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.

Too Much Water on Earth?

Too Much Water on Earth?
“God goofed when He made so much water and so little land!” I recently heard a real estate salesman say that in a sales pitch to sell expensive lots. If you have taken a long intercontinental trip by plane or ship, you might tend to agree. Water covers roughly 75% of the surface of our planet. With our huge growth in human population, land suitable for human occupation is becoming scarce. Is there too much water on Earth? The answer to that question is a resounding “NO!!!” Every living cell depends on water, but the properties of water combined with its distribution and abundance cause its importance to go far beyond that fact.

Water is highly reflective. Ocean water reflects much of the light energy from the Sun back into space, so Earth’s surface does not become overheated. This is especially important because most of our surface water is in the Southern Hemisphere. When Earth’s orbit brings it closest to the Sun, the Southern Hemisphere faces the Sun. There is a massive potential for solar energy to overheat the land. Since most of Earth’s land area is in the Northern Hemisphere and most of the surface water is in the Southern Hemisphere, overheating doesn’t happen. This designed distribution of the land masses combined with the reflectivity of water protects us from overheating. We do not have too much water on Earth.

Water is a unique substance in terms of thermodynamic values. It is the standard frame of reference for specific heat and has a value of 1 calorie/gram. Water’s freezing and boiling points are zero and 100 degrees Celsius, which is a minimal difference in temperature compared to other substances. Water also has a high specific heat which means it can store the energy it absorbs better than other materials. Water’s heat of vaporization is 539.6 calories per gram, which is huge. The heat of vaporization is the amount of energy required to change water from the liquid state to the vapor state without changing its temperature. The capacity of water to store heat radically controls the climate. Water absorbs energy from the Sun and carries it in various ocean currents around the world. We don’t have too much water on Earth because it moderates the climates along all coasts of our planet. Planets and moons with no surface water experience violent storms and enormous variations in temperature.

Because water is a polar molecule, it can dissolve virtually all salts and many chemicals essential for life. The polar nature of the water molecule also allows it to be a condensation nucleus for the production of rain. As the oceans warm in tropical areas, the rate of water evaporation increases. As the water vapor cools, it needs something on which to condense. We all know that when the humidity is high, water condenses on our windows, our grass, and virtually any other exposed surface. To make rain, the water condenses on particles in the atmosphere. On land, the particles would be dust. Over the oceans, the particles are salt which is also a polar molecule and provides the ideal structure to make rain.

These simplified explanations should help us see that there is not too much water on Earth. We need all of that water to make life on Earth possible. Our climates, our movement of heat, the production of rain and snow, and the very formation of life itself all depend on water.

Genesis 1:2 tells us that God established water as one of the building blocks that allowed the Earth to support life. Verses 9-10 tell us that the “waters were gathered together into one place” and that those waters “were called seas, and God saw that it was good.” Proverbs 8:24 finds wisdom speaking of God’s creation. Wisdom tells us that water was created before there were mountains, hills, or dust. It has taken science thousands of years to understand why there is so much water. Today we now know that it is not only good, but it is vital to our existence.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Heat Transfer Design

Heat Transfer Design
During this time when record cold temperatures have covered much of the United States, we should consider the design of heat transfer. One of the evidences for the existence of God is the wisdom built into the physical creation that makes it possible to move energy. God created a system of heat transfer design that is far more complex than most of us realize or can imagine.

The primary source of heat for the surface of our planet is the Sun. The question is how heat from the Sun can travel 93 million miles to Earth through what is essentially a vacuum. Realize that there is no substance between the Sun and us, so the heat can’t travel by contact. Atoms are constructed in such a way that they release excess energy by generating small energy packets called photons. Photons from the Sun carry the energy to Earth.

Photon particles are very strange. They have an electric property and a magnetic property, so they are called electromagnetic radiation. Photons have no thickness. They are two dimensional, vibrate with a frequency, and can exist only if they are moving. If you stop a photon, it disappears, and its energy is absorbed by whatever it struck.

Because photons are particles, they can travel across the vacuum of space from the Sun to the Earth. Their vibration frequency determines how we perceive them. We have different names for the frequencies. Xrays, gamma rays, ultraviolet, infrared, radio waves, and visible light are different only in their frequencies. The higher the frequency, the more energy is involved. Gamma rays have a much higher frequency than visible light, so they pack more energy.

Everything radiates some energy, even our bodies, but this is just one way heat is transferred. Besides radiation, heat transfer design also involves conduction and convection. We take for granted the various ways in which heat is transmitted in and around us, but the complexity of heat transfer design is amazing. It is that design which allows us to exist on this planet. We will look at the other two heat transfer methods tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Another Blood Moon

Another Blood Moon
This past Sunday night the Western Hemisphere experienced another blood moon. We often hear the phrase “blood moon” applied to total lunar eclipses. That’s because the Moon takes on an orange or red glow when the eclipse becomes total. It has nothing to do with blood and nothing to do with Bible prophecy. Lunar eclipses are natural phenomena which occur when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in perfect alignment. Earth’s shadow falls across the Moon and gives it an eerie, orange glow.

I took this picture at about midnight local time when the temperature was hovering close to zero degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the cold, I didn’t get a good focus and didn’t stay outside very long. Numerous other people took better photos and posted them on the web. They all look similar since we were all seeing the same view. Our Moon always keeps the same face toward us. Some people refer to the back side of the Moon as “the dark side of the Moon.” However, there is no dark side. The Sun shines on the back side each time the monthly “new moon” occurs. The Moon is in tidal lock with Earth keeping the same side facing us year-round.

