Stars and Habitable Zones

Stars and Habitable Zones - NASA

The more scientists study Earth and other objects that surround us in space, the more variables we realize must be carefully controlled for life to exist. Many times before, in our posts, our videos, our books, and our printed quarterly, we have discussed the growing list of parameters that must be carefully chosen. NASA posted a graphic of different kinds of stars in the cosmos and whether they could support life. This picture of stars and habitable zones adds to our understanding of the unique qualities of our Sun.

Water is essential for life. Science defines life as having properties such as moving, breathing, eating, reproducing, and responding to outside stimuli. We don’t discuss “rock people” or “gas people” because they don’t fit that definition. For that reason, scientists are interested in stars and habitable zones–the just-right “Goldilocks zone” surrounding a star where water can exist as a liquid.

In their daily posting on apod.nasa.gov for January 31, 2020, NASA gives the distribution of Goldilocks zones for G spectral stars like our Sun, which are yellow, K dwarf stars, which are orange, and M stars, which are red. The other spectral groupings, such as blue stars, are not considered because of their high radiation levels and activity, which would make life impossible.

The most common type of star in our galaxy, making up 73% of all stars in the Milky Way, are M stars. These red stars have very active magnetic fields and massive radiation. Their Goldilocks zone would be minimal and very close to the star. Orange K stars make up 13% of the stars in the Milky Way. They have a modest Goldilocks zone but are fairly active with some radiation levels. Yellow G type stars like our Sun, make up only 6% of the stars in the Milky Way. These stars have very large Goldilocks zones, and they are very quiet compared to K stars.

As we consider stars and habitable zones, we must realize that the type of star is just the beginning of the variables necessary for a star system to support life. Other critical factors include the size of the star, the location of the planet relative to the star, and the shielding a planet has for protection from the radiation of the star. Also, the stability of the star’s location in the Milky Way is another factor that goes into a life-supporting planetary system.

Our existence is not a product of chance. The more we learn about the Earth, the Sun, and the stars and habitable zones within the Milky Way, the more we understand that the statement, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” is a massive understatement of what God did to make a place for us to exist.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Making Molecules on Jupiter

Making Molecules on Jupiter

In recent years we have come to understand how God formed many of the elements that make up our world and our bodies. We watch stars producing new elements, and we realize that this system was designed by God to take the hydrogen produced in the beginning and continually make heavier elements by thermonuclear fusion. It is incredible to witness the power and design in a nova or supernova and to understand that this is God’s forge to make new elements. Now we have another picture of a design God has used for making molecules.

Molecules are combinations of atoms put together to produce a compound. Simple compounds like water and methane are difficult enough to produce. The huge molecules, such as amino acids that make up living materials, require a particular environment to form. Many of them have been found in space debris, but their origins are not clear.

The latest NASA report on Jupiter has given us some new understanding of making molecules. NASA’s robotic Juno spacecraft orbits only 15,000 kilometers above Jupiter’s cloud tops. Using new data from this spacecraft, astronomers have announced that Jupiter is apparently mostly liquid. It is not a ball of rock with a blanket of liquids and gases, as Earth-based observations seemed to indicate.

It’s hard to realize the size of Jupiter (2.5 times the mass of all other planets combined), its rapid spin rate (more than twice as fast as Earth’s), the amount of lightning that we observe, and the extreme temperatures are all working in a liquid. It indicates an environment similar to what we can create in our laboratories here on Earth to produce complex molecules. The Miller-Urey experiment of 1953 earned a Nobel prize for producing an environment in the lab capable of making molecules of amino acids. Now we see a location in space that duplicates much of Stanley Miller’s famous experiment. To be facetious, perhaps God should get a Nobel Prize for something that was operational long before any human existed.

The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator. Knowing His methods just increases our wonder at His power and wisdom.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from apod.nasa.gov. January 6, 2020.

