Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the Distance to Stars

Measuring the distance to stars is not as hard as you might think. As an earth science teacher at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I enjoyed seeing a student’s eyes light up when they came to understand some scientific fact. They had thought it was beyond them, and suddenly it made sense. Knowing the distance to a star was always one of those facts. Let me show you how easy it is:

Look at a picture on the other side of the room. Hold your finger in front of your face and close one eye. Line up your finger and the object on the wall. Now close that eye and open the other eye, Does your finger appear to jump? If you drew a line between your eyes and extended a line from each eye to the picture, you would have a triangle. The apex angle at the picture is controlled by how far away it is from you. If you do the same experiment with an object that is closer, there will be a different angle.

The illustration on the right shows the Earth making its yearly orbit around the Sun. A line from the Earth to the Sun will establish a triangle. In six months, it will look like objects at the apex angle have moved. How much they will have moved depends on how far away they are. My classes do simulations of these measurements on the football field, and it becomes apparent how easy measuring the distance to stars can be.

The measurement unit astronomers use is based on how far away a star must be for the angle at the apex to be one arcsecond. We call that distance one parsec, and it is 3.26 light-years. If the parallax angle is .5 seconds of arc, the star must be 6.52 light-years away. The smaller the angle, the farther away the object is. The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which has been underway since 2013, can measure the parallax angle to a millionth of a second of arc. Objects that move such a small amount are tens of thousands of light-years away.

The cosmos is much larger than most of us can imagine. The light we see from some of those stars left the stars hundreds of thousands of years ago. Measuring the distance to stars gives new meaning to passages like Isaiah 40:22: “He stretched out the heavens as a curtain and spread them out as a tent to dwell in.”

If it has taken the light from the stars God created many tens of thousands of years to get here, it is evident that the creation didn’t happen a few thousand years ago. Verses describing the process of creation are untimed and undated. Let us not allow human traditions to challenge the integrity of the Bible. God created time, and He certainly is not limited by anything He created.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Water World – Genesis 1:2 Evidence?

Water World - Genesis 1:2 Evidence?

The second verse of Genesis describes a water world, and science indicates the accuracy of the biblical account.

As we have pointed out previously, the first two verses of Genesis 1 describe God’s activity before the creation week begins. These verses are historical and are not a summary of what is to follow. Verse 1 describes the creation of time, space, matter/energy, and the cosmos. Verse 2 describes changes on the Earth that God is making through His Spirit. These verses are undated and untimed, but they are not stated as a summary. As we read about the creation week, we see the creation of land plants and animals that were familiar to the people of Moses’ day. By that time, we have a functional Earth that has all that is necessary to support life.

So what was the Spirit of God doing in verse 2? Science is telling us more about this water world. Recent scientific studies of the marine sediment in the Western Australian outback suggest that biological life was created in a water environment before any landforms came into existence. The studies use oxygen 18 and 16 isotopes to determine the availability of life-supporting oxygen. Land sediments from the early Earth don’t show available oxygen while these marine sediments do.

Dr. Benjamin Johnson of Iowa State University says the data shows that “the Earth was a water world for the first quarter or so of its history.” That agrees well with the suggestion of Genesis 1:2 and is just one more hint of the accuracy of the Genesis account.

For more on this please read “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” available (free) on at THIS LINK. You can also purchase printed copies HERE.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Joshua Bote’s column in USA Today 3/20.

Spring Arrived in the Northern Hemisphere!

Spring Arrived in the Northern Hemisphere!

Just a few hours ago (11:49 p.m. EDT March 19 or 0349 GMT March 20, 2020) spring arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. Officially it is spring, even though it may not feel like it where you live.

For the next three months, the days will continue to get longer as the Sun moves farther north. This year, the Sun reaches its greatest northern latitude on June 20 when it will be at its highest elevation in the Northern Hemisphere sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, it will be at its lowest elevation. The autumn equinox will arrive on September 22. Then, on December 21, the Southern Hemisphere will have the Sun directly overhead at 23 degrees south latitude while it will be at the lowest point in the north.

At Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Penninsula of Mexico, the Mayans built a huge pyramid to a serpent deity around A.D. 1000. They engineered the pyramid so that at the spring equinox, the Sun’s light resembles a huge snake slithering down the steps on the structure’s face. The Mayans called the equinox “the return of the Sun Serpent.” They recognized the reliable and consistent seasons that make life possible. They could not comprehend everything required to create that consistent reliability. They didn’t know the God who created all things.

What does it mean that spring arrived in the Northern Hemisphere? It means that God has designed the Earth and our solar system to be predictable. He located our planet the just-right distance from a just-right star (our Sun). He gave Earth’s axis a just-right tilt relative to our just-right orbit around the Sun to create the seasons. The result, as we wrote yesterday, is that we have a planet suitable not just for life, but for advanced life.

Scientists today use SETI to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. They use telescopes and space probes to look for an exoplanet suitable for life. So far, after millions of hours and unknown amounts of money spent searching for alien life, the results have been zero.

Whether life exists anywhere else in the cosmos makes no difference for the existence of God. As spring arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, it reminds us that life exists here. As we see life blossoming all around us, we are reminded that every human life is precious God. He put us here for a purpose.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

The orbit of the Earth around the Sun produces variations in the seasons with four orbital positions having particular significance. Today, March 19, 2020, the Sun will pass directly overhead at the equator. The exact time will be 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT March 20, 2020). We can rejoice that the vernal equinox arrives today!

This is the earliest equinox in the United States in 124 years! As you can see in the diagram, the usual date for the vernal equinox is March 20 or 21, depending on where you live on the Earth. The reason it arrives on the 19th this year in North America is somewhat complicated, but it has to do with leap years and daylight saving time. We won’t get into that, but I thought we should explain why the diagram differs from this year’s dates.

There is wonderful history of how the Greek scholar Eratosthenes of Alexandria used the equinox to measure the circumference of the Earth. He knew that on the equinox, a pole stuck vertically in the ground left little or no shadow at noon, depending on location. He compared the length of the shadow of a pole in Syene, a town in southern Egypt, with one in Alexandria in northern Egypt. Using the difference in the shadow lengths, he calculated the circumference of the Earth. His calculation was very close to the known circumference today, and it proved the Earth was round. He did that in 245 BC, long before Columbus sailed.

The four polar positions roughly predict the seasons that have been used by every culture to control planting, harvesting, and preparing the soil. In Genesis 1:14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of space to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” God not only instituted day and night, but He also positioned the Sun and Moon so they could be used to mark the seasons we would need to live on this planet.

As the vernal equinox arrives today, we wish you a happy equinox!! Enjoy the season and the official end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We will have more on the spring equinox tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

Earth’s Twilight and What It Means

Earth's Twilight

The part of Earth’s atmosphere we live in, fly airplanes in, and which contains over 90% of our oxygen is called the troposphere. It is much thinner than you may realize. Earth’s diameter is about 8,000 miles, and the thickness of the troposphere is much less than eight miles, making it one one-thousandth of the diameter of Earth. Our air is like an onion skin around our planet. Earth’s twilight daily reminds of the thin blanket that protects us.

You might wonder if the thin nature of our atmosphere is not a risk to us. The truth is that our troposphere is a uniquely designed structure, and if it were any different, life could not exist on this planet. The troposphere has to be…

…thin enough to allow enough light in for the photosynthetic processes of plants, but thick enough to burn up hunks of rock from space as they are pulled in by Earth’s gravity.

…thick enough to provide oxygen to breathe, but not so thick as to create pressures that would cause oxygen toxemia.

…thick enough to trap enough of the Sun’s heat to keep us warm, but thin enough to not overheat us.

…thick enough to refract and scatter dangerous radiation away from us, but thin enough to allow critical wavelengths to reach Earth’s surface for biological purposes.

…thick enough to allow water to exist as a liquid, but not so thick that other gases liquefy or dissolve in water,

These are just a sampling of the critical elements involved in the design of the troposphere. There are additional layers above the troposphere that do other things to support life on this planet. As science has examined the atmospheres of other planets within our solar system, we see that they are very different. The acid air and greenhouse effect of the atmosphere of Venus has turned it into a hellish environment. We do not have the ultraviolet light that bathes and sterilizes Mars because our ozone layer filters out much of that destructive component of the Sun’s light.

