The What and Why of JWST

The What and Why of JWST
James Webb Space Telescope with its gold-plated mirrors

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!

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Reference: You can find much more about the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s fact sheet at THIS LINK.

Space Is Not Orderly and Simple

Space Is Not Orderly and Simple

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

For more on M64 see the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” for March 29, 2021.

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.

Water in the Milky Way Galaxy

Water in the Milky Way Galaxy

We recently reported that there are massive amounts of water in the cosmos. Now, more evidence points to water in the Milky Way Galaxy.

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.

— John N, Clayton © 2021

Data from Discover magazine, January/February 2021 pages 58-59.

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Fake Asteroids and Space Junk

Fake Asteroids and Space Junk
Space Junk – Exaggerated Illustration

Politicians and the media often use the word “fake” in all kinds of dubious ways. Now we can apply the word to an asteroid known as 2020 SO (Space Object). It seems that this fake asteroid is just space junk.

There has been concern among astronomers for many years about the large number of rocks in our solar system. Right now, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has almost a million identified asteroids and comets, some of which could strike the Earth and cause massive destruction. The idea is that by cataloging these objects, we can know if any are on a collision course, so we might intervene to alter the trajectory.

It turns out that at least one of the cataloged asteroids is a fake asteroid. It is actually space junk. A NASA scientist determined that it is the upper stage of a Centaur rocket that put NASA’s Surveyor 2 lander on its way to the Moon in 1966. This rocket is just under 32 feet long and 10 feet in diameter and traveling at 1500 miles per hour. Another fake asteroid has turned out to be the third stage of the Saturn five rocket, which NASA launched in 1969 during the Apollo 12 mission.

Scientists are concerned about the amount of material that humans discard. That includes plastics that clutter the oceans and provide a constant headache at landfills. Chemicals dumped into rivers and lakes have had a very destructive effect on fish and other life forms, including humans. Space is also becoming more and more cluttered with human space junk. The material left from space launches is becoming a hazard to communications satellites and even space vehicles, including the International Space Station.

The need to make full use of everything and recycle is vital to our safety and health. When a terrible disease or deadly accident occurs, many people blame God. But more and more, we see that human neglect and carelessness causes most of our problems.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

References: Associated Press report by Marcia Dunn, October 12, 2020, and space.com

The Cords of Orion – What Are They?

Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula – NASA
cords of Orion

In the book of Job, God asks the character Job, “Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons?” What are the cords of Orion?

Since ancient times, people imagined that the asterism in the Orion constellation resembles a hunter holding a sword. The sword appears to consist of three stars. However, if you look closely, you can see that the central star is a little “fuzzy.” With a telescope, you can see that it’s not a star, but a nebula.

The picture of the Orion Nebula was taken by NASA’s Hubble space telescope. Nebulae are star factories, where clouds of dust and gas are collapsing to form stars. At “only” 1344 light-years from Earth, Orion is our closest star factory. Astronomers have observed about 700 stars in various stages of formation in the Orion Nebula.

There are many more nebulae where stars are being made today, as they have been since the universe began. These star factories are responsible for creating the billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy and beyond. They show that God is not a magician who pulls a universe out of his sleeve. God is an engineer who has designed an amazing system that makes possible everything we can see, and much more that we can’t see.

As we look at the cords of Orion, here is something to consider. God, who is outside of time, created a star factory in time, which then generated a star we call the Sun. Then He provided a home for us on the third planet from that star where we can look up and see star factories, like the Orion Nebula, at work.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

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.

Our Atmospheric Shield

Our Atmospheric Shield

One of the fantastic and vital features of planet Earth is our atmospheric shield. We have often mentioned the NASA website Astronomy Picture of the Day (apod.nasa.gov). Every day NASA posts a different astronomy picture to show us something of the cosmos. This is an excellent service because most of us don’t have access to giant telescopes, and we can’t see light in wavelengths outside of the visible spectrum.

On September 12, 2020, NASA’s posting showed a time-lapse series of pictures taken by the New South Wales observatory in Australia. This observatory is located at 33 degrees south latitude in an area with minimal light pollution, so there is minimal obstruction of the night sky. The pictures were recorded on 372 nights and run like a movie. What you see are sporadic meteors, fireballs, meteor showers, and even a lightning sprite. The series shows over 1000 meteors.

Remember that this picture sequence shows a relatively small area of sky. This does remind us that there is a constant rain of dust, pieces of rock, and other debris coming down upon our planet. People working with communication satellites are well aware of this because of constant damage to the orbiting objects. For those of us on Earth’s surface, our atmospheric shield burns up most of the solid space material. We don’t have to worry about getting hit by space debris or getting sandpapered by the small dust particles coming from outer space. That is just the solid stuff. Our atmospheric shield also refracts away non-solid radiation such as x-rays and gamma rays.

Providing a place where life can exist is not as easy as some think. One of the reasons we are not finding life in outer space is that designing and implementing our atmospheric shield was vital for the existence of life, and doing that was not simple. It required intelligence and a carefully implemented design. The simple statement, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth” doesn’t tell us the incredible difficulty of doing that.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Look Through a Telescope

Look Through a Telescope

Modern technology has given all of us a chance to look through a telescope and see what is in outer space. In the “old days” the only people that could look outside our solar system were astronomers who had access to powerful telescopes. Now all of us can look out and see what lies beyond our solar system without buying a telescope because the pictures are available to us on the web. If you go to apod.nasa.gov you can see pictures taken through the world’s largest telescopes. The picture for August 7, 2020, is of the Pipe Nebula. As I stare at the picture, I am awestruck by the number of stars in the cosmos.

Why are there so many? Why is the cosmos so big? If you believe that God created it all, why did He create billions of stars in billions of galaxies? If Earth is the only place with life, why are there other planets, other stars, other solar systems? Why is space full of matter like the Pipe Nebula? Obviously no one knows the answers to all these questions. Anyone who gives a dogmatic answer that invalidates the existence of God is claiming to have more knowledge than the rest of us. Those who claim the pictures are fakes or artistic works have not taken the trouble to go to an observatory and look through a telescope. Most observatories have arrangements that allow the general public to do that. We have no excuse for doubting the credibility of the pictures.

Whether you are an atheist or a religious fundamentalist, your viewpoint makes massive assumptions. Here are a few things you should know, that may make you uncomfortable:

No observation made has ever challenged the basic biblical claim that there was a beginning and that it was caused. You can argue about what the cause was, but attempting to deny that there was a beginning, puts you at odds with the observations and the laws of physics–even at a quantum level.

There is no support for the assumption that planet Earth is the only place in the universe where life exists. If there is life elsewhere, God created it, and the Bible does not say the Earth is the only place where God created life. However, the distances are so huge that we will never know if this is the only place–at least not in our lifetimes. Many years ago, I debated an atheist on a talk show with Larry King. A listener called in and asked the atheist and me “What would you two do if a space ship landed in plain sight and a little green man got out and asked, ‘Has Jesus been here yet?’” That raises all kinds of issues, but it makes the point. By the way, the atheist’s answer was, “Punt.”

As we look through a telescope we are looking into the distant past light-years ago. No one knows what the distant future holds. Could it be that God wants humans to colonize the cosmos? Perhaps our vision of God’s kingdom is too small. Every time I look at one of those pictures of star fields or look through a telescope, I am reminded of Psalms 8:3-4 “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained: What is man, that you are mindful of him?”

— John N. Clayton © 2020