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.

Moon Record in the Solar System

Moon Record in the Solar SystemThe solar system record for the largest number of moons has just been taken over by Saturn. Previously Jupiter was the record holder with 79. Now the moon record in the solar system goes to Saturn with 82!

Astronomers used some of the world’s largest telescopes, including the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii to make the recent discoveries. The same team led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., discovered 12 previously unknown moons around Jupiter last year. Now they have helped Saturn pull ahead of the competition.

Here we are living on a planet with only one Moon. Should we feel disadvantaged? Not at all! Imagine how confusing it would be to live on a planet with 82 moons. Seriously, one is enough. That is especially true when we have one Moon that is just right. We have pointed out before how precisely well-designed and well-placed our lone Moon is. Here are a few reminders with links to get more information:

Our Moon…
…has just the right mass to stabilize Earth’s rotational tilt.
…is just the right distance from Earth to create beneficial ocean tides.
…is just the right size to create total solar eclipses, which have helped us to learn more about the Sun.
…works with the Sun and stars to “mark seasons and days and years” (Genesis 1:14)
…reflects the light of the Sun to give a night light essential for many forms of life.

Those are a few of the reasons our Moon is the best one in the whole solar system! We asked before, “How many moons are enough?” Even though the number of known moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn has changed since we asked that question, the answer is still the same. One Moon, precisely designed and positioned, is exactly what we need. We hold the moon record in the solar system for the best Moon of all! There are too many “coincidences” for it to be an accident. We see the work of a Creator, who is an amazing Engineer.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Strong Man to Run a Race

The Sun Is Strong Man to Run a Race“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the expanse shows his handiwork … Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber and rejoices as a strong man to run a race.” Psalms 19:1, 4-5.

The choice of Hebrew words in this psalm is impressive, and modern science has enabled us to understand why the writer compares the Sun to a strong man. The Sun has about seven billion years’ worth of fuel. That is enough to make 31 orbits of the milky way taking about 225 million years to complete each orbit. The Hebrew word for “run” used here is “ruwts,” which means “to run swiftly.” The word “race” is translated from the Hebrew word “orach,” which means “a pathway or highway.

Modern measurements show that the Sun is moving at 520,000 miles per hour (836,859 kph) around the galaxy, and the galaxy itself is moving at 1.3 million miles per hour (2,092,147 kph) through space. Not only can we marvel at the size and speed of our solar system but also at the choice of words used in the Bible to describe the creation itself. We can poetically and accurately compare our Sun to a strong man to run a race.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from God Answers Science by Gary Driver, pages 100-101.

Curtain Opening on the Cosmos

Curtain Opening on the CosmosYesterday we discussed the Hebrew word “natah meaning to stretch out in an accelerative motion. We pointed out that it is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to describe the action of the cosmos. We emphasized that the Bible does not use that word to reveal a scientific fact, but it does show an accurate knowledge of the nature of the cosmos. It is knowledge that science has only verified in the past few years. The same verses that use “natah” also imply a curtain opening on the cosmos.

The verses we mentioned yesterday (Psalms 104:2, Isaiah 40:22, and Isaiah 45:12) describe the nature of the cosmos in a way that shows an understanding of what people often call the “big bang.” When people think about the “big bang,” they seem to have in mind some kind of explosion that created the cosmos. Science has learned that it is not the correct concept. The “big bang” was a great expansion but not an explosion. There is a uniformity of temperature across the cosmos of one part in one-hundred-thousandth of a degree. That fact indicates a smoothness in what took place at the creation event. An explosion doesn’t do that. The creation process started with a fine-tuned balance for a geometrically flat universe (not elliptical or hyperbolic). Instead of an explosion, it is more like a curtain opening on the cosmos.

Passages like Psalms 104:2 and Isaiah 40:22 describe the cosmos as being like a curtain. In Psalms 104:2, the Hebrew word used is “heyry,” which means a hanging drape. In Isaiah 40:22, the word used is “doq.” That word is used only once in the entire Bible and refers to a unique veil or curtain. The picture we get is that God stretches the cosmos pulling the fabric of space as we might open a curtain.

Science is now in agreement with the Bible that space and time began at a singularity. In that event, the material in space was moved, creating the fabric of space itself. Objects in the cosmos did not move through eternally existing space, but rather time began, and space was created as the objects moved. As space was pulled open like a curtain, the material embedded in space moved with it.

