Exoplanets and TESS

Exoplanets and TESS
Data is coming in from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS for short. It is the most powerful telescope ever deployed to look for planets orbiting other stars. Over two years, TESS can cover all 360 degrees of sky visible from Earth’s orbit. Our previous satellite called Kepler could only scan a small segment of the sky. Already Tess has identified over 300 probable exoplanets including one named HD 21749b which has the lowest known temperature for a planet orbiting a bright nearby star. (“Nearby” being 53 light-years away.)

The problem with this is that what astronomers consider “cool” is not cool from our standpoint. The surface temperature of HD 21749b is 150 degrees Celsius, which is way too hot for liquid water. (Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.) A year on that planet equals 36 Earth days as it makes a complete orbit around its star. Most of the other exoplanets found at this time are vastly hotter than HD 21749b.

Astronomers have found other planetary systems, but they again have properties that would preclude any kind of life. Some of them have a planetary density equal to that of pure water. Some have orbits that are highly eccentric. Pi Mensae b, for example, has an orbit that varies widely. Its closest distance to its star approximately equals the distance from Earth to our Sun. The longest distance is similar to Jupiter’s distance from the Sun.

All of this continues to tell us that Earth is a unique planet orbiting a unique star. It is possible that those stars with exoplanets are undergoing an evolutionary process that could result in Earth-like planets billions of years from now. As we study them, we are learning more and more about what God did to create the “heaven and the earth.” God’s power and design become more amazing to us as we learn more about the universe. The more we learn, the more we see what Frank C. Baxter, who hosted the old Bell System Science TV Series, called “the wonder-working hand that has gone before us.”
–John N. Clayton © 2019

If you would like the nostalgia of watching Frank Baxter in the Bell System Science Series click HERE or HERE.

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere

Cosmic Coincidence and the Heliosphere
A cosmic coincidence took place on November 5, 2018. It had to do with our Sun and two probes that NASA sent into space.

To the average person, the solar system refers to our Sun and the eight (or nine) orbiting planets. However, between Mars and Jupiter there are asteroids and beyond the planets there dwarf planets and smaller bodies called planetesimals. So where is the edge of the solar system?

A bubble surrounds the solar system which scientists call the heliosphere. The Sun sends out charged plasma particles called the solar wind. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from most harmful effects of the solar wind, but we can see the effect of that “wind” as it ionizes molecules in the upper atmosphere creating the aurora we call the northern and southern lights. There is a limit to how far the solar wind reaches, and that is the outer edge of the heliosphere bubble. NASA’s Voyager 2 reached it on November 5.

Also on November 5, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe reached the inner edge of the heliosphere by flying toward the Sun. The fact that both probes arrived at the extreme boundaries of the heliosphere at the same time was not and could not be planned by the scientists at NASA. We would have to call it a cosmic coincidence.

NASA launched Voyager 2 forty-one years earlier in 1977. On its journey out of the solar system, it flew past and took pictures of all four gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). In late August of 2018, its plasma detectors, called Faraday cups, began to indicate that it was reaching the edge of the heliosphere. After 310 days of crossing that boundary, scientists determined that it passed out of the solar wind on November 5. Earth is about 93 million miles (150 million km ) from the Sun. Voyager 2 had reached 120 times Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Meanwhile, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on August 12, 2018, and it traveled toward the Sun. In three months it arrived at the Sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona. Parker’s job is to investigate how the solar wind originates. Scientists want to know how the Sun’s superheated atmosphere generates the solar wind plasma and blasts it into space at speeds of a million-plus miles per hour.

So, the cosmic coincidence is that two NASA probes launched 41 years apart arrived at almost the same time at the outer and inner limits of the heliosphere. Their mission is to give us new information about our solar system. Their arrival at the same time was a pure cosmic coincidence. The marvelous system they are investigating and that supports life on this planet is certainly not a coincidence. It shows the power and wisdom of the Creator.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Billion-Dollar Picture

Billion-Dollar Picture
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How often have you heard that phrase? It may very well be true, but this picture is worth more than that. What you see could be called a billion-dollar picture. At first glance, this picture may not look like much. However, you need to take a good look at the large white dot in the center. That’s us.

