of the Earth
*distribution of land compared to water
*chemical makeup of the atmosphere
*kind of radiation coming from the Sun and how that radiation is absorbed and reflected
*nature of Earth’s surface (whether ice or black dirt)
All of those factors go into making Earth a habitable planet.

We exist on this planet because of the precision design and construction of Earth and its atmosphere. The fact that it has stayed stable long enough for human life to exist for thousands and thousands of years is a testimony to the careful design and construction. Proverbs 8 finds “wisdom” speaking about its role in the creation process. Wisdom says she was there before the creation (verse 22-23) and that wisdom was a part of the preparation of the heavens (verse 26-28).

As we see the results of the small changes that have happened to the atmosphere in the past 100 years and the instability of Rossby waves, we wonder at Earth’s design and the wisdom of God who created it.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy, December, 2019, page 64.