In September of 2022, NASA steered the DART spacecraft into an asteroid named Dimorphos, attempting to alter its orbit. The experiment was designed to see if we could change the path of an asteroid moving toward a collision with Earth. We can learn a lesson from the DART experiment.
It sounded like a good way to protect our planet from an asteroid impact. Scientists believe an asteroid collision may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and a similar one might cause human extinction. The collision did alter the orbit of Dimorphos, which is comforting to know. However, it also caused more potential problems.
The Hubble Space Telescope observed 37 previously unseen objects accompanying Dimorphos in its orbit around the Sun. These are boulders probably blasted off from Dimorphos by the DART collision. They are not just little pieces of rock or dust. Some of the boulders are as large as seven meters in diameter. Calculations show that the weight of the 37 boulders adds up to 5,000 metric tons – the weight of 300 gravel-filled dump trucks.
This incident reminds us of the story of Frankenstein when a scientist created a being that turned into a monster. Dr. Frankenstein did not comprehend where his creation might go once it was out of his control. These boulders do not pose an immediate danger to the Earth but understand that meteorites striking Earth’s surface are generally quite small. The boulders caused by DART’s impact with Dimorphus would cause significant problems if they hit the Earth.
Humans can learn a lesson from this incident. We are not God, and our wisdom and knowledge are incomplete. As God said to Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) In our day of rejecting God and His Word, we must be reminded that altering the design God built into the creation of everything from galaxies to viruses can have tremendous consequences. We have seen that in COVID, and again, we can learn a lesson from the DART experiment.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is searching for signs of alien life in the universe. NASA’s astrobiology program is renewing efforts to answer the question, “Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?” We find life all over this planet. Life is everywhere on Earth, from frigid climates to arid deserts and ocean depths to mountaintops. But does it exist anywhere else?
Currently, NASA is searching for microbial life on Mars with two robotic rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance. Those rovers are exploring rocks in fossilized waterways on the planet, seeking any indication that microbes once lived there. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working to develop a Mars sample return mission to bring rocks back to Earth for closer examination.
In December of 2018, NASA spacecraft “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer” (OSIRIS-REx) arrived at the asteroid Bennu after traveling for two years. It orbited Bennu to map the surface and find a good landing spot to obtain samples. In October 2020, OSIRIS-REx touched down on the asteroid, procured a sample, and prepared it for delivery to Earth. In May 2021, the spacecraft departed from Bennu and is expected to arrive back home in September 2023. Scientists will then study this very expensive rock sample, searching for signs of alien life.
Astrobiologists are hopeful that Enceladus and Europa, moons of Saturn and Jupiter respectively, might support some form of life now or in the past. The new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is also involved in the search for alien life. It can detect “biosignatures” around exoplanets, planets outside of our solar system. In all these ways, NASA is searching for signs of alien life in the universe.
Heather Graham, a NASA astrobiologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, says, “We don’t actually know yet how life on this planet began….” Of course, NASA is looking for some natural explanation of how life began. Graham further said that we must “roll back that clock to see how life began.” Why not roll back the clock all the way to the beginning? Science can’t explain how the universe began. Not very long ago, scientists thought the universe was eternal, and they made fun of the idea that the universe had a beginning. However, they reluctantly had to admit that the evidence shows there was a beginning, as Genesis has said for thousands of years.
Perhaps some are motivated to search for signs of alien life to show that God is unnecessary. Will science someday find that there is life, even microbial life, elsewhere in the universe? Perhaps, but if there is, God created it since He created the universe.
As our view of space and our solar system improves, astronomers have realized that space is a dangerous place. Space travel requires considering the many ways astronauts can be harmed when they leave Earth’s protection. It isn’t just cold and radiation and the damaging effects of weightlessness, but our solar system is full of rock material left over from the creation process. NASA must keep in mind the possibility of an asteroid strike from space.
NASA has plotted 1000 known “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids” (PHAs). These are documented boulders of rock and ice over 140 meters across that will pass within 7.5 million kilometers of Earth (about 20 times the distance to the Moon). Were a giant asteroid to strike Earth, the result would be catastrophic. There is evidence that this has happened in the past, probably causing mass extinctions on our planet.
NASA used the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission in 2022 to explore the possibility of redirecting an asteroid away from the Earth. We are talking about a large object, not the small pieces of rock and dust that strike the Earth every day, producing meteor displays and fireballs. NASA designed DART to find a way to prevent a catastrophic asteroid strike from space.