Stirring the Pot – The Sun and Parker Solar Probe

Stirring the Pot - The Sun and Parker Solar Probe

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: apod.nasa.gov for 12/9/19

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

Space Debris: A Growing Concern

Space Debris: A Growing Concern to Astronauts in SpaceA significant issue for the future is our total lack of care for the planet on which we live. We not only have the problem of plastic waste and carbon dioxide emissions, but now we have the issue of space debris.

From 1957 when the space age began, until January of 2019, humans have placed nearly 9,000 satellites in Earth orbit. More than half of them, around 5,000, are still in orbit, and 1,950 are still functioning. In addition to the satellites, there is debris from all this activity. The European Space Agency tells us that there are 130,000,000 pieces of debris larger than .04 inches in orbit around Earth. The number of articles between .4 inches and 4 inches is 900,000, and 34,000 are 4 inches or larger.

What all of this space debris does to Earth’s neighborhood is becoming a concern to scientists. It creates a danger of collision with operating satellites or crewed spacecraft, such as the International Space Station. That danger becomes especially apparent when you realize that space debris can be traveling at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour (28,100 km/hr). The threat obviously increases as we continue to orbit objects of all kinds, leaving more junk in space.

Why is it that we have to have a tragedy to make us realize the importance of being good stewards of what God has created for us? God gave us the responsibility to take care of the Earth, and He has not rescinded that duty as we develop new technology.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Astronomy, December 2019, page 15.

Jupiter Is in Opposition

Jupiter Is in OppositionJune 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.

While Jupiter is in opposition, or at any other time, look up and thank God that He has created such a marvelous and unique solar system to make life possible.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Are They Space Aliens?

 Are They Space Aliens?

NASA posted this picture on apod.nasa.gov on April 8, 2019. Yang Suite took the photo in northern Norway of a phenomenon that lasted about 30 minutes. Witnesses said that colorful clouds, dots, and plumes suddenly appeared. Can you imagine what would have happened if the sky over Washington D.C. had been filled with what you see in this picture? Are they space aliens?

We have often pointed out that finding life in outer space would have no implications for the integrity of the Bible or the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Bible simply doesn’t say that this planet is the only place where God created life. We have also pointed out that there are no cases where seeing something we don’t understand cannot be explained by natural or human actions. We have also pointed out that people who try to make money from something that the public doesn’t understand must be dealt with skeptically.

In this case, the picture is of a NASA-funded project called Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment (AZURE). Gas tracers were dispersed from two short-lived rockets into the ionosphere at altitudes of 70 to 150 miles (112-240 km). The goal was to measure how the solar wind transfers energy to the Earth and powers auroras. Science still has much to learn about the design of the solar system and how something like an aurora takes place.

So are they space aliens?
No, and anytime we can see something that we don’t understand, we should seek to understand it and recognize the design and intelligence that is involved. The more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

We thank Yang Suite for his kind permission to use his picture.

Exoplanets and TESS

Exoplanets and TESS
Data is coming in from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS for short. It is the most powerful telescope ever deployed to look for planets orbiting other stars. Over two years, TESS can cover all 360 degrees of sky visible from Earth’s orbit. Our previous satellite called Kepler could only scan a small segment of the sky. Already Tess has identified over 300 probable exoplanets including one named HD 21749b which has the lowest known temperature for a planet orbiting a bright nearby star. (“Nearby” being 53 light-years away.)

The problem with this is that what astronomers consider “cool” is not cool from our standpoint. The surface temperature of HD 21749b is 150 degrees Celsius, which is way too hot for liquid water. (Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.) A year on that planet equals 36 Earth days as it makes a complete orbit around its star. Most of the other exoplanets found at this time are vastly hotter than HD 21749b.

Astronomers have found other planetary systems, but they again have properties that would preclude any kind of life. Some of them have a planetary density equal to that of pure water. Some have orbits that are highly eccentric. Pi Mensae b, for example, has an orbit that varies widely. Its closest distance to its star approximately equals the distance from Earth to our Sun. The longest distance is similar to Jupiter’s distance from the Sun.

