It’s 2.5 billion light-years away, and brighter than the over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy combined. If it were even as close as 30 light-years from us, it would appear as bright as the Sun, which is only eight light minutes away. Before anyone ever saw it, scientists detected it by the radio waves that it sends out.
In 1963, astronomer Allan Sandage was the first to observe quasar 3C 273 with a telescope. Quasars are the brightest objects in the known universe. They’re massive discs of particles that surround a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. They emit intensely powerful energy as the black hole sucks the life out of matter and pulls it into its abyss. The energy is brighter than 100 billion stars.
The cloudy streak in the picture from NASA’s Hubble Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 is a jet of energy that was fired off by the quasar at some time in the past. That streak is 200,000 light-years long! It would be impossible to survive in a galaxy with a quasar in its center. The intense energy from the quasar would destroy life while the black hole devoured the matter. We can be thankful that this quasar is so far away, even though it is one of the nearest.
Life on Earth is possible because we have no black holes or quasars near us. We think the universe reveals the work of an amazing Master Designer. We agree with Dr. Allan Sandage, the first person to observe a quasar, when he said, “Science makes explicit the quite incredible natural order, the interconnections at many levels between the laws of physics…Why is the design that we see everywhere so truly miraculous?… As I said before, the world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone.”
The fictional character Superman is supposed to have x-ray vision. That super-ability to see through objects is shown in the comics and movies as something coming out from his eyes. As everyone knows, vision doesn’t come out from our eyes. We see because of the light coming into our eyes.
X-rays are electromagnetic radiation similar to visible light, but at a higher energy level and shorter wavelength. Then why can’t we see x-rays? For one thing, our eyes use a lens to focus light on the retina. X-rays can’t be focused by the lens in our eyes, or even by glass lenses. X-rays are focused by using metal tubes to guide the rays because metal is one thing X-rays can’t penetrate.
However, x-rays can penetrate flesh and destroy the molecules by tearing them apart. Even if the lenses of our eyes could focus x-rays on the retina, the x-rays would destroy the retina. Medical and dental x-rays use low doses for short durations, so they don’t pose a health risk. Your body can easily repair the slight damage that occurs.
Another reason we can’t see x-rays is that we are not normally exposed to them, and that’s good news. On Earth, radioactive minerals and radon gas emit x-rays in small amounts. From space, the Sun, other stars, and black holes emit x-rays, but we are protected by our atmosphere. X-rays from space arrive at the upper part of our atmosphere called the ionosphere, where they are absorbed. If all of the x-rays reached Earth’s surface, they would destroy living things and eventually sterilize the planet. The ionosphere makes life on Earth possible.
We don’t think this is just another coincidence. We believe it’s part of the divine design of this planet. X-ray vision is only for comic-book characters and movies.
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.
We get a significant number of emails and letters from people who have doubts. The doubts are not just about the existence of God and our claim that the Bible is the Word of God. People also have doubts about the scientific material in our presentations and literature. We have often referred to black holes and their implications for creation and the ultimate end of time. Just as some people reject the idea that there is a God, some also don’t believe in black holes. Black holes and God have many things in common.
Both black holes and God are unseen, mysterious, and frighteningly powerful to the degree that makes some people very uncomfortable. The result is that people attempt to deny the reality of black holes just as atheists try to deny the existence of God. We are seeing literature which claims that scientists are faking black holes and they don’t really exist. The “Does God Exist? Program deals with evidence. There are several lines of evidence that God exists. The evidence for God includes:
1) The creation of space/time and matter/energy from non-physical origins. 2) The cosmological fine-tuning that allows stable matter to exist. 3) Design features in life-forms that preclude chance as a causal agent. 4) The existence of human consciousness and spirituality. 5) Human morality 6) The resurrection of Jesus Christ
In the same way, black holes have several lines of evidence to support their existence:
1) Mathematical arguments such as the solutions to Einstein’s general relativity field equations. 2) The observed behavior of stars and gases around invisible points in space. 3) Explosive multi-band emission from quasars. 4) X-ray and radio emission from galaxy centers. 5) X-ray binaries. 6) Gravitational lensing.
In an excellent article on the American Scientific Affiliation website, Sarah Salviander makes this comment concerning the skepticism about black holes and God:
“The forces at work in the rejection of black holes are also at work when people declare themselves to be skeptical of God’s existence…God is even more of a disruption to the materialistic worldview than black holes. A belief in God demands thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that some non-believers find distressing, perhaps because this group tends to be composed of people who seem to want to set themselves up as minor gods of their own universes.”
I have a bicycle wheel that I use to demonstrate circular motion and forces to my physics students. Some of the forces that we can demonstrate seem to contradict common sense, but they are physical forces that make life possible.
The wheel has a handle on both sides. If you spin it rapidly and put one handle in the crotch of your hand between your thumb and first finger, you can completely let go of the other handle, and the wheel will stay in place, seemingly defying gravity. As the wheel slows down, it begins to wobble, and the slower it goes, the more rapid its turning motion is. This is called precession, and it applies to all spinning objects.
Several years ago when I was teaching this unit in my physics class, I did this demonstration. My class skeptic, who tried to make sure I knew he wasn’t impressed with anything I did, said: “OK – big deal, how does that mean anything to me?” My reply was that he wouldn’t exist if the universe had not been designed with these laws in place creating the physical forces that make life possible.