NASA has concluded that none of the asteroids known to astronomers will strike the Earth for at least the next 100 years. God created our planet in such a way that we are protected from destructive agents from outer space. The more we learn about space, the more we see the design and planning involved in creation.
The threat to humanity is what we do to ourselves, not any failure in the design of our planet. God has also given us a way to protect ourselves from each other, and we see that in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Read Matthew chapters 5-7, and you will see what Jesus told us. The selfishness and greed of humans threaten our existence individually and collectively. Human self-destruction is far more likely than a catastrophic asteroid strike from space.
The third verse of the first book in the Bible quotes God, saying, “Let there be light.” Most people don’t understand the full meaning and impact of that statement. For the past two days, we have examined how the ability to see invisible light revolutionized astronomy. First, we looked at the forms of light at frequencies below the visible spectrum. Today, let’s look at frequencies above the light we can see.
Higher frequencies mean shorter wavelengths, and electromagnetic energy above the frequency of visible light has wavelengths short enough to penetrate living cells and damage them.
Ultraviolet is the first band of light above the visible spectrum. The Hubble Space Telescope is the leader in observing ultraviolet light coming from the hot and energetic formation of young stars. Auroras on gaseous planets like Jupiter also emit ultraviolet light. The ability to see the invisible UV light helps us understand more of the process God used in creation.
Our Sun is also a source of ultraviolet light, and everyone knows UV light can cause painful sunburns. Because of its short wavelength, UV light can penetrate and damage cells resulting in skin cancer. God has given Earth an upper atmosphere ozone layer that absorbs much of the ultraviolet radiation. While protecting us from health damage, the atmosphere makes ultraviolet astronomy impossible on Earth. That’s why the Hubble Space Telescope leads in UV observation of the universe.
Above ultraviolet light, we find X-rays that are even more harmful to living cells. This band of invisible light energy can penetrate matter. Because of that, they are useful in medicine for doctors to see inside your body. However, medical X-rays must be limited because they can cause DNA mutations leading to cancer.
In astronomy, X-rays allow astronomers to study some of the hottest places in the universe, such as supermassive black holes and neutron stars. Thankfully, God has placed us far from black holes and neutron stars. However, our Sun also produces X-rays, but Earth’s atmosphere blocks X-rays. Therefore, X-ray telescopes, such as NASA’s NuSTAR mission, must be located in space.
Finally, let there be light at the top of the invisible spectrum. Astronomers use the shortest wavelength, gamma rays, to study the creation. Unfortunately, gamma rays have the highest energy and are the most dangerous to living cells. Supernova explosions release gamma rays, and space telescopes such as NASA’s Fermi and Swift can detect them. Fortunately, those gamma-ray-producing events are far from Earth. However, nuclear explosions on Earth also produce gamma rays, and the Sun occasionally produces gamma-ray flashes in solar flares.
By studying all of these forms of light, astronomers today know much more about the universe and the processes God has used to create and sustain it. As we look into the night sky, we are looking back in time and seeing the various frequencies of electromagnetic energy. It is light, both visible and invisible, and it tells us of the power and wisdom of the process that brought our planet and the life upon it into existence. Light is energy, and energy is matter (e=mc2). Knowing that, we realize what a profound statement Genesis 1:3 contains – “Let there be light.”
The John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida gets a lot of attention from the media. However, most people probably are not aware that attached to the Space Center in the shadow of NASA is the Canaveral National Seashore/Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It has 69,000 acres of marsh left undeveloped and managed by the National Park Service. Researchers have identified 1045 plant species and 310 bird species in the shadow of NASA.
A dozen species of wildlife that are federally listed as endangered live there, including sea turtles, West Indian manatees, wood storks, eastern indigo snakes, and Florida scrub jays. In addition, there are the usual animals found in Florida, including land tortoises, otters, armadillos, and a wild assortment of crabs, insects, oysters, clams, and shrimp.
We had the pleasure of visiting this refuge the second week of April in 2022. It was interesting to watch hundreds of birds wading through the marsh, eating crabs and shrimp. We also saw mullet jumping as they were chased by larger fish and alligators basking in the Sun and then looking up to see a rocket being prepared to lift astronauts to the space station.
The refuge is a barrier island with sand dunes covered with various plants, including numerous palm trees and ancient oaks covered with Spanish moss and palmetto and sea oats. The National Park Service has built wooden walkways to control human traffic, allowing a natural environment to function within sight of the Kennedy Space Center in the shadow of NASA.
