June 10, 2019, is an excellent time to observe the largest planet in our solar system. The reason is that Jupiter is in opposition to our Sun.
When astronomers say that Jupiter is in opposition, they mean that planet Earth is passing between the Sun and Jupiter. At this time, Jupiter will rise in the east as the Sun sets in the west, and it will set in the west as the Sun rises in the east. In other words, Jupiter will be visible all night long, and it will be at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night.
The picture was taken by the JunoCam on NASA’s spacecraft Juno which is currently orbiting Jupiter. NASA posts the raw images online and encourages individuals to download and process them. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill enhanced this one. You can find access to the raw images and see the work of other citizen scientists by clicking HERE.
When you see Jupiter in the sky tonight, it will not look like this picture, but it will be the brightest object in the sky. Jupiter is not a rocky planet like Earth. It’s a gas giant which if were 80 times more massive, would be hot enough to set off nuclear reactions in its core. Then it would be a star giving off its own light instead of just reflecting the Sun’s light. However, if you could lump all the other planets in our solar system together (including Earth), Jupiter would be 2.5 times more massive than them all.
Why do we need such a huge gas giant in the outer solar system? As we have said in previous posts, Jupiter is a comet sweeper. With its massive size and gravity, Jupiter protects us from objects such as comets coming from outside our solar system. In the 1990s, NASA observed Jupiter pulling apart and destroying comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. You can read about that in our previous post HERE. Jupiter also affects Earth’s climate cycles, which you can read about HERE.
Jupiter is in opposition about every 13 months. Last year opposition occurred in May. Next year it will be on July 14. If you miss seeing Jupiter tonight because of cloudy weather or any other reason, don’t despair. Jupiter will be closest to Earth on June 12, and it will continue to be visible, but right now it’s visible all night long.
We depend on the Sun every day to generate the energy that makes life on Earth possible, but have you considered how the Sun works?
The key to the Sun’s energy-supplying ability is a delicate balance between gravity and electromagnetism. Gravity curves space and pulls together all objects that have mass. The greater the mass, the greater the force of gravity. Right now gravity is pulling us toward the center of the Earth, but we are being held in place by the strength of the Earth’s crust and whatever floors or objects we have below us. The strength of the surfaces supporting us comes from electromagnetic forces between electrons and the protons in the nucleus of atoms. Those forces bond atoms of elements to each other forming compounds.
Since the Sun’s mass is more than a million times that of Earth, its gravity is more than a million times as great. The tremendous force in the core of the Sun overcomes the electromagnetic force and squeezes atoms of hydrogen tightly together igniting a thermonuclear reaction producing helium.
The creation of helium atoms releases high energy gamma-ray photons. If those gamma rays reached Earth, they would kill us. But the vast majority of them are transformed before they leave the surface of the Sun. On the way from the core to the surface they bounce off protons and electrons heating the hydrogen gas in the outer portion of the Sun. That heating increases the gas pressure enough to overcome the pull of gravity. Otherwise, the Sun would collapse on itself.
The bouncing of those gamma rays slows them so much that it takes hundreds of thousands of years for them to reach the Sun’s surface. If they could travel in a straight line, it would take only seconds, but they would emerge as deadly gamma rays that would reach the Earth in eight minutes, destroying all life. By the time those sterilizing gamma-ray photons reach the Sun’s surface, their energy has mainly been reduced to life-giving optical photons. There are still some dangerous rays that reach the Earth, but our atmosphere takes care of most of those.
Our mission statement is: “Science and faith are friends and not enemies.” One of the challenges that we hear from atheists and skeptics is that statement is bogus because the scientific method can not be applied to it.
As a public school science teacher I always tried to make sure that students knew what scientific method is and could see how to apply it to the problems we face in the modern age. Sometimes that is incredibly difficult to do. Our textbooks usually gave six steps to use the scientific method:
1. Identify and define the problem. 2. Accumulate all possible data. 3. Formulate a tentative hypothesis that would solve the problem in step 1. 4. Conduct experiments to test the hypothesis – the more experiments, the better. 5. Interpret the results of the experiments without prejudice. 6. Repeat the steps until you find an acceptable solution.
In high school science classes, those six steps are usually easy to do, but sometimes later data alters what we thought was a solid fact proven by scientific method. Suppose we ask, “What causes gravity?” We could say “I think gravity is a property of mass.” All objects with mass have a gravitational attraction for all other d objects that have mass. Other people might say that it’s a property of electric charge, or maybe spin. You write down all the possibilities and conduct experiments to see which hypothesis can be experimentally verified.
