The Only Lunar Eclipse Visible In North America In 2022

The Only Lunar Eclipse Visible In North America In 2022
A Total Lunar Eclipse or “Blood Moon”

This Sunday night, May 15-16, 2022, a total lunar eclipse will be visible in the Western Hemisphere. It will be the only lunar eclipse visible in North America in 2022. The totality will be visible in the eastern United States and Canada and all of Central and South America. It will also be visible in Antarctica, but most of the population seeing it there will be penguins. The partial, or penumbral, eclipse will be visible in the western U.S. and Canada as well as Africa, Europe, and other areas. To find out exactly if or when you can see it in your area, go to TimeandDate.com.

Lunar eclipses occur at the time of the full moon. People commonly call May’s full moon the Flower Moon since it’s the time of year when many flowers are blooming in the Northern Hemisphere. Full moons occur approximately once per month when Earth is between the Moon and the Sun. A couple of times per year, the alignment is so precise that the Moon falls within Earth’s shadow, creating an eclipse. That will happen only one more time this year, on November 8, which also happens to be election day in the United States. However, the November eclipse of the Moon is no omen for the elections, and it won’t even be visible in the United States.

A total lunar eclipse, often called a “blood moon because of its color, is not an omen of anything, despite what some false prophets may suggest. It is a natural function of the solar system God created for us. We can know precisely when eclipses of the Sun and Moon will occur because our solar system is not chaotic. Our Creator gave us an orderly, life-sustaining system in which to live and carry out His plan. With that in mind, enjoy the only lunar eclipse visible in North America in 2022. Let it be a reminder of God’s creative wisdom and His love. (See Genesis 1:16 and Psalms 72:5-7.)

— Roland Earnst © 2022

How Do Plants Communicate?

How Do Plants Communicate?
Mycorrhizal Network allows Plants to Communicate

People communicate with each other through spoken and written words and actions. We also know that animals communicate by using sounds and movements. However, we may not be aware that plants talk to each other. They don’t do it by speech, writing, sounds, or movements. Since they are stationary and silent, how do plants communicate?

Plants are continuously engaging with other plants in their environment, mostly underground. For example, the roots of most plants host fungi, and working together, the plant roots and the fungi create underground structures called mycorrhizae. These mycorrhizae resemble a web system surrounding the plant’s roots, helping the plant absorb nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in a symbiotic relationship. As the mycorrhizae help the roots absorb essential nutrients and water, the plant uses photosynthesis to produce sugars which it shares with the fungi.

But how do plants communicate? The mycorrhizae can connect multiple plants into a network through which they can share energy and information. This web creates a fine-tuned community-wide sharing system. Through this communication channel, plants can pass defensive chemicals to protect against insects. When pests such as aphids attack a plant, it can send a message to its neighbors so they can preemptively activate defense responses. In this way, mycorrhizae enable a system of cooperation between plants.

However, when resources such as light or nutrients are scarce, a plant can limit its mycorrhizae connections and avoid making new ones. Then when resources are good, they can restore their sharing network and even make new connections. When the plants connected in the mycorrhizae network are closely related, they share more than if their neighbors are not close relatives. Trees use these fungal networks to communicate and share but also sometimes to sabotage their rivals. Plants determine when to share and when to maintain their independence.

As we investigate the question, “How do plants communicate?” we realize that they behave as humans often do, putting their own interests first. Yet, sharing and working together is part of God’s design for life, and humans should always follow the example set by Jesus in His life and teaching. (See Matthew 5:38-48 and 25:31-46.)

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Reference: The Conversation

Medical Challenges of Space Travel

Medical Challenges of Space Travel
NASA Kennedy Space Center

Space exploration presents many challenges, but the medical challenges of space travel may dwarf the technical challenges. Spending lengthy sojourns on the International Space Station (ISS) has already shown some of the problems that future space travelers will face.

One problem astronauts face is space anemia caused by a lack of red blood cells. On Earth, the human body makes two million red blood cells every second to replace the ones that are lost. In space, the astronauts’ bodies lose three million red blood cells each second, and they must replace those cells. Anemia results from a shortage of the red blood cells needed to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. It causes fatigue, dizziness, and weakness.