Just north of this area is New Smyrna Beach with its towering resorts, massive numbers of tourist attractions, and where people can drive vehicles on the beach. That area is essentially a biological desert with some gulls and pelicans and various sparrows, vultures, and blackbirds, but nothing like what we see in the wildlife refuge. The primary vegetation is a variety of human-introduced plants decorating the resorts. As you drive through the area, you see the trunks of dead palm trees everywhere but very little wildlife. Meanwhile, construction continues on more resorts and tourist complexes.
What happens when a hurricane hits this area? In the wildlife refuge, the answer is almost nothing. The vegetation holds the dunes and prevents the destruction of the plants and wildlife that depends on them. We all know about the collapse of the resort tower in this area, which tragically killed several people. No human structure is free from the elements. The human-introduced plants are generally wiped out in a hurricane and have to be replanted. Human attempts to control the area are at the mercy of natural processes. As the climate warms and water levels rise, more human-made structures will be destroyed, but what God constructed will survive. The refuge will change, and the wildlife and plant life will adapt, but it will do quite well left alone.
It was interesting to see the challenges facing the park service in the refuge. Roads don’t do well, and wooden structures have to be replaced. Meanwhile, the natural world functions smoothly and efficiently with an abundance of residential and migratory life. As humans try to control parts of nature, we constantly need to rebuild and replace. “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit … and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12). You can see how good it is when you visit an area not corrupted by human ignorance, greed, and selfishness.
If all goes as planned, Christmas Eve will see the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or WEBB). It has been a long time in the making with many delays and cost overruns, but it seems that the time has finally arrived. The JWST was supposed to launch in 2007 at the cost of $1 billion. Now it is launching at the end of 2021, and the price has escalated to $10 billion. Let’s examine the what and why of JWST.
First, the what of JWST. The James Webb Space Telescope is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST or Hubble). It is intended to be a space observatory with capabilities far beyond HST, which was launched in 1990. NASA designed the JWST, and Northrop Grumman built it in California. The European Space Agency will launch it from their launch site in French Guiana, South America.
The why of JWST is that scientists expect it to revolutionize astronomy and expand our knowledge of the universe. Science and technology have made great strides since Hubble was launched and even since astronauts repaired and updated it, most recently in 2009. JWST will observe the universe in infrared light, while HST is limited to visible light. Because galaxies farther away are retreating at increasing speeds, their light shifts toward the red or infrared spectrum. Scientists hope that JWST can observe farther back toward the cosmic creation event known as the big bang. Because of that, astronomers expect to learn more about the formation of stars and galaxies.
Earth-based telescopes must always observe the universe through our atmosphere with particles, pollution, and moisture. That limits their ability to obtain sharp, precise images. Space-based telescopes, like Hubble, eliminate that problem. Webb will give much sharper images with its mirror made of beryllium coated with gold and a diameter more than 2.5 times as wide as Hubble’s.
JWST will locate itself at the Lagrange point where the gravity of Earth and Sun balance each other. That is 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) from Earth. Repairs or upgrades such as those performed on Hubble will not be possible at that distance. That means everything will have to perform flawlessly when the telescope reaches its destination. Deploying the mirror, sun-shield, super-cooling equipment, and telemetry equipment will take a month, which NASA has called “29 days on the edge.”
Another thing that astronomers hope to study with JWST is dark matter, the stuff that’s out there but cannot be seen or detected by any means science has discovered. The way they know dark matter must be there is that it holds the galaxies together. Physics cannot explain why spinning, spiral galaxies, such as the Milky Way, do not fly apart because of centrifugal force. Astronomers hope that JWST’s high-definition images can at least show us where the dark matter is by what they call “gravitational lensing.”
So that is the what and why of JWST. We are excited to see the new images of the universe the James Webb Space Telescope will capture. As we learn about the formation of stars and galaxies, it opens the door to knowledge of God’s handiwork, allowing us to say, “So that’s how God did it!”
Our Milky Way galaxy is somewhat orderly, with the stars orbiting what appears to be a large mass at the center – probably a black hole. Simulations of galaxies shown on science programs present a consistent whirlpool of material, all spinning in the same direction and obeying the physical laws we teach in a high school physics class. But space is not orderly and simple.
Simple explanations don’t work with galaxies like M64, sometimes called “The Evil Eye Galaxy” or “The Black Eye Galaxy.” In that galaxy, stars and gas close to the core orbit in one direction, but those further out rotate around the core in the opposite direction. Astronomers believe that this behavior indicates two galaxies collided, producing the confusion, but why the systems are in the same plane doesn’t match that explanation well.