Each day as we watch Earth’s twilight come, we should be reminded of the incredible wisdom built into the structure of our atmosphere. As the sky turns from blue to a brief green, to yellow, to orange, and then red, we are seeing the longer wavelengths which we don’t see in the daylight because they are mixed in our atmosphere. Our air keeps X -rays away from our planet. Its density allows flight and keeps the lakes and oceans from evaporating. Its low density allows it to move and carry warmth and moisture from one area of our planet to another so that life can exist from the equator to the poles. Earth’s twilight is a daily reminder of the care and design built into our planet because of God’s love and wisdom.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

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

Milk Production and Greenhouse Gases

Milk Production and Greenhouse GasesHow do you feed millions of humans and meet their nutritional needs without destroying the planet with greenhouse gases? The World Wildlife Federation has released data on one of the primary sources of food for more than six billion people worldwide – milk. The average person in the United States consumed 643 pounds (292 kg) of dairy products in 2017, including milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Those foods came from 9.3 million dairy cows, but there are 278 million in the world. Milk production has grown by 30% from 2005 to 2015, and that comes to 909 million tons. India is the leading producer with 20% of the world’s supply. The U.S. has 12%.

The design of cattle that can produce that much milk was recognized in prehistoric times, and cattle were worshiped because they provided so much food for humans. Skeptics would respond that the environmental impact of cattle is so huge that it is a bad design. It does take 144 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk in the U.S., with over 93% of it involved in growing feed for the cattle. The average dairy cow will eat 100 pounds of feed, and 9% of American cropland is used to grow feed crops for dairy cows. A cow will produce 17 gallons of urine and manure, which can pollute rivers and lakes, and they generate greenhouse gases.

The fact is that only 2% of the total U.S. emission of greenhouse gases comes from milk production. The Northern Great Plains cover 180 million acres in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The land became rich in resources and healthy when grazing animals such as bison aerated and fertilized the soil. With the past numbers of those animals gone, scientists now say that something else must fill that niche or erosion will increase, and invasive plants will take over. Studies by the World Wildlife Federation show that cattle production areas in the Northern Great Plains have lower per acre emissions than row crop agriculture such as corn, soybeans, and wheat. The most recent study shows “done right, ranching can help conserve biodiversity while minimizing its own environmental footprint.”

Like everything else that God has given us, milk production must be managed carefully and with a concern about “taking care of the garden, dressing and keeping it” (Genesis 2:15). Milk is one of God’s great blessings, and a land “flowing with milk and honey” is held out as the most favorable place to live.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: World Wildlife Federation Winter Quarter Report 2019-20. .

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

Wolf Spiders are One of God’s Dandy Designs

Wolf Spiders are One of God's Dandy DesignsThose of us who live in the United States Midwest are familiar with a very large spider species that we see frequently see in our sheds and outdoor equipment. These spiders have a creamy or golden cast with stripes on their heads and brown, gray, and black markings. Wolf Spiders are One of God’s Dandy Designs.

Wolf spiders have stout bodies covered with sensory hairs. They can run very quickly, and they don’t spin webs. Wolf spiders have eight eyes arranged in three rows. The bottom row has four small eyes, the second row has two large forward-facing eyes, and the top eyes are toward the back and side of the head.

After mating, female wolf spiders place their eggs in a silken sac. They attach the pouch to their bodies and carry them around until they are ready to hatch. When they hatch, the mother assists them by carrying them on her back. She can carry up to 100 spiderlings until they are prepared to function on their own. Sometimes the females will step into a water source and allow the babies to crawl down and get a drink and then crawl back up for safety.

Wolf spiders are agents designed to keep a balance in nature. Their diet consists of ants, grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects that pose a threat to humans and our crops. They can bite a human, but while the bite is uncomfortable, it is never lethal. Wolf spiders are one of God’s Dandy Designs to keep things in balance and prevent our crops from being ruined by insects. Eradicating spiders is not a good idea, and wolf spiders are one of the best friends we have.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from the Herald Bulletin by Sheryl Myers October 29, 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.