Space anemia was well-known, but scientists thought the body would adapt and correct the problem after an extended time in space. Unfortunately, a recent study of 13 astronauts has shown that it is not corrected after six months on the ISS. Furthermore, it took three to four months to restore a near-normal red blood count after the astronauts returned to Earth. There was still a thirty percent greater loss of red blood cells even after that.

A new study on cosmonauts in the ISS shows another area of concern. Scientists studied the brains of twelve cosmonauts just before and after their space flights and again seven months after they returned to Earth. They used computer reconstruction of data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the structure (gray matter) and connectivity (white matter) in the brain. The research showed shape changes in the brain, especially in the corpus callosum, a large bundle of nerve fibers that connect the brain’s two hemispheres. In addition, researchers detected “changes in the neural connections between several motor areas of the brain.” But, perhaps, the most concerning is that in the brain scans taken seven months after the cosmonauts returned to Earth, the changes to the brain were still present.

A journey to Mars and back will take more than twenty months. During that space flight, astronauts will need protection from radiation, food for proper nourishment, and to replenish red blood cells while they experience “rewiring” of their brains. The many medical challenges of space travel remind us how blessed we are that God has given us the perfect planet to call home.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: EurekAlert.org and Frontiers In Neural Circuits

Newly Discovered Human Body Parts

Newly Discovered Human Body Parts

It would be an understatement to say that medical science has learned many things about the human body. But, at the same time, it would be correct to say that we have much more to learn. Recently, scientists have reported two newly discovered human body parts.

One of the recent discoveries is located inside the passageways of the lungs and plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the respiratory system. Researchers found some unique cells they named respiratory airway secretory cells (RAS). They discovered the RAS cells in the lung’s delicate, branching passageways known as bronchioles. Tiny air sacs called alveoli located at the tips of the bronchioles remove carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen in the blood vessels. The RAS cells are designed to transform into new alveoli cells to replace ones that become damaged. When pollution causes damage, the RAS cells stand ready to come to the rescue. But, of course, humans sometimes abuse their lungs by smoking or vaping, which can cause more damage than the RAS cells can correct.

The other recently discovered body part is critical for chewing our food. The masseter muscle raises the lower jaw as we chew. Medical scientists knew that there were two muscle layers inside the masseter. However, researchers have found a third muscle layer deep inside the masseter. They said that the newly discovered layer helps stabilize the lower jaw and is the only part of the masseter that can pull the jawbone backward. The researchers propose to name this muscle layer the “Musculus masseter pars coronidea.” Perhaps we can abbreviate that to MMPC.

When science assumed that anatomical research had discovered every part of the human body, they found something new. Both of these discoveries can benefit medical treatments. The RAS cells may lead to new therapies for lung damage. Knowing the existence of the MMPC may help doctors when performing surgery on the jaw region. Finding these newly discovered human body parts indicates that we still have more to learn about our “fearfully and wonderfully made” bodies (Psalms 139:14).

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: Nature.com and ScienceDirect.com

One Daily Drink Can Shrink Your Brain

One Daily Drink Can Shrink Your Brain

A new study in the U.K. shows that even light alcohol consumption harms the human brain. The study involved more than 36,000 participants between 40 and 69. The conclusion was that as little as one daily drink can shrink your brain.

Many studies have shown that drinking alcohol has long-term effects on cardiovascular and brain function. Chronic excessive alcohol consumption contributes to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, accelerated aging, and malnutrition. However, some earlier studies suggested that limited alcohol consumption might benefit your health. The researchers involved in this study wanted to determine the effect of small to moderate alcohol consumption. The results were surprising.

The 36,678 participants reported their alcohol consumption, and the researchers performed an MRI scan on their brains. Researchers grouped the subjects by average daily intake of one, two, or three or more alcohol units–or none. A unit was about eight ounces of beer or three ounces of wine. The researchers adjusted for age, genetic ancestry, and sex.

Those who consumed even one alcohol unit per day showed noticeable differences in the brain structure, especially in the brain stem, putamen, and amygdala. Those areas regulate heart rate, breathing, learning, motor control, and processing of emotions. The regions of white and gray matter in the brain shrank exponentially with increased alcohol consumption. The brain’s gray matter is that area that processes information, and the white matter enables communication between gray matter regions. One daily drink can shrink your brain, leading to decreased cognitive ability.

