More Viewers than the Super Bowl

More Viewers than the Super Bowl
The “Great American Eclipse” of 2017 had more viewers than the Super Bowl. According to Nielson ratings, the 2017 Super Bowl had 111 million viewers on TV. About 215 million adults, or 88 percent of the United States adult population, watched the eclipse. That total includes those who watched it live, plus TV and internet viewers. Of course, many children watched it too.

The University of Michigan and NASA compiled the viewing statistics with a joint survey. Sixty-one million adults in the United States watched the eclipse on TV, computers, tablets, or phones. Unlike the Super Bowl the vast majority, about 154 million, watched it directly with the aid of viewing glasses or pinhole cameras. About 20 million traveled to locations where they could see the totality. I can testify that the roads in southern Illinois were crowded with travelers. After the eclipse, it took 3 hours to drive 40 miles. You can watch a speeded-up view of the eclipse on this video. Be sure to turn the sound up so that you can hear the reaction of the people around me during the eclipse.

In addition to a large viewership, the satisfaction rate was high. Seven out of ten said they were not disappointed. (Probably about half of the Super Bowl crowd was disappointed because their team lost.) If you listen to the video that I edited, you can tell that the crowd on the bluff overlooking the Ohio River was not disappointed.

We are pleased that there was this much interest in a science-related event. God’s creation can draw more viewers than the Super Bowl.

–Roland Earnst © 2017

Titan Studies Verify Earth’s Uniqueness

Titan Studies Verify Earth's Uniqueness
Yesterday we wrote about the end of the Cassini mission. We mentioned that an early highlight of that mission was landing the Huygens probe on Titan in January of 2005. Titan is a moon of Saturn and the largest moon in our solar system. Scientists were very interested in studying Titan thinking they might find evidence of life. Instead, the Titan studies verify Earth’s uniqueness.

It took seven years for the Huygens lander to make the 2.2-billion-mile (3.5 billion km) journey to Saturn on board the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini arrived at Saturn in June 2004, but it was not until Christmas Day that the Titan probe separated from the Cassini spaceship. On January 14, the probe entered the upper atmosphere of Titan at 12,400 miles (almost 20,000 km) per hour. After opening three parachutes, Huygens eventually completed a 150-minute descent to land on the surface of Titan.

As Huygens descended to the surface, it made measurements of all kinds and turned on a spotlight to photograph its soft landing. It then sent pictures and data from the surface of Titan to the Cassini spacecraft for about an hour-and-a-half. The Cassini spacecraft relayed the data and pictures to Earth. This expedition was an incredible success and told us much about conditions in another area of the solar system.

Some experts predicted that they would find life, or at least the precursors of life, on Titan. Spectrographic analysis of the atmosphere had shown a huge amount of nitrogen and some methane (natural gas) in the atmosphere. The presence of methane was of special interest to scientists because methane, with a carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, is the building block of more complicated organic molecules. Some biochemists predicted massive numbers of complex organic molecules in oceans of hydrocarbons on Titan–perhaps even some basic life-forms.

As the Huygens probe sent back pictures from Titan, scientists were amazed to see carved river channels, old shorelines, and clouds. With a temperature of minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (-184 C) these obviously could not be water-carved channels. As Huygens landed, it broke through a crusty surface and sank several inches into the ground. The chemical studies of the spongy surface showed that it was not rock, but frozen gaseous material. Titan’s atmosphere could not sustain life. The clouds turned out to be methane, and scientists could find no oxygen or oxygen compounds on Titan. Titan has a spongy surface saturated with organic compounds. The density of Titan tells us that deep down under all of this organic ice there must be very dense rock.

It is becoming apparent that the other planets in our solar system have very little in common with Earth. Titan studies verify Earth’s uniqueness once again. Jonathon Lunine, a planetary scientist who worked on this project, described the findings in this way, “This is a planetary scene like no other, vaguely disturbing and nightmarish to me and certainly not Mars or Venus.”

Our point is that all the discoveries science has made about the solar system have shown how special and unique the Earth is. It is wonderful that humans can build a machine to probe such strange and exotic places. As we learn more about the universe, we see the truthfulness of the Psalmist’s words, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Psalms 19:1-2, NIV).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Great American Eclipse “Engineered”

The Great American Eclipse
One month ago today a total solar eclipse crossed the United States. The so-called Great American Eclipse had many interesting things associated with it.

We have pointed out in previous discussions that people have attached all kinds of erroneous connections to eclipses. Some people have suggested that the eclipse predicts the doom of kings and in recent weeks the demise of Donald Trump. We have seen religious prognostications of all kinds attached to the eclipse including the second coming of Christ. There are those who have denigrated biblical events such as the darkness at the time Christ died, saying it was just an eclipse. (No eclipse can last for three hours.) None of these claims and predictions have any value.