This scientific understanding is new, and it comes from the most recent observations available. This curtain opening on the cosmos is not some religious hodgepodge, but a discovery of modern science. The amazing thing is that the Bible writers stated it thousands of years ago. Science is beginning to show us a fuller understanding of the meaning of statements in God’s Word.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Stretching Out the Cosmos

Stretching Out the Cosmos is Like Starting a ChainsawAs a person trained in the sciences and a student of the Bible, I find it interesting how many times a Bible statement demonstrates an understanding of something only learned by modern science. Only recently has science proven that the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion. We can refer to it as stretching out the cosmos. This is no longer debatable but a fact confirmed by various experiments using different techniques and measurements.

The Bible repeatedly refers to the fact that the cosmos is “stretched.” For some examples of this, take a look at Psalms 104:2, Isaiah 40:22, and Isaiah 45:12. None of these passages are attempting to reveal any scientific fact, but all of them refer to God stretching out the cosmos.

The Hebrew word used in those passages is “natah,” meaning to stretch out. The most common use of this word in other places in the Old Testament is to indicate a person’s hand stretched out to point or show motion. In Exodus 8, for example, “natah” is used to describe Moses’ moving his hand or rod (See verses 5,6,16,17). Perhaps many of us would remember starting a lawnmower or chain saw by pulling the starting cord. The Bible tells us that accelerative is the force that moves the cosmos as a whole.

We want to emphasize that it is not the purpose of those passages to reveal any scientific information. However, they are a clear reference to the nature of the force that operates by stretching out the cosmos.

Tomorrow we will see that another word in these passages indicates the nature of the fabric of space itself.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Cosmological Verification of Bible Statements

Cosmological Verification of Bible StatementsThere are many passages in the Bible that contain scientific information that was unavailable to the authors who wrote the passage. Cosmological verification has come through modern science. In a few cases, science has discovered some of those verifications only recently.

An example is Hebrews 11:3, where the writer says, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” The word “framed” is from the Greek word meaning “to make thoroughly fit” (Young’s Analytical Concordance). We now know that quarks and all quanta (which we can’t see) have shaped the formation of the particles that make up our world. The author of Hebrews would not have known this.

Another example is Jeremiah 33:22, where we read, “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered …” The recent discovery that the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion is an incredible verification of that statement. Scientists tell us that the universe is 46.5 billion light-years in any direction. We have known for 100 years or so that the cosmos is distributed so that the further you go into space, the faster galaxies, stars, and planets are moving away. At the edges of the creation, we see objects traveling at speeds over 90% of the speed of light. If the cosmos is accelerating, then objects will pass that boundary of light and will disappear from our ability to see them. It is absolutely true that the objects in space cannot all be measured because we can’t see all of them.

It is not the purpose of the biblical passages to reveal scientific facts. But God seems to have inserted things into the Bible passages that allow cosmological verification. Modern scientific knowledge has reached the point of being able to understand some of God’s creative methods. The more we know of the creation, the better we can understand the Creator. God’s power and creative capacity are incredible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Would E.T. Live by the Bible?

Would E.T. Live by the Bible?The movie E.T. has been getting a revival of interest because of a renewed interest in UFOs and claims of alien visitation. The media has given much attention to exoplanets – planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. With all this attention to life in space, it is no wonder we get the question of whether they would follow the teachings of Christ. “Would E.T. live by the Bible?” is mostly idle speculation, but there is a point to be made.

We have made the argument that the teachings of Jesus show wisdom and design beyond that of mere humans. You can’t take the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 and not see that if all humans lived by those standards the Earth would be at peace and most of our problems would be gone. Even from a purely intellectual standpoint, it seems that an advanced civilization would have come to the point of realizing that war, fighting, selfishness, and greed are destructive and should be weeded out of the culture. Would E.T. live by the Bible? He would if he is smart.

I am reminded of a radio debate I had many years ago in Washington D.C., moderated by Larry King. The atheist representative was advocating humanism, but he and I were finding a lot to agree on. The show came to a halt when a listener called in and asked the atheist, “What would you do if a little green man landed in the Whitehouse lawn in a flying saucer, got out with a Bible in his hand and said ‘Has Jesus Christ been here yet?’” My atheist friend responded, “Punt.”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

How the Elements Were Created

How the Elements Were CreatedScience has made significant progress in understanding many things about the universe and our planet and the life on it. However, there are many, many things that we have not yet begun to understand. There are also many things we think we understand, but we are still working on better understandings. One question involves how the elements were created.

At the time of the cosmic creation event (widely called the “big bang”), there were atoms with one proton and one electron and some with twice that many. We call simplest element hydrogen, and two hydrogen atoms combine to form helium in the process of nuclear fusion. More and more fusion took place and still is happening in our Sun and other stars. The process requires intense heat and pressure to fuse the atomic nuclei into a heavier atom.

