Full Moon – Mini-Moon

Full Moon - Mini-Moon

If you saw the full moon last night and the partial eclipse early this morning, you might have noticed that it seemed to be a little smaller than usual. That’s because it was a mini-moon.

The Moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical. For that reason, it is not always the same distance away from us. The average distance to the Moon is 238,855 miles (384,400 km). When it’s closest to Earth, the distance is 225,623 miles (363,105 km), and we call that “perigee.” When the moon is farthest away, the distance is 252,088 miles (405,696 km), and we refer to that as “apogee.” So the difference in the distance is approximately 26,500 miles (42,648 km), and that’s just enough to make a noticeable difference in and size.

Since the Moon is now at apogee, the result was that the full moon last night was smaller, and some people call it a “mini-moon.” Why should we care about the distance to the Moon? Two things make our Moon unique as compared to other moons in our solar system. The Moon’s orbit is less elliptical than that of other moons, and it is also the largest compared to the size of the planet it orbits. Because of its size and orbit, the Moon has many beneficial effects on our planet.

We have previously discussed some of the beneficial effects of the Moon, such as HERE, HERE, and HERE. However, perhaps the most crucial benefit is that it gives stability to Earth’s rotation. Spin a top, and you will notice that it tends to wobble in its rotation. That wobble is called “precession.” Without the Moon’s stabilizing effect, the Earth would wobble, causing instability in our seasons, climate, and weather. In other words, without the Moon, our planet could not support advanced life.

Even if you call it a mini-moon, the Moon is the right size and distance with an orbit that is only slightly elliptical. Because of those precise design factors, we can look up at the full moon and thank the Designer who gave us everything we need to make Earth our home.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Lunar Eclipse and the Bible

Lunar Eclipse and the Bible

What is the connection between tonight’s lunar eclipse and the Bible? Before we answer that, let’s consider the eclipse.

Lunar eclipses occur twice a year on average when the Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth. Every 29 and a half days, the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in line with the Earth in the middle. When that happens, we see a full moon. However, a couple of times a year, the alignment is so precise that our planet momentarily blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon. When Earth’s shadow falls across the Moon, we call it an eclipse. Sometimes the shadow completely blocks the Moon, giving us a total eclipse. This eclipse will be 97%.

The eclipse will occur in the early hours of Thursday, November 19, and it will be the longest partial eclipse in 580 years. The reason for the length is that the Moon is at apogee, meaning it is at its farthest point away from Earth in its somewhat elliptical orbit. Because of that, the Moon will be moving at its slowest speed in its orbit. (That’s a little bit of high school physics.) This eclipse is occurring during what some refer to as the Beaver full moon because it was the opening of the beaver-trapping season. In this case, it is the Micro Beaver because the Moon is farther away and will appear a little smaller.

This eclipse will be visible from all 50 of the United States at different areas of the sky, depending on your geographic location. The peak will be at around 4 a.m. EST (9 a.m. UTC), but it will stretch over almost three and a half hours. You can see a world map of the areas where the eclipse will be visible, check the exact beginning and end times for your location, and even watch a live stream of the eclipse at the timeanddate.com website. You may have to resort to the live stream if your area is overcast, or you don’t want to go outside early in the morning.

Now, back to the connection between the lunar eclipse and the Bible. The point is that we can accurately predict the exact times and dates of lunar and solar eclipses many years in advance. We can also precisely know the time for sunrise and sunset anywhere on Earth. We can also launch a rocket to Mars, knowing exactly where the planet will be in space when the rocket arrives. How is that possible? Because God is faithful.

The ancients believed in many gods with human failings, acting capriciously. It was Christian faith in an omnipotent and never-changing God that made science possible. We have often said that we can know God from the things He has made. Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from has been made…” The book of scripture and the book of nature were both written by God, so they must agree. Even though we learn more details about God and His plan from scripture, we can know much about Him from nature. That is the connection between the lunar eclipse and the Bible. One thing the creation teaches us is that God is faithful, just as we see in Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.”

— Roland Earnst © 2021

A Lesson in Perspective from the Moon

A Lesson in Perspective from the Moon

“It all depends on how you look at things.” You hear that common phrase applied to many kinds of issues. If you doubt that, here is a lesson in perspective from the Moon. First, let’s look at the facts about the Moon and what we think we see when we look at it. Astronomer Bob Berman’s article In the October issue of Astronomy magazine contains some interesting facts comparing what we see and reality. 

