The dominant theory for the origin of the planets in our solar system assumes that they all evolved from a single mass or nebula. Several factors support that idea. Those factors include the fact that the planets lie roughly in one plane, that they all revolve around the Sun in the same direction, and that there is mathematical predictability to their location. Most of the irregularities that might indicate against a common source, such as variations in planetary tilt, have reasonable explanations. However, new planetary atmosphere variations are difficult to explain.
Recent studies of the atmospheres of the terrestrial planets have shown wide variations. Our atmosphere contains 78% nitrogen, but nitrogen on Venus is 4%, and on Mars, it is 2.7%. Both Mars and Venus have atmospheres that are 95% carbon dioxide, while Earth is 0.1%, and Mercury has none. Earth and Mercury have oxygen in their atmospheres, 21% and 42% respectively, but Venus and Mars have less than 1%. Astronomers theorize that they can explain these planetary atmosphere variations. They suggest that the atmospheres are not original to the planets, but were produced by processes that took place after the formation of the planets. The best guess now is that impacts and outgassing formed the atmospheres. This is not a trivial matter because life is not possible without the proper combination of atmospheric gases.
The Genesis account describes the production of Earth’s structure in a sequence. Genesis 1:6-9 indicates separate creations of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. The new data support the idea that once Earth was created, continued activity prepared it for life. Once again, we find the scientific evidence in support of the Bible’s description.
The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 10-11) carried an interesting interview with well-known astronomer Dr. Mike Brown. One of the issues raised is the uniqueness of our solar system compared to other known planetary systems in the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers have discovered thousands of extra-solar planets, and the evidence shows that our solar system design is not typical.
Dr. Brown points out that we are finding giant planets that are closer to their suns than our planet Mercury. We also find stars with eight very small planets that are also inside the orbital distance of Mercury. We don’t see a planet as small as Earth located as far from the parent star as we are anywhere else in the Milky Way. That makes the chances of having a planet in the “Goldilocks Zone” (where water could exist as a liquid) very low. It also means that the masses of the giant planets close to their parent stars must be enormous, and the speed of their orbits must be astronomical.
Proverbs 8 finds “Wisdom” speaking, and she says in verses 22-27, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His work before the Earth ever was … when he prepared the heavens, I was there.” The production of our planet was an incredible work of design, not an accident. That certainly urges us to care for what God has created.
If you do any cooking, you know that to be a successful cook, you have to stir the pot every so often. Not only does stirring the pot prevent the food from sticking to the bottom, but it also improves the flavor by mixing the ingredients. The Earth and its relationship to life is also a kind of pot. We are just beginning to understand how complicated the relationship is between the Sun and the various ecosystems on Earth that allow life and advanced life to exist.
In 2018 NASA launched a probe called the Parker Solar Probe to fly near the Sun and make measurements and observations. No space probe has ever been close enough to the Sun to gain much data, but this probe was designed to fill that gap in our knowledge. At this point, it is about halfway between the Sun and Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
The Sun has what are called switchbacks when the magnetic field briefly reverses itself. This reversal varies the amount of solar wind coming to the Earth. This variable wind compresses Earth’s atmosphere, stirring the pot, so to speak. The mixing of the gases makes changes in our atmosphere, which we can observe in the auroras. The magnitude of the switchbacks also affects our power grids and orbiting communication satellites.
It is obvious that the movement of materials in our atmosphere and the constant changes that take place are part of the solar system design. The new data may open doors not only to how we can protect our power grids, but it may give us further understanding of the origin and sustaining of life on Earth.
Stirring the pot is one more factor in the intricate design of our planet and solar system that makes life possible. When Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom being present before the creation, it speaks of things we are just beginning to understand. The more we know of the creation, the more we know of the Creator.
Above 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.
The 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:
Oceans are essential for life on Earth. As we learn more about the oceans, we realize more and more how important the ocean treasure house is to our survival.
Fish, shrimp, and lobsters are some of the blessings that come from the oceans. Those vast bodies of water contain a great wealth of biomass that can address human food needs. The very fact that these forms of life lay millions of eggs that can provide massive amounts of food quickly is a testimony to the vast ocean treasure house. As humans conserve and farm these resources, we see the potential for food production with minimal environmental impact.