In stars much more massive than our Sun, heavier elements up to iron can are being formed by fusing more and more atoms together. When you go beyond iron, and all the way up to uranium, even the biggest, brightest, and hottest stars can’t squeeze those atoms together. Scientists believe that the heavier elements are created in exploding stars known as supernovae. When they explode, the theory goes, ripples of turbulence form as the supernovae toss their stellar material into the void of the universe. The forces in that turbulence press more and more atoms together to make the heavier elements. As those atomic elements fly off into space, gravity pulls them into lumps which eventually become planets, such as the one on which we live.

A problem with that explanation is that when the atoms are blasted from the supernovae, they are all traveling in the same direction at perhaps the same speed. How can that produce enough force and heat to fuse them together? An alternate explanation is that the explosion within the supernova is not symmetrical, creating areas of greater density. Ultradense and ultrahot regions concentrated in small areas of the exploding mass perhaps give a better explanation of how the elements were created. (See a paper on that published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.)

Carbon is the basic building block of all living cells. Nitrogen and oxygen, which are the next steps above carbon, bond with it along with other atoms to form living molecules. A little higher on the atomic scale are sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other elements which are essential to life. Iron, nickel, copper, and other metals are in molecules within our bodies, and we use them in pure form to build our homes, cars, and electronics. The heavier radioactive elements such as uranium deep within the Earth generate the heat that creates a molten iron core that generates a magnetic field which surrounds and protects us. This is a very simple explanation of a very complex system that makes it possible for us to be here.

Science is only beginning to understand how the elements were created and how they are continuing to be created. How did this amazing, complex system come into being with the precision that put life on this planet? We could declare a god-of-the-gaps to say that we don’t understand it and therefore, God did it. It is much better for us to learn HOW God did it. As we begin to see the wisdom required to put this incredibly complex universe together, we become more in awe of the Creator. We don’t have a god-of-the-gaps who “zaps” things into existence like a magician. Our God is an engineer craftsman who creates complexity and beauty that leaves us without excuse. (See Romans 1:20.)
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Hubble Constant and Age of the Universe

Hubble Constant and Age of the Universe
The Associated Press released an article on Friday, September 13, 2019, that read, “Study Finds the Universe Might be Several Billion Years Younger.” The news story sites a study released in the journal Science on September 12. In the study, Inh Jee of the Max Planck Institute in Germany used a new method to measure the Hubble Constant, which scientists use to calculate the age of the universe.

Right away, we have seen some fundamentalists jumping to the conclusion that the headline means the Earth is 6,000 years old after all. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old the creation is. The age of the Earth is a denominational issue for those whose human doctrines won’t work if the Earth is more than 6,000 years old. Our concern is that people understand that this is not an issue about whether God exists or whether the Bible is true.

We can measure the age of the universe by determining the expansion rate of the cosmos, which is the Hubble Constant. Measuring that expansion has been incredibly difficult, and that is what the headline refers to. In previous years the Hubble Constant has been estimated to be 70. Inh Lee and her team used a new technique called time delay gravitational lensing which gave a value for the Hubble Constant of 82.4. That would reduce the age of the universe from the currently accepted 13.7 billion years to 11.4 billion years. Other scientists using other techniques earlier this year have given a Hubble Constant of 74 and 73.3. Previous methods have given a value as low as 67. A lower value means an older universe, and a higher value of the Hubble Constant means a younger universe.

If you know the value of the Hubble Constant, the calculation of the age of the universe is very simple. We all know that travel time depends on two things. If I go 100 miles at 50 miles per hour, how long did I travel? The obvious answer is two hours. Distance traveled is equal to the speed at which you travel multiplied by how long you travel at that speed. We can measure the size of the cosmos by several techniques. Triangulation is difficult because the size is so huge that the apex angle of the triangle is too small to measure accurately. However, triangulation does give us an idea of the vastness of space.

The further light travels through the cosmos, the lower the frequency of the light. That effect is caused by dust particles in space scattering the higher frequency blue light. The effect is called interstellar reddening, and it gives us a good measure of the size of the cosmos. Several other methods involve complex energy production by various stars. All of those methods provide a reasonably consistent measure as to how big the cosmos is. Applying the Hubble Constant to the size of the cosmos provides us with a measure of the age of the universe.

The point of all of this is to get values that science can use to study astronomical processes in deep space. The problem is that our measuring devices are primitive in terms of what we need for such distant objects. What it means to those of us who marvel at the size and complexity of space is that more than ever, “The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1).
— John N. Clayton ©2019