One message that should stand out from the eclipse is the precision that God has built into the creation of the cosmos. How can astronomers predict when eclipses will occur including the exact time for a given location? This is quite simple if you understand the design of the creation. Astronomers have a grid in the sky that is an extension of the latitude/longitude system on the surface of the Earth. All objects in space, including the Sun and the Moon, can be plotted on this grid system. This allows scientists to plot the movement of the Moon and the shadow the Moon casts on Earth. (Remember that a solar eclipse is the Moon’s shadow on the Earth.)

Many of us earth science teachers use the Earth Science Curriculum Project. It has a lab where students plot an eclipse and predict what kind of eclipse will occur. They can predict when it will start, how much of the Sun will be covered, and when it will end. One of my students commenting after doing the lab, “Wow, what engineer thought up this system?” Another student responded “No engineer did it. God did it!” The first student responded, “Well God is a pretty cool engineer!”

We have pointed out that one of the problems people have with faith is that they attempt to explain everything as mysticism and magic. When it becomes obvious that planning and design are part of the system, that understanding erodes their faith in God. A good magician can mystify us, but still, he is using methods we can understand if we learn how he did it.

The Great American Eclipse spoke well about how precisely and carefully God has designed the planetary system in which we live. The eclipse is one more witness to the statement that, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Space Dimensions and Lunar Motion

Space Dimensions and Lunar Motion
We have had several questions and comments precipitated by the eclipse on August 21. Most of them centered around the fact that the Moon’s motion across the Sun was so slow. In reality, the lunar motion is very fast. The speed is a function of the Earth’s rotation as well as the Moon’s revolution around the Earth. However, when compared to space dimensions, lunar motion can seem slow.

The Moon moves with an orbital speed of 2,288 miles (3,683 km) per hour, taking about 28 days to complete its journey around the Earth. Although that sounds fast, it is quite slow in relation to the size of the cosmos. Other moons going around other planets travel at higher speeds. Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, whizzes completely around the planet in less than two days. While our Moon travels at the speed of a rifle bullet, it is 80 times slower than the speed of meteors. Saturn travels ten times faster than the Moon.

The reason we are not aware of the speeds involved is because of the incredible size of the creation. We see meteors moving fast because they are close to us. Meteors are pieces of space junk whizzing through our atmosphere so quickly that they burn up from friction with the air. The moon is over 239,000 miles (384,633 km) away, so its motion appears to be much slower.

When we look out into the night sky, we are looking far into the past. By the time we see the light from stars like Albireo, that light has traveled 430 light-years. That star is actually two stars spinning around each other. Even though they are orbiting each other and astronomers have been watching them since the seventeenth century, we have not seen them change position.

Space dimensions are beyond our comprehension, and the size of the cosmos affects what we see and how we see it. Understanding that should give a whole new significance to the words of the song How Great Thou Art. It should also expand our understanding of, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).

Data from Astronomy magazine, July 2017, page 10.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Opportunity of a Lifetime Experience

Opportunity of a Lifetime
On August 21, there will be an opportunity of a lifetime for many people across the United States. They will get to see a total solar eclipse! This will be the first total eclipse of the Sun visible in the continental United States since 1979 and the first to cross the country since 1918.

The total solar eclipse will begin its travel on land on the west coast of Oregon and move at about 1800 miles per hour to the east coast of South Carolina. Because the Moon moves across the sky from east to west, the shadow will move from west to east crossing the country in about an hour and a half. It will be total for only a little more than two minutes at any location on the path of totality. The path will be about 70 miles wide through the center of the country.

A total eclipse is much different from a partial eclipse. On a clear day with a 90 percent eclipse coverage, the Sun would still be brighter than on most cloudy days. Even a 99 percent eclipse does not have the same impact as a total eclipse. When the Moon completely blocks the Sun, it will be like nighttime. When this eclipse is at totality, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Venus will be visible along with bright stars.

The most impressive sight will be one that you can only see during a total eclipse—the Sun’s corona. The corona contains particles of matter ejected from the Sun and traveling thousands of miles out into space. The particles follow the magnetic field of the Sun, and they are constantly changing with that field. The corona is always there, but it’s normally blocked from view by the scattered light in Earth’s atmosphere. Even though the corona is much dimmer than the surface (photosphere) of the Sun, it is many times hotter.

This is also the opportunity of a lifetime to see the darkness of night in the middle of the day. Looking around on the ground during totality, animals and insects may begin their nighttime activities. There will only be a 360-degree sunset-like glow on the horizon from refraction of sunlight outside of the full shadow (umbra) of the Moon.