We live on a globe spinning at roughly 1000 miles per hour. The globe itself is revolving around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour in a solar system that is orbiting the core of our Milky Way galaxy at 515,000 miles per hour. Each of those motions involves forces that make life possible. We would not have weather moving heat and moisture around the globe without the rapid spinning. The Earth would collapse into the Sun if we weren’t traveling at such an enormous speed. The solar system would collapse into the core of the galaxy and be absorbed by the black hole that holds our system together if we weren’t moving fast enough to avoid such a thing happening.
We understand these fundamental laws of physics, but our observations tell us that the picture we have painted here is oversimplified. Stars on the outer edges of the galaxy are circling at roughly the same speed as stars near the core, and that should not be happening. We know that there must be dark matter filling in for the lapses in speed that we measure. Either that or the darkness is simply in our understanding.
The reality of the motions and physical forces that make life possible on Earth are there for us to examine. However, the implications of what we see defy our imagination and speak of the reality of the God who designed and created it all.
On a clear, moonless night, you can look up and see the Milky Way. Actually, we are in the Milky Way, a spiral galaxy of 200 billion stars one of which is our Sun. We are located in a spiral arm of that galaxy 26,000 light-years from its center. Our location seems to indicate many galactic coincidences.
At the center of the Milky Way (and perhaps all galaxies), there’s a black hole sending out lethal radiation to a distance of 20,000 light-years. Farther out than 26,000 light-years from the center, heavy elements that are vital to our existence and survival are scarce. We are in what astronomers call the “galactic habitable zone.”
Spiral galaxies rotate, and we are near the co-rotation spot where our solar system moves at almost the same rate as the spiral arm we are in. If we were in precisely the co-rotation spot, we would experience gravitational “kicks” which could send us out of the habitable zone. If we were far away from the co-rotation spot, we would fall out of the arm and be subjected to deadly radiation.
In the vast majority of spiral galaxies, the habitable zone and co-rotation spot do not overlap. Most other spiral galaxies are not as stable as ours. Most galaxies are not spiral galaxies and would not have a stable location for advanced life.
Furthermore, galaxies exist in clusters, and our cluster called the “Local Group” has fewer, smaller, and more spread-out galaxies than nearly all other clusters. Most galaxies are in dense clusters with giant or supergiant galaxies which create deadly radiation and gravitational distortion making advanced life impossible.
One of the most interesting objects in the creation is the black hole. Now supermassive black holes give us something even more intriguing to think about.
At one time many scientists thought black holes were a joke. I had a physics professor back in my undergraduate days who taught us the basic principles behind the formation of a black hole. Then he proceeded to ridicule the idea as pure fantasy.
It certainly seemed like fantasy in the middle of the twentieth century. The basic idea was that there are two forces at work in stars. One was the electrical force that repels charged matter pushing it away from the stellar center. That force is proportional to the amount of charge present and the distance between the charges squared. It could be calculated by knowing a proportionality constant which governed electrical interactions and was determined experimentally. Its value is 9 x 10^9, so it is a very large force.
A second force is gravity. The mass of two particles multiplied together and divided by the distance between them squared calculates the gravitational attraction the particles have toward each other. Again there was a proportionality constant which could be measured in the laboratory, and it was 6.67 x 10^-11. That meant the electrical force is massively greater than the gravitational force by a factor of 10^20. That is why we have electric motors and not mass (or gravity) motors.
The question is what would happen if you had a star that was so massive that the gravitational force exceeded the electrical force? The answer was, of course, that the star would collapse. The amount of mass needed to do that would be astronomical, but it is possible. Einstein showed that huge masses could actually warp space. If a huge mass warped space, it might create a situation where even light could not escape. The result would be a black hole–a point in space where matter collapsed upon itself. That hole would continue to absorb anything that came near it, so it would just continue to grow in mass.
Astronomers have now observed black holes in many places in space. It might be more accurate to say that they have seen the holes produced by black holes. We now know that most if not all galaxies have black holes at their cores. We have seen black holes collide, and the resulting shock waves allowed scientists to detect gravity waves.
Now scientists are concerned about new finds of supermassive black holes which seem too large to have been formed by the process we just explained in an oversimplified way. Apparently, these new black holes were formed at the beginning of the creation perhaps by the collapse of huge clouds of gas and dust that were not a part of a galaxy. These strange supermassive black holes are around 1000 times bigger than normal black holes and may be remnants of the creation of the cosmos itself. This is a new area of study, but it should be supported by observations from a new telescope scheduled to go into orbit in 2019.
Black holes have much to teach us. If black holes are scattered universally throughout the cosmos, and if they are sweeping up all matter that gets anywhere near them, what would that mean? Obviously, it means that eventually the entire cosmos will be swallowed up by supermassive black holes! This confirms again that the cosmos has not existed forever and that there was a beginning to the creation.
Dark matter is the glue that holds our universe together. We have discussed a variety of ways that dark matter is critical to the existence of our solar system and of galaxies in general. We have also reported on unsuccessful experiments to try to find that mysterious dark matter. We have discussed the concept of WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) and the idea of attempting to see dark matter by smashing protons together. Now scientists think there may be a connection between dark matter and black holes.
A new study reported in Scientific American (July 2017, page 39-) reports that primordial black holes are now appearing to be the cause of dark matter. The computer model shows that when the creation process usually called “the big bang” took place, seeds of primordial black holes were produced. Those black holes could cause all of the phenomena that we observe and attribute to dark matter. This would be a much simpler cause of the dark matter than previous models would indicate. Dark matter would be a bi-product of the creation process.
From an apologetic standpoint, this is very interesting. God’s power is so great that when He applied that power in the creation process, massive numbers of primordial black holes were produced. If this hypothesis is correct, it tells us something of the power of God and explains the structure we see in the cosmos. It will be interesting to see if future research will confirm or deny this new observation.