One area of constant scientific investigation is the involvement of magnetism in living things. Studies have shown that cattle can align themselves with Earth’s magnetic field. Magnetism seems to be used by some animals in migrations. The presence of magnetism in the human brain has led to research into what that magnetism does and how medical science can use it to treat certain diseases. In addition to animals, plants use magnetism.
Scientists have found that magnetism plays a role in the survival of some plants. For example, the Venus flytrap uses jaw-like leaves to trap insects. Scientists have been mystified by what causes the “jaws” to close. However, it appears that stimulation from prey produces a small magnetic field which triggers the “jaws” to snap shut.
Studies have shown that other plants use magnetism by generating magnetic fields, including a bean and a single-celled alga and bacteria. This magnetic ability seems to be built into the plants for highly specialized functions. Thus, God’s design for every living thing is both subtle and complex.
Science is just beginning to understand how plants use magnetism. As we have said before, that Earth’s magnetic field has reversed in the past. We are far from understanding the many ways such a reversal could have affected life on this planet.
Realize that magnetism in a living plant requires ferromagnetic materials to be built into the plant. Those magnetic materials would serve no other purpose than to allow the plant to use magnetism somehow. Everywhere we look in the natural world, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.
God created planet Earth for us to live on, and He designed us with what we need to survive here. The more we learn about conditions elsewhere in the solar system, the more we see how unique Earth is. Recently we have seen research data concerning radiation levels on the Moon. Our studies reveal that astronauts on the Moon could get up to 1000 times more radiation than what we experience on Earth.
Dr. Kerry Lee at the Johnson Space Center in Houston has analyzed data from a Chinese-German team. The Germans used data retrieved by a Chinese lander named Chang’e 4. They compared it with data from a NASA orbiter that has been circling the Moon for over ten years. The two sets of data agree 100%. The primary risk factor for humans is cancer. The message is that if humans try to exist on the Moon, they will need thick-walled shelters for protection.
We take for granted the romantic idea that humans can wander around space, looking for new information about the stars and planets. In doing that, we fail to realize how carefully designed the Earth is to avoid the dangers of radiation in space. Astronauts in the International Space Station get three times less radiation than the radiation levels on the Moon.
Our upper atmosphere and magnetic field help to shield us from radiation. God carefully designed the Earth with features to protect us from radiation from the Sun and other stars. Proverbs 8:22-30 finds wisdom speaking about the creation. The more we look out into space, the more we see the necessity of wisdom in making a world where we can live safely.
Before GPS, people found their way with a compass. Many still do. Did you know that finding your way is possible, even if you don’t have any eyes or ears, or even a brain, as long as you have a compass? Magnetotactic bacteria (MTB) use the magnetic field of planet Earth to know which way to go. To do that, they have to build a compass. Realize that these are single-cell organisms that live in marine or freshwater habitats.
Inside the cells of all living things, there are subunits called organelles that perform various functions. MTB have organelles called magnetosomes that contain magnetic crystals. They build the magnetosomes by digesting iron and combining the iron with sulfur to form iron sulfide or with oxygen to form iron oxide. The iron oxide is also known as magnetite, and it’s a powerful magnet.
The bacteria form chains of these magnetic crystals inside their cells. The magnetosome chain acts as a compass needle aligning the MTB to Earth’s magnetic field. In this way, the magnetotactic bacteria can “know” the direction to move. Why do these bacteria need to know directions? They are anaerobic bacteria, meaning that they survive without oxygen. Oxygen can be deadly to them, so they need to find an area away from it. Rather than blindly going around in circles looking for a safe place, they move in a straight line to their anaerobic safe zone.
In 1963, an Italian scientist first noticed certain bacteria aligning and moving in the direction of the north pole. It wasn’t until 2007 that scientists paid much attention to that observation. Without eyes, ears, or a brain, magnetotactic bacteria can find where they need to go. But without a brain, how can they know to do this? And how can a single-cell bacterium build the magnetosome organelles? These magnetic crystals are difficult for humans to create in a laboratory. In fact, scientists have found that the magnetite produced by bacteria is better for some applications than what the scientists can produce in the laboratory. For that reason, they are looking to find a way to mass-produce MTB to obtain their magnetosomes.
Who taught the magnetotactic bacteria this fantastic skill? Did one of them figure it out and then pass that knowledge on to future generations? We don’t think so. A better explanation is that the Master Designer programmed the skill into them.
You can read a scientific paper on MTB at THIS LINK. Leading evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) once said that if you could find a magnetic mechanism as part of a living organism, it would disprove evolution. You can read more about Haldane and his statement at THIS LINK.
When I took my earth science students on our annual field trip to Lake Michigan, we did a “magnetism and history” exercise showing Earth’s magnetic reversals. We would go to the large sand dune known as “Old Baldy” (no, not named after me), cover a bar magnet with a white handkerchief, and stick it into the sand. The handkerchief would come out completely covered with little black needles of magnetite which is a magnetic iron oxide.
There was a nearby pool where the water was calm and where you could see the magnetic pieces with a pair of binoculars. They pretty much lined up in the same direction, and I showed the students that they were lined up with a compass needle. We would then dig down several feet into the sand to a layer of mud where the magnetite pieces pointed every which way. I would ask my students to tell me why that would be. Most of them said that the Earth must have lost its magnetic field at the time when that mud was deposited. I then told them if we dug down deeper we would find the magnetite pieces lined up again, but in the opposite direction. The point was obvious–the magnetic field of the Earth had flipped.
In reality, there are several other possible causes for the scrambled magnetite pieces, but the magnetic reversal did happen. In the mid-ocean ridge of the Atlantic, lava flows have trapped the magnetite. The process is called “thermoremanent magnetization.” Because the lava flows happened multiple times, they show a picture of the history of the Earth’s magnetic reversals. These lava flows have recorded over a dozen “flips” in the magnetic field of Earth.
Archaeologist Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University has led studies of the history of magnetic changes on the Earth. Ancient pottery has tiny magnetic minerals that were aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field when the pottery was fired in the kiln. The stronger the magnetic field, the greater the alignment of the magnetic particles. From the late eighth to the second century B.C., ceramic jars bearing the impressions of royal stamps were manufactured in and around Jerusalem. Scientists have studied handles from 67 pieces of pottery, and they have found that the magnetic field of the Earth has gone through periodic rises and falls throughout history. The mapping of the magnetic fields gives a record of history, with small changes producing a pattern that improves dating techniques by a huge factor.
What causes the Earth’s magnetic field is still not completely understood, and the magnetic reversals are even more of a mystery. By measuring the magnetic particles in the pottery, scientists can date the pottery very accurately. This dating method can answer many questions about ancient kings and kingdoms including the major figures in the history of Israel.
On October 6 NASA’s daily space news website apod.nasa.gov contained pictures of a Martian global aurora. Because Mars has virtually no magnetic field, the radiation level goes sky high during solar storms. In the latest storm, radiation levels doubled–which would have been dangerous to life on Mars.
Earth’s magnetic field is very strong, and deflects radiation coming from the Sun. The radiation is deflected toward the poles, which is why we see the auroras near the poles. By deflecting the radiation, the magnetic field protects life on the Earth from dangerous levels. The more we learn about the cosmos, the more we see factors that make life possible on Earth. Our magnetic field is one more example of the design of our planet.
Looking for life in space is not just about whether there is water on a planet. There are a huge number of other factors that must be present. A strong magnetic field to shield from radiation is just one of those factors. Of course, an atmosphere suitable for life is also a requirement. NASA has a space probe called MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) orbiting Mars. The purpose is to find out if Mars lost its atmosphere due to not having a strong magnetic field.