For the moments of totality (in this case a little more than two minutes), you will be able to look directly at the Sun without special solar filters. Except for the brief time of totality DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN. Of course, if you are not in the area of the TOTAL eclipse, it is NEVER safe to look at the Sun. Many universities, libraries, and science centers have special glasses available to block the visible and UV light which could permanently damage your eyes. DO NOT USE SUNGLASSES! They will not protect your vision.
To see an animated flyover of the path of totality click HERE. To see a NASA animation of the eclipse from space click HERE. There is an interactive app that you can put on your Android or iPhone to monitor the eclipse. Just go to your app store and search for “Eclipse Safari.” NASA will be live-streaming the eclipse from across the country. You can find the live stream through Eclipse Safari or by going to nasa.gov or NASA’s YouTube channel or Facebook page.

We hope you will enjoy this opportunity of a lifetime to observe one of the wonders of God’s creation SAFELY.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Just Right Moon

Solar Eclipse Thanks to Just Right Moon
In a few days, a total solar eclipse will cross the full width of the United States, and you can give credit for that to the just right moon.

We have looked at the “how” and “why” of total solar eclipses. We have considered what value total solar eclipses have. We have seen that a total eclipse helped to confirm a very important scientific principle. Also, we pointed out that solar eclipses happen only at the time of the new moon when the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.

A new moon occurs about every 29 days, so why doesn’t an eclipse happen at each new moon? That’s because the plane of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is about five degrees off from the orbital path of the Earth around the Sun. Because of that difference, a solar eclipse happens only when the Moon crosses the path of Earth’s orbit around the Sun (called the ecliptic). A TOTAL solar eclipse happens only when the Sun and Moon are exactly aligned.

What would happen if the orbit of the Moon were on the same plane as the ecliptic? At every new moon we would have a total solar eclipse, and at every full moon, we would have a total lunar eclipse. So the Sun would go dark in the daytime somewhere on Earth every month, and the full Moon would also go dark monthly. The influence of the Sun’s gravity on the lunar orbit might cause more serious problems.

No other planet has a moon that plays such an important part in creating an environment suitable for life. The Moon is right where it should be to serve life on Earth. Our just right Moon lights the night, creates the tides that clean our estuaries, stabilizes Earth’s rotation, and occasionally provides a total solar eclipse that gives us a glimpse of God’s marvelous design of our solar system.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Marvelous Coincidence or Design?

Marvelous Coincidence or Design?
Yesterday we talked about the upcoming total solar eclipse and the fact that the Moon can completely hide the Sun from view. That seems very strange since the Sun is about 390 times larger than the Moon. By a “marvelous coincidence” the Sun is 390 times farther away than the Moon. Since the Sun is 390 times farther away, it appears to be 390 times smaller. For that reason, when we see the Moon and the Sun in the sky, they appear to be the same size.

The Moon can exactly cover the Sun’s disc which we call the photosphere. At the same time, in a total eclipse, we can see the chromosphere, which is the very bright atmosphere surrounding the Sun. We can also see what is called the corona–jets of hot gas which follow the lines of the Sun’s magnetic field. Under normal circumstances, the chromosphere and corona are invisible because of the glare from the photosphere.

Scientists have learned much about the Sun by studying what we can see only during total solar eclipses. Only during a total solar eclipse can scientists study the “solar wind” which sends out streams of particles called coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs can travel all the way to Earth and knock out communication satellites or terrestrial power grids. Just as scientists work to predict weather on Earth to avoid catastrophes, they want to learn how to predict CMEs to prepare for something that could potentially knock out power or communication to large areas of our planet.

Scientists have also learned some interesting things about the Sun’s temperature during total eclipses. They had measured the temperature of the Sun’s surface to be 6,700 to 11,000 degrees F (3,700 to 6,200 degrees C). However, by observations made during total eclipses, they found that the temperature of the chromosphere is up to 14,000 degrees F (7,700 degrees C) and the corona is 3.5 million degrees F (2 million degrees C)! They are still trying to discover how that is possible.

Was it mere coincidence that the Moon can exactly cover the Sun? We think that God designed it that way so that we can learn how “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). We think it is not just a “marvelous coincidence,” but another example of wisdom and purpose in design. Tomorrow we will tell you about what is probably the most significant scientific discovery made during a total solar eclipse.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Why Solar Eclipses Happen

Why Solar Eclipses?
With a total eclipse of the Sun less than a week away, let’s consider why solar eclipses happen.