How big is a full moon? Berman points out that it would take 180 full moons stacked on top of each other to fill the space between the horizon and a point directly overhead. The Moon is very small from our perspective, even though it appears large, especially when it’s near the horizon. How much brighter is the Sun than a full moon? The answer is that the Sun is 450,000 times more luminous. The Moon is a very dim object, just a little brighter than coal and much dimmer than dark green leaves. If you remember albedo from your high school physics class (the proportion of the incident light reflected by a surface), the Moon’s albedo averages 11, and a dark green forest is 15. Charcoal is 5.

Why does the Moon look so bright on a clear night when the Moon is at full phase? The answer is a lesson in perspective. Our eyes are designed to give measures of brightness based on what surrounds the object we’re observing. From our perspective, when we look at the Moon, we see an object in front of a black background. Our brain tells us that the Moon is white because its surroundings are completely black. 

Astronauts have been to the Moon and found that most of its surface is basalt, a black volcanic rock. Basalt reflects very little of the light coming to it from the Sun. So compared to Venus or Jupiter, which have clouds efficiently reflecting light from the Sun, the Moon is a dim and dark object. 

On a human level, there is a lesson in perspective. An old joke tells about the response a man gave when asked if his wife was beautiful. He responded, “Compared to what?” The same issue arises when someone asks if Christianity offers any advantage to a person or the world in general. Compared to all human philosophies, the answer has to be that the world and humanity have benefitted from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We are talking about the actual teachings of Christ, not the perversions such as the Crusades, the inquisitions, or ethnic struggles. What have atheism and secular humanism done to benefit the people of the world?

Jesus gave a lesson in perspective in Matthew 5:14-16 when he said, “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine before mankind that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The Sun is the source of the small amount of light we get from the Moon. Jesus is the source of the light we give to the world. The question for those of us who are Christians should be, “What is our albedo?” How much of what Jesus shines on us do we reflect on a very dark planet?

— John N. Clayton © 2021

First Solar Eclipse of 2021

First Solar Eclipse of 2021

On the morning of June 10, 2021, the Sun will rise as a crescent in areas of the far northern United States and southern Canada. That will include the upper peninsula of Michigan, northern New York State, New England, and southern Quebec and Ontario. It’s the beginning of the first solar eclipse of 2021.

Solar eclipses happen when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. This will not be a total eclipse because the Moon will not completely cover the Sun. It’s called an annular or “ring of fire” eclipse. Total solar eclipses happen when the Moon completely blocks the Sun from view, as we saw in 2017. Because the Moon’s orbit is elliptical, it is not always the same distance from Earth. This time, it’s too far away for its shadow to cover the Sun.

When the eclipse reaches its peak, there will be a ring of light from the Sun visible all the way around the Moon’s shadow. Unfortunately, that ring of fire will not be visible anywhere in the United States. The full annular eclipse will only be visible in a narrow path across northern Canada, parts of Greenland, and northeastern Russia. A partial eclipse will be visible from a much wider area, including much of North America, Asia, and Europe. If you are attempting to view any solar eclipse, do not look directly at the Sun without special eye protection similar to welding glass. Ordinary sunglasses will not do. Some websites give instructions for building a simple pinhole viewer.

If you miss the first solar eclipse of 2021, you might be interested to know you will probably miss the next one. It will be a total eclipse on December 4, visible in Antarctica. Don’t despair. There will be more in the coming years. You can also safely watch the eclipse live on the websites listed below. We can accurately predict solar and lunar eclipses years in advance because of the excellent engineering design God has put into our solar system.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

You can view the eclipse live on the Date and Time website and the Virtual Telescope Project.

Opening the Suez Canal by the Moon’s Gravity

Opening the Suez Canal by the Moon’s Gravity
Photo of the Suez Canal blocked by the giant ship taken from the International Space Station.
Credit: Roscosmos/NASA

The Moon does many things that affect life on Earth. Sometimes its power can help in ways we never considered, such as opening the Suez Canal.

For a week, we saw news reports about a giant ship blocking that canal which carries much of the world’s shipping. The offending vessel is one of the world’s largest container ships, and it got stuck on the sand and turned sideways to block the entire channel. Tugboats and dredging vessels worked to dislodge it, but they were toy boats by comparison. You could think of a child with a toy shovel and sand bucket trying to free a beached whale and push it back into the ocean. I saw a news report with an “expert” saying it could take weeks to free the vessel.

Then, the Moon stepped in. The March full-moon arrived over the weekend and helped to free the ship. We have said before that the Moon does many things to support life on Earth. Its light helps nocturnal animals, and sometimes humans, to find their way. The Moon’s gravity stabilizes the Earth’s tilt which causes the seasons. The gravity also causes the tides that clean the ocean’s shores and estuaries. The tides and the moonlight play an essential role in the reproduction of sea turtles and many crustaceans. The tides even help to free stuck ships.