In September of 2016, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx. The name stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Its purpose is to study asteroids. Specifically, it was launched to study a near-Earth asteroid named 101955 Bennu. It will not only study the asteroid, but if all goes as planned, it will take a sample from Bennu and return that sample to Earth. The total cost of the project will be about one billion dollars, but it’s much more than a billion-dollar picture.

On January 17, 2018, OSIRIS-REx turned its NavCam 1 camera toward Earth and snapped this picture. The spacecraft was almost 40 million miles (63.6 million km) from Earth and traveling away at 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 km per second). The largest and brightest spot in the picture is Earth. The smaller dot close to it is our Moon. The cluster of stars in the upper left is the Pleiades. In the top right is Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries. Surrounding the Earth and Moon are five stars that are the head of the whale in the constellation Cetus.

OSIRIS-REx reached the vicinity of Bennu on December 3, 2018. It will be orbiting the asteroid and scanning the surface looking for a good place to land. That process will continue until July of 2020 when it will land and gather a sample. Scientists plan for OSIRIS-REx to deliver that sample to Earth in September of 2023.

Scientists hope that by studying the asteroid sample, they will learn more about the formation of our solar system. They hope to learn more about asteroids in general and what we might do to prevent one from slamming into our planet. There is also hope for mining useful minerals from asteroids and getting a better idea of the history of Earth. The whole list of scientific objectives for this space probe is contained in that long name for which we use the acronym OSIRIS-REx.

Forgetting about the cost and ambitious objectives, we enjoy looking at this view of Earth from far, far away. It reminds us of what a big solar system and universe we live in and how amazing is the God who designed it all. It also reminds us of the challenge God gave to Job about the Pleiades in Job 38:31-33. We encourage you to read God’s entire challenge in Job 38:1 to 40:2 as you look at this billion-dollar picture.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

This report is an update of our previous post on February 26, 2018.

‘Oumuamua: Mysterious Space Visitor

'Oumuamua: Mysterious Space Visitor
In October of 2017, astronomer Robert Weryk using a telescope in Hawaii discovered an object careening through our solar system from somewhere in interstellar space. Astronomers assumed it was an asteroid from some other stellar system in our galaxy. UFO promoters saw it as a spaceship from some other star system that was spying on our planet. The name given to it is ‘Oumuamua which is Hawaiian for “scout.”

The object was quite narrow and seem to be less irregular than most asteroids. Closer examination has shown that the surface of the object is a reddish color which is typical of some comets which have a crust covering an icy interior. Its size is approximately 800 by 100 feet (230 by 35 meters).

Studies of the trajectory of ‘Oumuamua show it is tumbling and changing directions in a way that indicates a force other than the Sun’s gravity working on it. Naturally, the UFO promoters were overjoyed saying that this proves that alien spacecraft are all around us, and we just happened to catch this one. The SETI Institute used its powerful Allen Telescope Array to examine the object but detected no radio signals indicating intelligence. The problem with the UFO idea is that the change of direction is much smaller than what rockets on a spacecraft would cause. The overall trajectory of ‘Oumuamua has not changed significantly as it heads out of the solar system. It is traveling to fast for any of our existing spacecraft to reach it, but it will still take 20,000 years to be completely clear of our solar system.

After much study, astronomers concluded that ‘Oumuamua is a comet. When comets get near the Sun, they spew gases from their interior. This jetting of gas always has some effect on the trajectory of the comet. The amount of change in ‘Oumuamua’s trajectory is consistent with the effect of a comet’s gas jets.

As we have emphasized before, the Bible doesn’t say that Earth is the only place in the universe where God chose to create life. At present, however, there is no credible evidence that there is life elsewhere, although microscopic forms may exist on Mars and some moons in our system. The idea of alien visitation is pure speculation with no evidence to support it.

The Lord tells us how to live in another existence. Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 to learn more about it. Waiting for an E.T. to come and whisk you away to a heaven is wishful thinking. Waiting for the Lord to come again has much more promise and much more supporting evidence.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Becoming New Creatures

Becoming New Creatures
The National Geographic Channel has been airing a very interesting new series of programs titled “One Strange Rock.” The series hosted by actor/comedian Will Smith tells about the many “strange” and “lucky” features of planet Earth that make it possible for us to live here. In the most recent episode, eight astronauts explain why they think that humans should colonize space. They and some other prominent individuals have recently suggested that colonizing other planets or living in space may be the only hope for the human race to survive. In the process we might find ourselves becoming new creatures.