The more units of alcohol consumed, the more significant were the differences compared to those who drank no alcohol. For example, for people who reported drinking three alcoholic units per day, their brains appeared to be 3.5 years older than those who drank none. For those who drank four units, their brains aged by ten years.

Interestingly, the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men limit their consumption to two drinks per day. This study shows that one daily drink can shrink your brain. So the bottom line is that if you want your brain to stay young longer, avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

You can read the complete study with charts on Nature Communications at THIS LINK.

Methane and Life on Other Planets

Methane and Life on Other Planets

Astronomers are constantly looking for signs of life on other planets or moons. One of the potential clues they seek is methane, a hydrocarbon gas consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It is classified as a “greenhouse gas” because it can trap heat on Earth’s surface resulting in “global warming.” It’s a more effective greenhouse gas than the much-discussed carbon dioxide. Methane is produced by organic decomposition and in the digestion process of ruminants such as cows and other animals. Scientists seek to learn more about a possible connection between methane and life on other planets.

Since living things create methane, scientists regard it as a potential “biosignature” indicating life on an astronomical body. For that reason, astronomers are searching for methane on planetary bodies. News reports have sometimes gone overboard with stories about methane and life on other planets. However, not all methane is created biologically. Volcanic eruptions can release methane gas, and even asteroid impacts can add methane to a planet’s atmosphere. So how can scientists tell if the methane is a sign of life on a body far out in space?

For one thing, gasses from a volcano would contain not only methane but also carbon monoxide. The biological creation of methane would consume carbon monoxide. When examining the gasses in a planet’s atmosphere, a large amount of BOTH methane and carbon monoxide would probably indicate that the methane was not a biosignature. Methane alone would be a more likely indicator of the possibility of life.

However, an abundance of methane without carbon monoxide would not prove the existence of life on a planet. As we have said before, many factors are required to make a planet suitable for any kind of life, especially advanced life. NASA’s James Webb telescope, launched in December, is still working to reach full functionality. When it does, a significant part of its purpose will be to look for methane in the atmosphere of exoplanets.

When results indicate that the Webb telescope has detected methane on a planet, news reporters may sensationalize the facts to suggest more than they deserve. Reputable scientists are more cautious in their predictions about methane and life on other planets. Nevertheless, we are excited about the possibility of learning more about the universe with the new Webb space telescope.

As we have said before, the Bible doesn’t tell us if there is life on any other object in space. If there is, we believe that God put it there. We are not afraid of scientific investigation because the more we learn about the creation, the more we stand in awe of the Creator.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Return of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

Return of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

In late April each year, we see the return of the Lyrid meteor shower. It may not be the most spectacular meteor shower of the year, but I find it easier to observe. That’s because, in our part of the world, it comes at a time when the weather is mild enough to sit outside and watch (unlike the Geminids in December) and before mosquitoes become a problem (as with the August Perseids shown in the picture).

This year, the return of the Lyrid meteor shower is from April 14-30, with the peak on the night of April 22. Typically, the Lyrids display five to 20 meteors per hour at the peak, although, in some years, the number has been higher. Written records of the Lyrid meteor shower go back 2700 years when Chinese astronomers made note of it in 687 B.C. A Korean account from A.D.1136 says that “many stars flew from the northeast.”

If you see the Lyrid meteor shower, you will not be looking at falling stars, although you may get that impression. Instead, you will see tiny fragments of Comet Thatcher (officially C/1861 G1), discovered in 1861 by amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher. That year was the last time the comet flew by our planet at 31.1 million miles (50.1 million km). Its next return to our vicinity will be sometime around the year 2280. Meanwhile, Earth’s orbit around the Sun causes us to pass through debris the comet left behind. So we see those fragments as they burn up from the effect of atmospheric friction.

We live in an orderly universe on a planet positioned to allow observation and study of the cosmos. Our planet is designed with an atmosphere and magnetic field to protect us from comet debris, meteorites, cosmic rays, and solar wind. If you have the opportunity to observe the return of the Lyrid meteor shower, use it as a time to thank the Creator for allowing us to live in the just-right time on a just-right planet in a just-right location in the universe.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

The Event to Remember

The Event to Remember - Empty Tomb

Today, we think once more of the event to remember which we described in this post from five years ago.