All of this continues to tell us that Earth is a unique planet orbiting a unique star. It is possible that those stars with exoplanets are undergoing an evolutionary process that could result in Earth-like planets billions of years from now. As we study them, we are learning more and more about what God did to create the “heaven and the earth.” God’s power and design become more amazing to us as we learn more about the universe. The more we learn, the more we see what Frank C. Baxter, who hosted the old Bell System Science TV Series, called “the wonder-working hand that has gone before us.”
–John N. Clayton © 2019

If you would like the nostalgia of watching Frank Baxter in the Bell System Science Series click HERE or HERE.

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere
A cosmic coincidence took place on November 5, 2018. It had to do with our Sun and two probes that NASA sent into space.

To the average person, the solar system refers to our Sun and the eight (or nine) orbiting planets. However, between Mars and Jupiter there are asteroids and beyond the planets there dwarf planets and smaller bodies called planetesimals. So where is the edge of the solar system?

A bubble surrounds the solar system which scientists call the heliosphere. The Sun sends out charged plasma particles called the solar wind. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from most harmful effects of the solar wind, but we can see the effect of that “wind” as it ionizes molecules in the upper atmosphere creating the aurora we call the northern and southern lights. There is a limit to how far the solar wind reaches, and that is the outer edge of the heliosphere bubble. NASA’s Voyager 2 reached it on November 5.

Also on November 5, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe reached the inner edge of the heliosphere by flying toward the Sun. The fact that both probes arrived at the extreme boundaries of the heliosphere at the same time was not and could not be planned by the scientists at NASA. We would have to call it a cosmic coincidence.

NASA launched Voyager 2 forty-one years earlier in 1977. On its journey out of the solar system, it flew past and took pictures of all four gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). In late August of 2018, its plasma detectors, called Faraday cups, began to indicate that it was reaching the edge of the heliosphere. After 310 days of crossing that boundary, scientists determined that it passed out of the solar wind on November 5. Earth is about 93 million miles (150 million km ) from the Sun. Voyager 2 had reached 120 times Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Meanwhile, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on August 12, 2018, and it traveled toward the Sun. In three months it arrived at the Sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona. Parker’s job is to investigate how the solar wind originates. Scientists want to know how the Sun’s superheated atmosphere generates the solar wind plasma and blasts it into space at speeds of a million-plus miles per hour.

So, the cosmic coincidence is that two NASA probes launched 41 years apart arrived at almost the same time at the outer and inner limits of the heliosphere. Their mission is to give us new information about our solar system. Their arrival at the same time was a pure cosmic coincidence. The marvelous system they are investigating and that supports life on this planet is certainly not a coincidence. It shows the power and wisdom of the Creator.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

NASA Turns 60

NASA Turns 60
In 1957 when I was 19 years old and a junior at Indiana University, the Soviet Union placed Sputnik, the first artificial satellite into orbit around the Earth. The following year the United States established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with the goal of staking America’s claim to the cosmos. NASA turns 60 this year with an incredible record of accomplishment.

There have been 166 manned missions, 116 satellites which study the Earth, 70 missions to the moon and planets, 27 telescopes/observatories placed in space, and 17 satellites studying solar wind and interplanetary science. We now have robots making incredible discoveries at every turn, and plans are in the works for the first humans to land on another planet.

As a physics major and later as a physics teacher I have been enthralled with NASA’s accomplishments. I have had students who graduated from my high school and went on to have key roles in NASA. As those students come back and share their experiences and what they have discovered, I have been encouraged. I am excited by the fact that most of them see their discoveries, as I do, as a way of learning what God has done and understanding some of the methods He has used.

What an exciting time to be alive, and what a blessing it is to learn and grow in our faith and our knowledge! The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator. As NASA turns 60, I look forward to what lies ahead.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Time magazine, October 8, 2018, page 18-19.