A solar eclipse can occur only at the time of the new moon. The Moon appears to us in phases, and the principle phases are new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third (or last) quarter. Those phases are dependent on the relative position of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The entire sequence of phases takes about 29.5 days, which is a synodic (or lunar) month. The new moon is the time when the Moon and the Sun are on the same side of the Earth.

Obviously, if the Moon is on the side of Earth where the Sun is, we can’t see the Moon at night. It also means we usually can’t see it during the day because the Sun’s brightness hides it except when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. When the Moon only partially blocks the Sun, we see a partial eclipse. When the Moon is precisely aligned with the Sun, we see a total eclipse.

During a total eclipse, the Moon casts a moving shadow over a portion of the Earth. Those who are outside of that shadow can still see a partial eclipse. How much of the Sun is hidden by the Moon depends on how far the viewer is from the shadow. People all over North America will see the eclipse that is coming as a partial eclipse. It will only be total for those who are in the 70-mile-wide path of the shadow that will travel from Oregon to South Carolina.

The fact that the Moon can completely cover the much larger Sun, as it will do in the coming eclipse, has been described as a “marvelous coincidence.” We think God planned it that way. Tomorrow we will tell you why solar eclipses with the Moon exactly covering the Sun are important.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
On August 21 people across North America will have a unique opportunity to see a total solar eclipse. It is a very rare event, and especially rare to have so much of the United States involved. The experience itself is worth a considerable drive if you don’t live in a zone of totality.

The Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun. That means that the shadow of the Moon will fall on a small area of the Earth. Normally the bright photosphere of the Sun overpowers everything else. In a total eclipse of the Sun, the photosphere is covered, and you can see the outer atmosphere of the Sun called the corona. When light from the photosphere shines through a valley on the Moon just before and after totality, a blast of bright light appears to viewers on Earth. It looks like a huge diamond ring.

The sky is not the only place where strange things happen. We enjoyed a partial eclipse when I taught astronomy at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana. We made a point of telling our 1600-member student body what was going to happen. We set up our telescopes and pin-hole cameras to project the event onto poster board. The principal allowed the whole student body to gather in front of the school.

When the eclipse started, there was the usual teenage horsing around as the Moon began to cover the Sun. All of a sudden the kids got very quiet as it became noticeably darker and you could feel the air become cooler. Dogs started howling as the eclipse progressed. Leaves in the maple tree in front of the school projected small pin-hole images on the sidewalk of the Sun with a chunk missing. We even had a few kids who became disturbed by what was happening. This was not a total solar eclipse, but just a partial eclipse which didn’t cover the entire Sun. Those who live near the path of totality will have the rare experience of seeing complete coverage of the Sun and darkness in the middle of the day.

It is amazing that our solar system is designed in such an incredible way that even high school students with a knowledge of math and astronomy can predict when the eclipse will start, reach totality, and end. The fact that the Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun is remarkable. In the past, humans believed that eclipses were the prognosticators of a coming disaster. For us, the total solar eclipse is simply a wonderful display of the precision and design built into our solar system and the fact that we can understand what God has done by studying the events that we see in the sky.

A word of warning–don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eye. Special eclipse glasses are available. Don’t risk losing your eyesight.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Battle Over Space Bibles

Battle Over Space Bibles
A battle over space Bibles that has been going on in Texas and Oklahoma for years. But I will explain that in a moment.

One of the main thrusts of this ministry is to show people that the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so the man (or woman) of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is a mountain of evidence to support the truth of that statement. However, that does not mean that the bound paper book you have printed in English (or any other language) is sacred even if it has a black cover. It is the message that is sacred, not the physical book.

A group calling itself the Apollo Prayer League placed hundreds of microfilm Bibles on Apollo 13 to go to the Moon. The disaster on Apollo 13 prevented it from landing, and it only orbited the Moon and returned the Bibles to Earth. On the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell carried 100 of the Bibles to the surface of the moon and returned with some of them. Through a complicated chain of events that you can read about here, John Stout, a retired NASA chaplain who lived in Texas, gave some of the “ Lunar Bibles” to an author named Carol Mersch who lives in Oklahoma.

Stout’s adopted son brought legal action to get the Bibles back. Through suits and counter-suits the case went all the way to both the Texas and Oklahoma supreme courts. In the meantime by court order, the Bibles were locked up in a Tulsa, Oklahoma, vault. The state of Texas finally withdrew its suit on May 4, 2017.

As I read about the battle over space Bibles, a thought came to mind. If we could get people as excited about the message contained within those books as they are about the physical microfilm books, we might be able to solve some of the world’s problems.

Reference: Austin American-Statesman, May 4, 2017, page B8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017