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

‘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

Perseid Meteor Shower
One of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year will reach its peak on the nights of August 11-12 and 12-13. This year’s Perseids will be exceptionally brilliant because the moon will be only a small crescent and will set early. You can best see the Perseid meteor shower after 12:00 AM local time.

The Perseids are interesting because they frequently feature a brilliant fireball which can actually cast a shadow or a bolide which is a meteor that explodes. The Perseid meteor shower gets its name from the fact that the meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Perseus which will be in the northeast for those of us looking up from the United States. However, you will see them streaking in any area of the sky.

The Perseid meteor shower is debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle which was discovered in 1862 and returned most recently in November of 1992. These meteors are small particles usually no larger than a pea and as small as a grain of sand. They become visible at an altitude of 55 miles (88 k) where they enter the atmosphere with an average velocity of about 133,200 miles (214,365 km) per hour. Perseid meteors usually burn up by the time they reach an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) and never contact the surface of the earth. If they did, they would be called meteorites.

So, if you can, find a place away from city lights after midnight. Lean back in a lounge chair where you can see the expanse of the sky. The best viewing is with your unaided eyes. Binoculars or a telescope will not allow you to view the whole sky. Then just enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. We will have more on the Perseid meteor shower in our post tomorrow.
–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.

Orionid Meteor Shower

Orionid Meteor Shower
The Orionid meteor shower has just passed its peak for 2017. The “shooting stars” that are visible in this annual event are not stars, but they are comet debris.

Halley’s comet (1P/Halley) passes within sight of Earth about every 75 to 76 years. Like all comets, it leaves behind a trail of small rocks that have fallen away. Every year at this time Earth’s rotation around the Sun causes us to pass through that trail of debris. Comet pieces are pulled in by Earth’s gravity, and they burn up because of friction with our atmosphere. We see the streaks across the sky, and since they seem to come from the direction of the Orion constellation, we call it the Orionid meteor shower.

Two years ago I was able to “catch a falling star” on camera. You can see the one I caught streaking downward from Orion’s left foot. In case you have trouble seeing Orion, the hunter, I have added labels to the second picture.

I think Orion is interesting because God talks about it in Job 38:31. God finally speaks in answer to Job and his friends, and God asks Job a bunch of questions that Job can’t answer. Among those questions, “Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their season?” In other words, “Can you untie the belt of Orion?” Of course, Job could not. Nor could he do any of the other things in the questions God asked of him in chapters 38 and 39. Only God can.

The point God was trying to get across to Job is that God is in control and we need to trust Him, even when we can’t understand why things don’t go the way we think they should. Job finally understood that and said, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

There are events in the world and in my life that make me wonder why God allows those things to happen. Orion reminds me that I am not in control, but God is. Like Job, I have to realize that there are things I just don’t understand. The Orionid meteor shower is a yearly reminder of that.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Jupiter Comet Shield

Jupiter Comet Shield
Jupiter Struck by Shoemaker-Levy 9

There is a significant amount of debris left over from the formation of the solar system existing in clouds outside the solar system. That debris eventually gets attracted toward the Sun. In 1992 scientists observed Jupiter pulling the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 apart and breaking it into more than 20 pieces which eventually slammed into Jupiter’ surface in 1994. We learned that we have a Jupiter comet shield to protect our planet.

It is obvious that Jupiter is essential to the survival of life on Earth if for no other reason than the shield it gives us. Right now a spacecraft named Juno is orbiting Jupiter and sending back data and pictures that are amazing. The spacecraft has made five elliptical orbits since last July dipping to within 2100 miles of Jupiter’s atmosphere, collecting data, and taking photographs. ScienceNews.org has some of the amazing pictures.

Here are some things we have learned about Jupiter:

*Polar cyclones 900 miles wide circle the planet.

*Jupiter has a powerful magnetic field about ten times stronger than Earth’s.

*Powerful auroras work in the polar areas of the planet but are different from what we observe on Earth in both structure and function.

*There is a concentrated band of ammonia near the planet’s equator.

There is still much to learn about this giant planet. The observations we are making assist us in understanding how the solar system was formed. They also show us what affect Jupiter has on us today as well as in the future. Psalms 19:1 tells us that “The Heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork.” It is an exciting time to be alive and to watch as we use new tools to understand the creation and how God has given us a Jupiter comet shield.
–John N. Clayton © 2017