On March 29, the container ship Ever Given became dislodged, opening the Suez Canal. The 1,300 foot-long ((400 m) vessel would still be stuck if the Moon’s gravity had not raised the water level to lift it enough that the tug boats could move it. Tides are highest during the full-moon. At that time, the Sun and the Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. Their gravity pulls on the water raising the tides. In this case, that force was enough to free a ship the size of the Empire State Building from being stuck in the mud and thus to open the Suez Canal.

One more thing about the Moon is that it has just the right size to allow us to have total solar eclipses, which benefit scientists in their study of the Sun. We never stop marveling at the powerful forces in God’s creation.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Reference: Space.com

Earth Rock Found on the Moon

Earth Rock Found on the Moon
Lunar Sample 14321 NASA

Frequently, science clarifies biblical statements, but no scientific facts have ever contradicted the biblical account. Contradiction would be impossible since the God who created and made Earth also gave us the Bible. A recent example of their agreement is demonstrated by an Earth rock found on the moon.

The Bible uses an economy of language because an exhaustive explanation would have confused people reading it 500 years ago. The simple clarity of the Genesis account contrasts with literally thousands of scientific papers and books giving details of the biblical statement, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Another interesting passage in Genesis is the second verse, which indicates a change in the Earth. The most accurate translation of verse two is, “And the earth became without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s daily blog announced the results of an internal X-ray scan of lunar sample 14321. Alan Shepard picked up the 14321 sample during the Apollo 14 lunar mission. It shows chemistry identical to Earth’s material and completely different from lunar material. NASA says that the sample is older than Earth’s surface materials and indicates a dramatic event.

Various things could have caused this change in Earth’s surface. A massive volcanic event like the one that produced Mount Mazama (now called Crater Lake in Oregon) could blow material into space. Such volcanic eruptions produced lava, which enriched the soils allowing plant growth to be prolific in the ancient Earth. Another possibility is that a celestial object like an asteroid or comet hit our planet and blasted material into space, with some of it landing on the moon. Either way, an Earth rock found on the moon fits the biblical narrative.

The scientific information simply demonstrates the accuracy of the brief biblical account. When religious leaders challenged Galileo’s science, he wrote in a letter, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.” Science and the Bible are symbiotic – each beneficial to the other and in agreement with each other. However, they explain different aspects of human concern.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: APOD.NASA.gov for February 3, 2021.

Potential Health Problems of Space Travel

Potential Health Problems of Space Travel

More and more data shows that leaving Earth and venturing into outer space away from Earth’s constant gravity and the protection of our atmosphere and magnetosphere is much more destructive than anyone imagined. One of our regular readers sent us a quote from NBC News about the potential health problems of space travel. Here is what it says:

“The number of deaths due to heart disease among the Apollo lunar astronauts is almost five times greater than that in non-flight astronauts, or astronauts who never flew missions in space, researchers from Florida State University found. Compared to astronauts who flew only in low Earth orbit (LEO), the heart risk among Apollo astronauts is four times higher. There were no differences between LEO and non-flight astronauts.”

We recently reported on the astronaut twin study, which showed physical changes even in low Earth orbit. We don’t yet know what potential health problems of space travel may become evident in the long-term.

Micro-gravity and exposure to radiation seem to combine to cause bodily harm. Earth’s magnetic field is more protective than science has understood. Working in the International Space Station is less of an issue because the LEO means that some of Earth’s protections still function. Going to Mars may be impossible with the present spaceship design.

We will be interested in future data on travel to the Moon and prolonged existence in outer space. We know that God’s design of planet Earth makes it suitable for life, but we are not fully aware of the potential health problems of space travel. You can read the full NBC report from HERE.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Radiation Levels on the Moon

Radiation Levels on the Moon

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Associated Press, September 26, 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

What the Mercury Transit Tells Us

What the Mercury Transit Tells UsAbove 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.

Think about what the Mercury transit tells us without even seeing it? Because of the fact that astronomers can know in advance the exact date and time of a transit of Mercury (or Venus), or a solar eclipse (when the Moon passes between Earth and Sun) we realize that the solar system is orderly. We can study the heavens and learn of the Creator. We can see His wisdom and design of our planet and the solar system in which it exists. We can know there is a God by the things He has made (Romans 1:20) as the heavens declare His glory (Psalms 19:1).
— Roland Earnst © 2019