This episode brings out the many ways that space life will affect our bodies. Based on present experience with the International Space Station we know that bones and muscles weaken when they do not have to overcome the effects of gravity. Body fluids shift upwards causing other physical changes. There are changes to a person’s eyesight which can be permanent. Outside of Earth’s atmospheric protection, astronauts face greater amounts of cosmic radiation that can trigger “light flashes” in their eyes. Long exposure to the higher levels of radiation may lead to cancer or brain damage. At the same time, bacteria grow faster and can become more deadly in a zero-gravity environment. The environment of space, even with the best protective gear science can devise, may at best be toxic and at worst fatal to humans.

Even with those considerations, the astronauts are saying that we must colonize space. Part of their reasoning is that humans have evolved to handle the challenges of life on this planet, and we will perhaps evolve becoming new creatures to handle the new hazards of space. They say it will just be a matter of adapting to a new environment. Will Smith said in this episode, “Even if we survive the journey and make the place feel like home, we still might not save our species. Just by being there we might turn into something else.”

I think that the real answer to human survival IS for us to turn into something else. Human survival depends on people turning away from their sinful passions and hatred. It involves becoming what God created us to be and living out the teaching and example of Jesus. Going to another planet and taking along our sinful nature with all of its baggage will not save us. The real hope for the survival of the human race does not involve leaving the planet God created for us. It does not require leaving Earth with all of its “strange” and “lucky” features that make life possible. It is not necessary for us to go to a much more hostile environment and evolve into new creatures. The answer to our survival is becoming new creatures here and now as described in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Advanced Civilization Support

Advanced Civilization Support
We have often mentioned before the evidence that our planet was designed to support life. More than that, it was designed to support advanced life. It was even designed to support advanced civilization.

You can see evidence for advanced civilization support in the minerals of Earth’s crust—minerals that are essential for machinery and electronics that enable technology. One thing which perhaps you have not considered is how the size of our planet also supports advanced civilization. Among the achievements of science is space flight. The ability to use rockets to leave Earth’s surface makes it possible for us to place satellites in orbit. Those satellites include:

*Communication satellites which make possible nationwide and international television, news, sports, telephone, and video conversations.
*Global positioning satellites giving us GPS which we use for many purposes including airplane, ship, and personal navigation plus farming and safety uses.
*Weather satellites giving us advance warning of storms and helping to keep us safe.
*Observational satellites that allow us to study and learn more about our planet.
*Telescopic satellites which enable us to study our solar system and the universe.

We often fail to realize how important those satellites are for our advanced civilization. Also, the ability to use rockets to leave Earth’s surface allows us to send out space probes to explore our solar system and universe.

What does the design of our planet have to do with our ability to leave the surface? The answer relates to gravity. Astronomers have been looking for habitable planets orbiting other stars. They believe that they have found many of those exoplanets. However, the planets that are more likely to be located in habitable zones (where liquid water can exist) are much larger than Earth. A much-larger rocky planet would have much more mass and therefore much more gravity. Launching a rocket into space from such a planet would be much more difficult, if not impossible. Even airplane flight and the flight of birds could be affected by increased gravity.

A planet with a diameter 70 percent greater than Earth’s diameter would have ten times the mass. The advantage of having much more gravity would be that a planet like that could hold a thicker atmosphere which could give more protection from harmful cosmic rays and incoming asteroids. The disadvantage of a thicker atmosphere would be that it might also block useful solar rays. However, getting a rocket off the ground and into space could be prohibitive. It would require a much larger rocket which would require more fuel. That would require an even larger rocket to carry the extra fuel. The weight of the larger rocket and fuel would require an even larger rocket requiring even more fuel. This quickly spirals out of control.

So what is the conclusion? We live on a planet that is large enough to hold an atmosphere that protects us but small enough that we can to break the bond of gravity to go into space. A smaller planet would not have the atmosphere we need. A larger planet would not allow us to explore beyond our planet or even to send up satellites that help to make advanced civilization possible. As Goldilocks might say, “God made it just right.”
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Driving to Mars in a Red Convertible

Driving to Mars
On February 6 SpaceX launched a red Tesla roadster convertible owned by billionaire CEO Elon Musk in a trajectory toward Mars. The photo from an onboard camera shows the dummy driver leaving Earth and driving to Mars.

