The dominant theory for the origin of the planets in our solar system assumes that they all evolved from a single mass or nebula. Several factors support that idea. Those factors include the fact that the planets lie roughly in one plane, that they all revolve around the Sun in the same direction, and that there is mathematical predictability to their location. Most of the irregularities that might indicate against a common source, such as variations in planetary tilt, have reasonable explanations. However, new planetary atmosphere variations are difficult to explain.
Recent studies of the atmospheres of the terrestrial planets have shown wide variations. Our atmosphere contains 78% nitrogen, but nitrogen on Venus is 4%, and on Mars, it is 2.7%. Both Mars and Venus have atmospheres that are 95% carbon dioxide, while Earth is 0.1%, and Mercury has none. Earth and Mercury have oxygen in their atmospheres, 21% and 42% respectively, but Venus and Mars have less than 1%. Astronomers theorize that they can explain these planetary atmosphere variations. They suggest that the atmospheres are not original to the planets, but were produced by processes that took place after the formation of the planets. The best guess now is that impacts and outgassing formed the atmospheres. This is not a trivial matter because life is not possible without the proper combination of atmospheric gases.
The Genesis account describes the production of Earth’s structure in a sequence. Genesis 1:6-9 indicates separate creations of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. The new data support the idea that once Earth was created, continued activity prepared it for life. Once again, we find the scientific evidence in support of the Bible’s description.
The ancient Greeks saw the five visible planets and called them “wandering stars” because they moved randomly across the sky instead of staying in fixed positions like the stars. The word “planet” comes from the Greek word for “wanderer.”
We have known for many centuries that the planets are not stars. They appear to wander because they orbit the Sun, just like our planet Earth. They orbit at different speeds, making them appear to wander in the sky. For astronomers to classify a celestial body as a planet, it must meet three requirements:
It must have enough mass for gravity to cause it to become spherical, unlike an asteroid.
It must not have enough mass to cause thermonuclear fusion, which would make it a star.
It must have cleared the area of debris known as planetesimals.
We have five planets that are visible without the aid of telescopes or even binoculars. Two of the visible planets are called inferior planets, not because of importance but because their orbit is inside Earth’s orbit. They are Mercury and Venus. The other three are known as the superior planets since they are beyond Earth’s orbit. They are Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
There is one essential thing the ancient Greeks did not understand about the solar system. They did not know that it is orderly. The Greeks saw a pantheon of gods controlling various aspects of the Earth and skies. Each of their gods had all of the bad traits of humans struggling with each other. It was the Judeo-Christian concept of one almighty and wise creator God who created an orderly system that led to the scientific understanding of the cosmos.
The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 10-11) carried an interesting interview with well-known astronomer Dr. Mike Brown. One of the issues raised is the uniqueness of our solar system compared to other known planetary systems in the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers have discovered thousands of extra-solar planets, and the evidence shows that our solar system design is not typical.
Dr. Brown points out that we are finding giant planets that are closer to their suns than our planet Mercury. We also find stars with eight very small planets that are also inside the orbital distance of Mercury. We don’t see a planet as small as Earth located as far from the parent star as we are anywhere else in the Milky Way. That makes the chances of having a planet in the “Goldilocks Zone” (where water could exist as a liquid) very low. It also means that the masses of the giant planets close to their parent stars must be enormous, and the speed of their orbits must be astronomical.
Proverbs 8 finds “Wisdom” speaking, and she says in verses 22-27, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His work before the Earth ever was … when he prepared the heavens, I was there.” The production of our planet was an incredible work of design, not an accident. That certainly urges us to care for what God has created.
If you do any cooking, you know that to be a successful cook, you have to stir the pot every so often. Not only does stirring the pot prevent the food from sticking to the bottom, but it also improves the flavor by mixing the ingredients. The Earth and its relationship to life is also a kind of pot. We are just beginning to understand how complicated the relationship is between the Sun and the various ecosystems on Earth that allow life and advanced life to exist.
In 2018 NASA launched a probe called the Parker Solar Probe to fly near the Sun and make measurements and observations. No space probe has ever been close enough to the Sun to gain much data, but this probe was designed to fill that gap in our knowledge. At this point, it is about halfway between the Sun and Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
The Sun has what are called switchbacks when the magnetic field briefly reverses itself. This reversal varies the amount of solar wind coming to the Earth. This variable wind compresses Earth’s atmosphere, stirring the pot, so to speak. The mixing of the gases makes changes in our atmosphere, which we can observe in the auroras. The magnitude of the switchbacks also affects our power grids and orbiting communication satellites.
It is obvious that the movement of materials in our atmosphere and the constant changes that take place are part of the solar system design. The new data may open doors not only to how we can protect our power grids, but it may give us further understanding of the origin and sustaining of life on Earth.
Stirring the pot is one more factor in the intricate design of our planet and solar system that makes life possible. When Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom being present before the creation, it speaks of things we are just beginning to understand. The more we know of the creation, the more we know of the Creator.
Above is a photo of the Sun. If you look closely, you will see a small dot in the upper half near the right side. That is the planet Mercury, the closest planet to our Sun. Mercury made what astronomers call a “transit” of the Sun on Monday morning, November 11, 2019. In our area of the country, the sky was overcast, and it was snowing. However, Bill Ingalls of NASA took this photograph from his location in Arlington, Virginia. I find it interesting to consider what the Mercury Transit tells us.
What’s so special about Mercury passing in front of the Sun? For one thing, it doesn’t happen very often. Although the last time was only three years ago, the next time will be in 2032, but it won’t be visible from North America. The next Mercury transit visible in North America will be in 2049. Since Mercury is closer to the Sun, it passes between the Sun and us every 116 days. However, most of the time, it is either above or below the Sun from our view, and Earth’s atmosphere makes it invisible in the daylight.
Scientists used precision telescopes and equipment to study the transit. They can learn more about the atmosphere of Mercury as it is silhouetted against the Sun. Historically Sir Edmund Halley (1656-1742) watched a transit of Mercury and realized that it could be used to measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun. It occurred to him that a transiting planet would appear in different positions to viewers in different locations on Earth. Measuring the apparent shift between two distant Earth locations at the same time and applying a little math, one could calculate the distance to the Sun. In 1769, after Halley’s death, astronomers used a transit of Venus to calculate the Earth-Sun distance.
When it comes to moons, it seems that Earth got cheated. We have only one moon while Mars has two. Neptune has fourteen moons. Uranus has twenty-seven. Saturn not only has rings, but it also has sixty-two moons. Lucky Jupiter has sixty-seven! To add to the embarrassment, puny little Pluto, which is no longer considered a planet, has five times as many moons as Earth has! The only bragging point we have is that we can say we have more moons than Mercury and Venus. (They have none.) So how many moons are enough?
Actually, one works very nicely. Our single moon is critical to the existence of life on Earth. It’s because of the moon that Earth has a stable tilt on its axis of 23.5 degrees. That tilt prevents temperature extremes on this planet. With no inclination, the area of the Equator would be extremely hot and the poles extremely cold and dark all year. With a greater tilt, seasonal weather changes would be extreme all over the planet. Because of the angle of the inclination, we have proper seasons, and the air gets mixed to temper the weather extremes.
Our moon has the right mass at the right distance to keep Earth’s tilt stable. The moon plays several crucial roles in making our planet a great place to live, but stabilizing the tilt is one that’s extremely important. So how many moons are enough? I would say that one moon of the right size and at the right distance is just right.