But food is only one of the blessings that come from the oceans. The oceans of the world provide water for the land. Evaporation lifts massive amounts of water from the oceans. The moisture condenses and falls on the continents providing the vital water needed by all land forms of life.
The oceans also moderate temperatures on the land. When Earth is closest to the Sun, its tilt exposes the Southern Hemisphere to the direct radiation of the Sun. Since oceans mostly cover the Southern Hemisphere, the water reflects much of the radiation, and the rest is absorbed and stored in the water. The water carries this heat toward the polar areas of the planet, moderating temperatures and allowing life to exist in abundance at the higher latitudes.
When the Earth is at its farthest distance from the Sun, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun, exposing the land to the Sun’s radiation. The land surface absorbs more heat radiation and reflects less of it. The waters in the Southern Hemisphere moderate the climate by using their stored energy to supplement the heat from the Sun.
In addition to their thermodynamic uses, the oceans also control the gases that are critical for life on Earth. Photosynthetic processes taking place in the oceans produce most of our oxygen. The oceans are a significant carbon sink, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that would be in our atmosphere if the oceans did not exist. This not only restricts the adverse greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide but also recycles carbon in ways that benefit the entire planetary ecosystem.
Another ocean treasure house is the minerals they hold. The salt in the ocean is not just sodium chloride (regular table salt). The oceans contain a wide variety of elements that are critical to humans. They include iodine, magnesium, copper, and copious trace elements of biological importance. People who live far from the oceans benefit from these mineral resources because ancient oceans have deposited those minerals on land. Oceans gather and store the elements that humans need. While we have mined these ocean-deposited resources on land, we are now learning to take them directly from the ocean.
Astronomy magazine (November 2019, page 44) has an interesting article on some of the facts about the Moon. The information is based on the 842 pounds (382 kg) of rocks brought back from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. Every time an issue of this magazine comes out, I have two groups of people who like to write to me with their analysis of the meaning of an article in the magazine. (We also have several who do the same thing with other scientific magazines and journals.) The discussion of the letter writers has to do with God’s creation method.
One of the people wrote that this Moon data clearly shows that God had nothing to do with the creation of the Earth or the Moon. The other person tried to deny the data maintaining that God “spoke the Moon into existence,” and it was not a natural process. Both of these writers miss the point.
First, there is no reason for believers in God to challenge the scientific data in the article. In this case, the ratio of the isotopes of oxygen in Earth rocks and Moon rocks are the same. The average high school physics student can tell you how that measurement is made and how reliable it is. Earth’s spin axis and the Moon’s orbit are related, and once again, basic physics equations can verify that data. There is no reason to question the data. That data led to the impact hypothesis that the Moon was formed when a Mars-size body impacted the Earth and threw off debris which coalesced into the Moon. There is no reason to feel that somehow those facts deny the existence of God or the description given in the Bible.
The Bible simply says that God created the heaven (“shamayim” – the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1) and the Earth (“erets”). It does not describe God’s creation method. Verse 14 tells us, “God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky…” In verse 16, this is expanded with the words, “God made (“asah” in Hebrew meaning He made or fashioned what already existed) two great lights …” Then it says that He “…let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” The material is created in verse 1, where “bara” is used indicating an act that only God can do. The fashioning “as signs to mark seasons and days and years” in verses 14-18 uses the Hebrew “asah,” not “bara.” Genesis 2:3 tells us that God “rested from all his work which God created (bara) and made (asah).” Both processes are involved.
Science 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.
My wife recently did some major rearranging of the books in our library. We have a large number of books, and we needed to downsize and make it easier to find what we are looking for. She asked for my advice about arranging books on a shelf. This brought to my mind a column in Astronomy magazine in January of 2013. In Bob Berman’s “Strange Universe” column, he often presents some interesting facts, and we have referred to his articles previously. In that particular column, he wrote about what random events or “chance” can or cannot accomplish.