Early on the first day of the week, some women came to the tomb where the lifeless body of Jesus had been placed. It was empty. It had been opened–not by any human hands but by an angel. It wasn’t opened to let Jesus out. The tomb was opened so that people might see that it was empty. The followers of Jesus were not expecting him to be alive again. At first, they couldn’t believe it. Powerful people tried to find the body or to convince the public that it had been stolen. But they could not.

Now, over 2000 years later, there are still those who try to deny the resurrection. The evidence is there. The friends of Jesus were not expecting the resurrection, but after they had seen him alive, they spent the rest of their lives telling others about it. Even when they were tortured and killed for preaching the resurrection, not one of them ever recanted. Without a body, the powerful enemies of Jesus could not disprove the resurrection.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, written only a few years after the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle Paul recorded what scholars believe was an oral tradition of the resurrection appearances dating back to the very time of the resurrection. If it had not been true, this tradition and Paul’s record of it would have been debunked by the eyewitnesses who were still around. It was true, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most solidly attested event of ancient history. The world will never be the same because of the day when Jesus Christ conquered death.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Waiting for the New Day

Waiting for the New Day - Joseph's Tomb

As we are waiting for the new day, we want to share this post from five years ago.

Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who had a new tomb carved into a stone hillside. This was not a pauper’s grave. Only the rich and powerful could afford such a burial place, and it was soon to become a temporarily borrowed tomb.

The first man to use it was not a wealthy man. He grew up as the son of a carpenter and had no home to call His own. He had a small group of friends who deserted Him at the last minute. His thousands of admirers quickly sought to get rid of Him when He didn’t overthrow the Romans as they expected.

A few days after they greeted Him with shouts of praise and honor, they were begging the Romans to put him to death. His lifeless body was placed in a rich man’s tomb because the rich man named Joseph stepped out of the shadows and loaned his tomb to Jesus. “Loaned” is the appropriate word, because Jesus would not need it for very long. This was a temporarily borrowed tomb. A miracle was about to happen!
–Roland Earnst © 2017

The Purpose of Beauty

 The Purpose of Beauty - Sunset

Humans are obsessed with beauty. We try to make ourselves more beautiful with clothing and cosmetics. We seek to create beauty in music and art, and we continually long for something even more beautiful. But, what is the purpose of beauty, and how can we explain excessive beauty in nature? That is what we have called “the problem of beauty,” which we have discussed all this week.

Beauty is not to provide protection or to solve problems. The purpose of beauty is to bring joy, peace, and meaning to life. However, as we seek beauty, we long for something even more beautiful. We strive to create it, and we desire to find it in people and in nature.

The prophet Isaiah in a vision, saw God’s throne room where one seraph cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). God’s glory is displayed in the beauty we see on this planet. The curse of sin has marred that beauty, but it still peaks through. It reminds us of the Creator of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). Theologian N.T. Wright asked the question that we all face at some time, “If the earth is full of God’s glory, why is it also so full of pain and anguish and screaming and despair?” That is what we call “the problem of pain.” I think we can see a glimpse of the answer in the purpose of beauty.

I suggest that humans appreciate and desire beauty because God created us in His image.
God creates beauty in the world around us to give us a sample of what is possible. When we see beauty, we long for more because we always find imperfections in the beauty we see here. Beautiful peacocks die. Colorful fall leaves turn brown and fall to the ground. The beauty of a sunset is fleeting. We long for more. We want to know what more God has in store for us.

The apostle John saw a vision of what God has waiting for those who accept His gift of eternal life. In Revelation chapters 21 and 22, he struggled to describe it in terms of the familiar, such as gold, pearls, and jewels, but he knew those words were inadequate. Perhaps the purpose of beauty in the world around us is to show us a glimpse of the glory of God’s beauty. We long for the revelation of the pure beauty of God’s kingdom. As we struggle to answer the problem of pain, perhaps the answer is before our eyes. The problem of beauty is only a hint, a clue, a sample of the ultimate beauty. I can’t wait to see the real thing.

— Roland Earnst © 2022