There are cases in our solar system where objects revolve in different directions, including the moons of Mars and some other planets. Uranus is tilted on its side, spinning perpendicular to the ecliptic. Space is not orderly and simple or as benign as science fiction might like to portray it. Each time science makes a discovery showing that space is not orderly and simple, we have to wonder at God’s creative nature. Did He put some of these things together to challenge our creative thinking?
The most exciting aspect of all this is the unique stability and beauty of our planet. On March 27, 2021, NASA released a report stating that new telescope observations show there is no chance of something in space colliding with Earth that would threaten our existence for at least the next 100 years. We should thank God for His marvelous creation and for the fact that He designed our planet for the long haul. Now, all we need to do is to take better care of it.
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.
An asteroid belt exists between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers believe that this belt of material is either a planet that disintegrated or one that never formed because of the gravitational pushes and pulls of Jupiter and Mars. In 2007, NASA launched a probe called Dawn. In 2015, it arrived at one of the largest asteroids named Ceres. The Dawn probe revealed several strange white spots, especially in the Occator Crater. In August of 2020, astronomers presented several papers dealing with evidence that the white spots are ejections of salty water produced from holes punched into Ceres’ surface by space rocks.
Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute was involved in the NASA research on Ceres. He is quoted as saying that this discovery is “one of the most profound discoveries in planetary science in the space age.” The Occator Crater is 57 miles (92 km) wide. The material erupting through fractures looks very much like Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
Astronomers suggest that our solar system has large amounts of water stored in the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto’s surface. Trying to put together a model that explains the formation of wet moons and objects like Ceres is proving to be quite difficult. It appears that whatever the cause, our solar system has a unique water signature.
The abundance of water in the Milky Way Galaxy may turn out to be very important if humans venture into space and start establishing colonies on other worlds. Did God prepare a stepping stone for humans to move beyond Earth’s limitations by placing essential water in our solar system? Perhaps, but as we have said before, we face many other challenges as we venture away from our home planet.
One of the things that has entered the debate about life in space has been the presence of water. Astronomers have found methane, ethane, and other compounds in oceans on other planets and moons in our solar system. Unlike water, they are not polar molecules. The polar structure of water makes it an apparent necessity for life. Scientists have debated about whether water has existed or does now exist on Mars, our Moon, or one of the many moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Now there is evidence of massive amounts of water in our solar system.
We have posted before about NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website (apod.nasa.gov). On January 15, 2021, the page showed this picture taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015, as it flew by Pluto. The photograph shows areas of frozen nitrogen and carbon monoxide. It also shows massive amounts of water ice frozen into mountains reaching up to 11,000 feet (3,353 m), which is comparable to mountains on Earth.
There is more and more evidence that, at least in our solar system, water is quite common. Because of the temperatures in the outer planets, that water is in a frozen state. Liquid water has a very narrow range of temperatures, and that means the zone in which a planet can have liquid water is very small. Because of that, life on another planet is improbable, but the potential for humans establishing or supporting life elsewhere is relatively high.
Verse two of Genesis 1 tells us that the early Earth had water in the liquid state: “And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Massive amounts of water apparently dominated the planet. Verse six tells us that there was “a firmament in the midst of the waters” that divided the waters. It isn’t until verse nine that dry land appears. The keyword in these verses is the word translated firmament in English. The Hebrew word used here is “raqia.” It is used nine times in Genesis 1 and eight times elsewhere in the Old Testament. Four of those eight are in the visions of Ezekiel 1:22-26.
The Bible’s economy of language leaves us to understand the “firmament” from its context. The most accurate understanding is what, in modern terms, we would call an “interface,” a zone of change. In many cases, that zone is the atmosphere, so in verse 20 of Genesis chapter one, we have birds flying in the firmament. Genesis 1:14-15 tells us that the Sun and the Moon became visible as the darkness (Genesis 1:2) of the cloud cover (Job 38:8-9) in the firmament cleared. Ezekiel saw his chariots in the firmament.
The discovery of mountains of frozen water elsewhere in the solar system indicates that the original cosmos had massive amounts of water, as Genesis 1:6 implies. It also tells us that when the Earth’s temperatures settled to between zero and 100 degrees Celsius, the water became seas covering the planet. This is one more evidence for the integrity of the Genesis account as it describes the creative design of God, simplified so that all humans can understand it.