Will the car ever get there? Astronomers say that it will go into orbit around the Sun and eventually come to the vicinity of Mars. However, it will probably not come very close to the planet depending on the timing of orbits. It has no onboard thrusters to adjust its direction for driving to Mars. At any rate, it will take several months to arrive anywhere near Mars. The closest Mars ever comes to Earth is 33 million miles (54.6 million kilometers). It takes a long time to “drive” that far.

Musk has been promoting the idea of colonizing Mars. His company has developed the world’s most powerful space rocket, the Falcon Heavy Rocket, which they used to launch Musk’s car. However, Mr. Musk doesn’t seem to be doing much to solve the problems of interplanetary space travel. For humans to survive on long space flights away from the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, will require much more effort than launching them into space.

Earth has been designed to shield us from the deadly effects of space. Of course, the vacuum of space would be deadly to anyone not in a pressurized suit or cabin. That problem has been solved to allow astronauts to live in the International Space Station and make spacewalks. If the tires on the car were pressurized, I suspect they would have blown out by now. Another problem is food, medicine, and other supplies. Resupply launches provide for the needs of people on the ISS, but that would not be practical for people traveling to or colonizing Mars.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is cosmic radiation and debris coming from outer space. Earth’s atmosphere is designed to protect us from those things. The space station in low Earth orbit is still somewhat within the magnetic field of Earth. In outer space, the only protection is what you can take with you. Apparently, from what Elon Musk posted on Twitter, his car was headed on a dangerous trip into the asteroid belt beyond Mars.

Musk said in a news conference that the car was “just going to be out there in space for maybe millions or billions of years.” That may be doubtful. Musk admitted that SpaceX had not tested the materials of the red convertible for space endurance. The mannequin space traveler is wearing an authentic space suit, but the car is made of the usual materials. Even if the car avoids major collisions with asteroids, it will become riddled with pockmarks from micrometeorites. Leather, fabrics, plastics, and even the carbon-fiber frame will break down from exposure to unfiltered sunlight and cosmic radiation. The carbon-carbon and carbon-hydrogen bonds in those materials will break down, and the car will fall apart. At least one scientist, William Carroll, a chemist at Indiana University and an expert on plastics and organic molecules, said, it won’t last a year in space.

One more thing to note is that the radio in the car was playing David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity.” However, sound can’t travel through a vacuum, and since there is no atmosphere in space, the radio is playing the sound of silence. The battery will run down in a short time anyway. Driving to Mars is going to be a challenge, even in a well-designed spaceship. The need for power, food, protection from the elements and many other things, make us very happy to live on planet Earth. It almost seems as if Someone designed this place for us to call “home.”
–Roland Earnst © 20018

To read more about this click here and here and here and here.

Unobtainium or Unobtainable

Unobtainium
Have you ever heard of the discovery of a new mineral called unobtainium? It has enough power to allow humans to travel faster than the speed of light. Chances are you have heard of it on the internet. As you can probably guess, it’s fake news.

We have received a few emails in the last eight years suggesting that we are on the verge of being able to travel throughout the cosmos because of the development of this new mineral. One writer even suggested that God was an alien who came from a place where this mineral exists in large quantities. The writer suggested that the alien created Earth and all life on it as a great cosmological experiment.

My first contact with unobtainium was when my wife dragged me to a movie titled Avatar produced by James Cameron in 2009. The theme of the movie was that a deposit of unobtainium (spelled unobtanium in the movie) existed on an alien planet inhabited by gentle blue creatures who lived in a tree. Then greedy Earth people came to exploit the deposit, destroying the tree and the aliens in the process.

Scientists and engineers have used the term since the 1950s to describe a mysterious substance that doesn’t exist. It’s is a joke used to describe anything that is impossible. The tabloids may promote this as a real substance, but the only thing that will take you out of this world faster than the speed of light is to be resurrected as described in 1 Corinthians 15:22-57. Unobtainium is truly unobtainable.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI)

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Since 1960, scientists have been using radio telescopes to search for signs of intelligent life in the universe. The program is called SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). So far it has been 57 years of listening without any positive results. Scientists have now entered the next phase of the search called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI).