The connection with library books goes like this. If you have 4 books on a shelf, how many ways can you arrange them? The answer is “4 factorial,” which is 4 x 3 x 2. Multiply it out, and you find that there are 24 possible ways. However, what if you have 10 books to arrange? That would be 10 factorial, which is 10 x 9 x 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2. Multiply those numbers, and you will find there are 3,628,800 different ways to arrange 10 books on a shelf. We have way more than 10 books in our library, and I am not going to compute how many possible arrangements there are. Neither my calculator nor my brain could handle it.
When my wife asked for advice on arranging books on a shelf, she didn’t realize what a difficult question she was asking me. However, I had no problem giving a suggestion because I have enough intelligence to know what books should go together by topic. But if you were to put 10 books on a shelf at random, the chance that they would all be in alphabetical order would be about one in 3.6 million. Try it blindfolded and see how long it takes for you to get it right.
Astronomers today use technology to examine areas of the cosmos far removed from our solar system. The fact that they are finding the other systems are very much different from ours should tell us something. In fact, the more we study those other systems, the more we learn about our solar system design and why it is the way it is.
One interesting fact about other systems is that even though some planets are very large and obviously gaseous, they can exist very close to their stars. Astronomers in the past explained the fact that the inner planets of our own solar system are rocky and hard by saying that the Sun burned off the gases and left the rocky material. That may be partially true, but in 2002 astronomers discovered a planet they named OGLE-TR-56b. It is about the same mass as Jupiter but over 30 percent larger. It has to be a gaseous planet to have such a low density.
The surprising thing is that OGLE-TR-56b orbits its star at an average distance of only 2 million miles (3.2 million km). Our innermost planet Mercury is 36 million miles (58 million km) from the Sun. The outer atmosphere of this planet must be around 3000°F (1650° C). It is evident that gaseous planets can exist very close to their stars, so our old explanation of the inner planets in our solar system design is vastly oversimplified.
Most of the planets we see around other stars are very large, which is not surprising since it is easier to see a big planet than a small one. One extra-solar planet is 17 times as massive as Jupiter. The strange thing is that many of the giant planets are closer to the Sun than Venus. Old theories of planet formation suggested that due to the large gravity values of stars, it was impossible for planets to form close to the stars. We now know that is not true.
Science programs on television have delighted in proposing that the cosmos is full of planets and that every galaxy has literally millions of planets. The hope is that if you have enough planets, the chance of having another Earth is improved. We now know that many galactic systems do not have planets at all. The composition and age of galactic systems obviously have a major impact on whether planets can exist, but claims of billions of Earth-like planets in the cosmos are highly exaggerated.
The type of star also has an impact on whether planetary systems can form. Most stars in the cosmos are binary systems containing more than one star. A planet can orbit the stars at a great distance, but shifting gravity fields make planets unlikely if the stars are close together, as most are. How much metal there is in a star system affects planet formation. Metal content varies within galaxies as well as between stars. A part of space dominated by gases like hydrogen and helium are not as likely to produce planets as areas where there are large amounts of iron, manganese, cobalt, and the like. Solar system design requires the right kind of star.
Perhaps one of the most exciting lessons we have learned from other solar systems is that the shape of the orbits of planets in our solar system is very unusual. Most of them have very circular orbits meaning that their distance from the Sun does not vary a great deal. Venus has an orbit that is .007 with 0 being a perfect circle and 1 is a straight line. Pluto has the most elliptical orbit, but even Pluto is less than .3 on the 0-1 scale. Our solar system design is unusual.
Circular orbits like ours are very rare in other solar systems where .7 is a very common orbital value, and virtually all orbits exceed .3. If a planet swings far out from its star and then comes much closer, it should be obvious that temperature conditions are going to be extreme. Not only will such a planet have extreme conditions itself, but it will have a very negative effect on any planets that do have a circular orbit in the system. If Jupiter came closer to the Sun than Earth with each orbit, imagine the conditions on Earth as Jupiter went by us.
We now know that our gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) are essential to us because their gravitational fields sweep up any debris from outer space. Without those planets, comets and asteroids would pound Earth and life here would be difficult if not impossible. The fact that they are outside Earth’s orbit at a considerable distance and in a circular orbit allows us to exist in a stable condition for an extended time. The comets that do enter our system by avoiding the gas giants do not come in along the plane of the solar system called the ecliptic. Coming in from other directions, they have no chance of hitting Earth since they are not in the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.