To see if mass produces gravity, I fill two large bags with cement, and I hang them close to each other. If mass causes gravity, they should attract each other. That is an experiment I can do. I can also charge two balls electrically and see if they attract each other including the electric forces in the calculation. I can spin the two balls and see if they change their attraction for each other as they spin. The mass experiment works, and all the others don’t. I publicize my results and wait for additional experiments to support or deny what my experiments have shown.
The example I have just described is in most physics textbooks and has been done and repeated hundreds of times. But then a scientist did an experiment that didn’t support this conclusion. He found that when a beam of light passed by a huge object (the Sun), the light curved. This suggested that gravity was actually a product of space, not mass. The difference was that the size of the experiment produced different results when you used a star instead of a bag of cement.
As we have looked at the very large (quasars) and the very small (quarks), we have found that the scientific method is hard to do and sometimes impossible. String theory, brane theory, multiverse theory, and a variety of other proposals simply cannot be tested by an experiment. For the time being at least, we cannot test them by scientific method. They are not alternatives we can hold up as fact. They cannot even be considered as serious scientific explanations since they cannot be demonstrated or falsified by scientific method.
Trying to use the scientific method in areas like psychology, sociology, and matters of faith are also frequently difficult. What we generally do is to rely on statistics to evaluate a potential cure for a psychological difficulty. Does a treatment method work? Is a particular activity statistically helpful in relieving a mental or spiritual problem? As more and more data become available, we examine that data. We must reject some psychological theories (like Freud’s view of sex) and use the data to make a new proposal we can analyze.
Christ challenged his followers to examine the data. When the disciples of John came to Christ to ask if He was the promised Messiah, He responded: “Go and tell John what things you have seen and heard: how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised …” (Luke 7:22). Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to take His word for it. He asked them to look at the evidence. The evidence supports the claims of Christianity. If we honestly examine the evidence, our investigation will lead to a better understanding of how our faith works.
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.
Most people know that the Moon causes tides. The gravitational pull of the Moon mostly causes the ocean tides. The tides are essential for cleaning the coastlines and estuaries.
On average, the Moon is 238,900 miles (384,470 km) from Earth. What if the Moon were only half of its present distance from Earth? The Moon half as far away from Earth would create ocean tides eight times higher than they are now. At one-fourth the current distance from Earth, the tides would be sixty-four times higher than they are today. Imagine a world with tides like that! Coastal cities around the world would be in danger. Coastal lowlands would be uninhabitable. The coasts would be eroded away in a short time. Upflowing tidal waters would overpower rivers that flow into the oceans. Floodplains along the rivers would fill and drain with each ebb and flow of the tide.
With a closer Moon, all kinds of aquatic creatures living along the shore would not survive the destructive forces of the tides. In addition to those catastrophes, seawater would deposit salt on the fertile land along the rivers making them barren. Glaciers along the coast of Alaska and Greenland and the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica would be broken up. Icebergs would clog the Atlantic Ocean. Icebergs would sometimes wash ashore with the tides in places far from the cold climates, crushing whatever was in the way.
Gravity controls the universe — at least on a large scale. Obviously, gravity keeps you and your possessions from floating away into space. Gravity also holds planets and stars together. It holds the Moon in orbit around the Earth and all of the planets in orbit around the Sun. Gravity holds the galaxies together. But other forces are stronger than gravity.
Four interactions make the universe work: the weak and strong nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity. Gravity is by far the weakest of those forces. The weak and strong nuclear forces are limited to a very short range within the atom. Only the electromagnetic force and gravity reach out to the vast universe. Since the electromagnetic force is so much stronger than gravity, why does gravity control the universe?
Everything is made of atoms and atoms contain electrons and protons. Electrons have a negative charge, and protons have an equal and opposite positive charge. Electromagnetism causes opposite charges to attract and like charges to repel each other. Gravity, of course, pulls anything with mass together.
The reason electromagnetism does not overpower the much weaker force of gravity is a delicate balance between electrons and protons. For each electron in the universe, there is a proton, so the plus and minus electrical forces cancel each other, creating electrical neutrality. Without that balance, we could not exist.
The balance between electrons and protons is so delicate that if you were building a universe and accidentally put in one extra electron for each trillion trillion trillion electron/proton pairs (that’s one followed by 36 zeroes), it would be catastrophic. The electrical repulsion between those negatively-charged electrons would overpower the gravitational force. The result would be that gravity could not pull any mass together. If gravity could not pull masses together, there would be no planets, no stars, no galaxies. Electromagnetic repulsion would create a universe of dispersed particles and nothing else.