On October 16-18, 2017, scientists beamed a message toward a red dwarf star known as GJ 273 in the hope that there might be someone there listening. Of course, there are always radio and TV signals of various kinds going out from transmitters all over the Earth, but this attempt is a concentrated signal beamed toward this specific system. The transmission contained mathematical and scientific information as well as music. The reason scientists chose GJ 273 is that there are two planets orbiting the star that they hope might be able to support life. And it is the closest possible potential life-supporting location.

Picking one random star to direct a communication signal toward may seem like shooting in the dark–and it is. However, a METI team member said that this is just a prototype of what they want to do “one hundred times, or one thousand times, or one million times.” In other words, this is just the beginning.

So when will the results of this experiment be in? GJ 273 is more than twelve light-years from Earth. So in about 2030, the signal will reach its destination. If there is intelligent life there listening and they respond right away, we might hear something by 2042 or 2043. Translation will be a challenge. If Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence continues to send out signals to other potential inhabitable planets, they will be farther away, and thus it will take longer to hear anything back.

Some scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have criticized this effort because they are afraid it might wake up hostile extraterrestrial beings to the fact that we are here. Perhaps the aliens will not like our music style and decide that they want to put an end to it. They could send their “storm troopers” to start a Star Wars type of scenario. Of course, since they would not be able to travel at anything close to the speed of light (if Einstein is correct), they might arrive here centuries from now to find nobody left on this planet.

We have three observations on this project. First, all indications are that the chances of life existing anywhere in space are very slim. There are far too many variables needed to make life possible on any planet or moon. Secondly, the resources going into SETI and METI could better be used helping people right here on our own planet. Thirdly, as we have said before, whether or not life exists anywhere else in the universe has no bearing on whether God exists. God can create life anywhere He chooses.

When it comes to messaging extraterrestrial intelligence, we believe that there is Intelligence out there. We also believe that He would like to hear from us. We further believe that He has been to Earth to communicate with us. And we believe that if we choose to communicate with Him, we will not be limited to the speed of light. He can hear us instantaneously.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Cassini Exceeded Expectations

Cassini Exceeded Expectations
On the morning of September 15, 2017, Cassini ended its life in fiery destruction. Cassini was a space probe orbiting and studying Saturn, and by all measures, Cassini exceeded expectations.

NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency worked together on the Cassini-Huygens space exploration project. The mission was to study Saturn along with its moons and rings. NASA launched the spacecraft in 1997, and it arrived near Saturn and went into orbit around that planet in 2004.

The Huygens (pronounced hoy-guns) lander module, provided by the ESA, separated from the Cassini probe and landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in 2005. The parachute landing was successful, and the probe sent out data for about 90 minutes. In that brief time, scientists learned much about the surface of that distant moon. Viewed from Titan’s surface, the Sun appeared about the size and brightness of a car headlight 150 meters away. The Huygens probe took pictures and told us that Titan’s surface is dotted with rivers, lakes, and oceans made of methane and ethane. It also has dunes up to 300 feet (91 meters) tall.

Meanwhile, the Cassini probe continued to orbit Saturn and send back amazing and beautiful pictures of its rings and moons for 13 years. Cassini helped us to learn more about the moons of Saturn. The planet has at least 53 moons and possibly eight more. We learned that the moon Enceladus is covered with a liquid water ocean with a surface layer of ice 19 to 25 miles (30 to 40 km) thick. Geysers of water erupt from cracks in the ice. The rings of Saturn are a constantly changing collection of ice particles and small rocks. Saturn has hurricane-like storms at both poles and a hexagon-shaped jet stream at the north pole. How long is a day on Saturn? That’s hard to determine because it is a gas planet and not all parts of it move at the same speed. Scientists estimate a little more than 10 hours.

Cassini exceeded expectations by surviving seven years of travel to Saturn plus 13 years orbiting the planet. As it ran out of fuel, scientists sent it hurtling into Saturn’s atmosphere to burn up so it could not contaminate any of Saturn’s moons by crashing into them.

We are fascinated by the Cassini photos and scientists will continue to study them for years. The picture we posted shows a Cassini view of Saturn and its rings with a bright spot visible below the rings. That spot is the planet where we live. As we look at the hostile environment of space and the other planets, we realize how incredible Earth is. God has given us a place with everything we need for life. You might say that compared to any other place in the universe, Earth exceeds expectations.
–Roland Earnst © 2017