Does Your GPS work? If so, you can give credit to Albert Einstein. In 1905 Einstein published the Theory of Special Relativity which said that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This presented a problem because gravity acts between objects instantly and thus it seems to be faster than the speed of light. It was a problem that needed a solution.
Ten years later, in 1915 Einstein revealed his Theory of General Relativity which resolved the problem. The explanation was that the Sun and planets cause space to curve around them and this warped shape of space influences the motion of other objects passing by them. That’s why the Moon orbits the Earth, and it’s why Earth and the other planets orbit the Sun.
This warping of space also bends light beams that pass through space. In 1919 British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington confirmed that Einstein was correct. Eddington observed the bending of light from distant stars as the light passed by the Sun during a total solar eclipse.
The understanding of how gravity bends space and light beams has given us methods of making measurements in space and detecting planets orbiting other stars. Einstein also said that time is warped by gravity causing time to move more slowly near massive bodies like the Earth. The effect of gravity on time allows Global Positioning Satellites to determine the exact position of the GPS receiver you use in your car.
A new study shows that gravitational fields of Venus-Jupiter affect Earth’s climate cycle. A research group at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University released the study on May 7, 2018. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and Venus is our closest planetary neighbor. Together they have a significant influence on the Earth’s climate.
Dennis Kent, who led the study said, “The climate cycles are directly related to how the Earth orbits the sun and slight variations in sunlight reaching Earth lead to climate and ecological changes.” The study shows that there is a repeating cycle which they calculate takes 405,000 years. That cycle causes wobbles in the Earth’s orbit leading to climate extremes. Not only do studies like this help us understand the past, but they also help in our understanding of current global conditions such as climate change.
The enormous number of things that have to be just what they are for life to exist on Earth continues to grow. In 1961, American astronomer Frank Drake, a founder of the SETI program, presented an equation that attempted to calculate the number of “earths” that might exist in our galaxy. Drake’s equation took the variables that must be right for a planet like ours to support life. He then multiplied the variables together to get the probability of another planet like ours.
Dr. Drake had only seven variables in his calculation, and today that number exceeds 50. We list 47 of them on our doesgodexist.org website, but even that list is far from complete. Now that we know that the gravitational fields of Venus-Jupiter affect Earth’s climate cycle, we have one more factor to add to the list.
One of the interesting words in the Old Testament dealing with space and its creation is the Hebrew word natah–usually translated stretched out.
This word describes God’s act of creating space/time. Natah suggests that the cosmos is a like fabric that can be stretched. It could also mean stretching out as when we pull the cord of a lawnmower or outboard motor. (For uses of the word natah, see: Psalms 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; 44:24; 45:12; 51:13; Jeremiah 51:15; Zechariah 12:1)
Three United States scientists won the Nobel physics prize in October of 2017 by detecting ripples of gravitational waves traveling through the universe. In September of 2015, these scientists and others detected gravitational waves for the first time confirming a part of Einstein’s predictions.
The bottom line is that space is not empty, and objects in space are not isolated. The creation is like a garment that can have ripples in it. Stretched out gravitational waves fill the universe.
One of the great frontier areas of physics today is quantum mechanics. This area has to do with the very small. It deals with the construction of electric charge, mass, gravity, and how matter behaves in space/time. Things that happen in quantum mechanics sometimes seem to violate the fundamental laws of physics.
One of the major concepts of quantum mechanics is simultaneity. The New Physics Dictionary says “Computational scientists wonder at the thought that a quantum system could exist in a superposition of two different conditions or locations simultaneously–this possibility is, in fact, being realized in the exploding field of quantum computation.” In other words, in the quantum world, one thing can be in two places at the same time.
Common sense tells us that in our everyday experience a particle cannot be in two different widely-separated locations at the same time. That does not seem to apply to subatomic particles. What works in the world in which we live where time and space have specific boundaries, does not work in the subatomic world of quarks, neutrinos, mesons, and antimatter.
As scientists conduct more research, it has become obvious that most of the standard gravitational rules still apply in the quantum area. Scientists reporting on arXiv.org have announced that their studies show the equivalence principle applies to quantum particles just as it did when Galileo showed that gravity works the same on all objects no matter what their mass. A 50-ton boulder and a bowling ball dropped from the same elevation will hit the ground at the same time. When scientists conduct similar experiments with quantum particles, the same result takes place. They have also found that the conservation laws of energy are consistent in the quantum area.