For those of us who live in North America, this will be the last total lunar eclipse for a while. We will not see another blood moon until May 16, 2022. (Asia, Australia, and the Pacific will see another blood moon on May 26, 2021.) Perhaps this will give us a little break from those who try to convince us that lunar eclipses are a prophetic sign. The only sign we see in total lunar eclipses is that the solar system God created is still working in the way He designed it to work. Days, months, seasons, and years (Genesis 1:14) continue as they will until God decides it is time to bring this present world to a close. And nobody knows when that will be.

Last July we posted an explanation of why the red color and what causes lunar eclipses. We encourage you to read that post by clicking HERE.
–Roland Earnst © 2019

Comets and Cats

Comets and Cats
More than five years ago there was an event that reminded us of a comparison of comets and cats. The media proclaimed comet ISON “the comet of the century.” Experts predicted that it would outshine the full moon. Some said that it would be visible in daylight. Astronomy magazine predicted that it could “become the brightest comet ever seen by anyone now alive.” Excitement was in the air as people waited to see this remarkable comet in the fall of 2013. What happened to it?

Comets have been described as dirty snowballs in space. They consist of water ice, other frozen gasses, and rocks orbiting through the solar system. When they pass near the Sun, the solar radiation vaporizes the solids, and the vapor reflects the sunlight creating a visible ball called a coma. The solar wind causes the appearance of a tail pointing away from the Sun.

The comet that brought such excitement was named ISON after the International Scientific Optical Network based in Russia that initially discovered it. Because its perihelion (closest passage to the Sun) was going to be only 1.8 million kilometers in November of 2013, astronomers expected it to be a rare and “dazzling” sight. However, as the comet came close to the Sun, it disintegrated. What was left instead of being “fifteen times brighter than the full moon” was almost, or entirely, invisible to the naked eye. Star-gazers were disappointed.

Famed comet hunter David Levy made the statement: “Comets are like cats. They have tails, and they do precisely what they want.” Yes, comets and cats are unpredictable. However, one thing we know is that the design of our solar system makes it unlikely that one will collide with Earth. What the Sun doesn’t stop, the “comet sweeper” giant outer planets will—especially Jupiter which captured one of the comets that David Levy discovered. Although Levy said that comets do what they want, it might be more accurate to say that comets do what God wants.
–Roland Earnst ©2019

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

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun

Critical Initial Mass Function of the Sun
Yesterday we discussed the question of what real creation is about. Our point was that the study of real creation involves the study of how time, space, and matter/energy came into existence. Those sciences are in the embryonic stage, but they point to there being a purpose that involves wisdom and contributes to our understanding of the nature of God. One important finding of the study of creation is the critical initial mass function of the Sun.

As we study the Sun, we see that much is unique about our star. It is not just an average star of the billions formed from the “big bang” and classified in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. As we watch stars forming today and, as we look at the composition of the galaxy we live in, much stands out in our understanding of the Sun. Our mathematics indicate that there is what we call a critical initial mass function of the Sun, or IMF for short. IMF is the mass needed for star formation to take place. When stars begin to form from the material in the creation, they must have enough mass to allow gravity to fuse hydrogen into helium. If that mass isn’t there, what you have is a brown dwarf. If the mass is .08 of the solar mass, a red dwarf will form.

There are roughly 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, and 300 billion of them are red dwarfs – also called M dwarfs because of their spectral identification. There are roughly 15,000 places in our Milky Way galaxy where we see stars forming, so we can watch the way in which the IMF functions. When our Sun was formed, an IMF had to be carefully chosen so that it would produce a spectral G type star. Other star types such as O, B or F types would be too hot, too active and have too short of a lifespan. The most numerous stars in our galaxy – the red dwarfs mentioned earlier – have similar difficulties with their activity including stellar flares and coronal mass ejections. None of these types of stars can be seen as possible solar systems where life could exist.

The critical initial mass function of the Sun seems to be fine-tuned for life to exist. While we may have believed that by faith for many years, we now have scientific evidence to support that belief.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Astronomy February 2019, page 21-27.

Lights of the Seasons

Lights of the Seasons
Genesis 1:14 says that God allowed the “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night” and to serve as “signs to mark seasons and days and years.” We can call them the lights of the seasons.

Although light is essential for our existence, the Sun, Moon, and stars are intended to serve an additional purpose. In Genesis 1:1 God created the heavens and the Earth. “Heavens,” or “shamayim” in the original Hebrew, would include the Sun, Moon, and stars. Genesis 1:14 tells us that God lifted the cloud cover (described in Genesis 1:2 and Job 38:9) so that the heavenly lights could be clearly seen to establish the circadian rhythm, give us a way to determine directions, and allow us to mark the passage of time.

Today (December 21) is the time when the Sun reaches its lowest point in the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the shortest daylight and marks the first day of winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the most extended daylight which marks the first day of summer. We call it the winter or summer solstice. The word “solstice” comes from two Latin words meaning “sun” and “stand still” because on this day the Sun appears to momentarily stop its southward journey and start back toward the north. (The opposite is true on June 21.)

When Earth has made one complete rotation on its axis, the Sun’s position shows us that one day of 24 hours has passed. When the Earth completes one revolution around the Sun (approximately 365 days), we can see that the Sun has finished one cycle of its apparent north-south swing. We know that one year has passed.

It’s the 23.4-degree tilt of Earth’s axis with respect to the Sun that causes us to have seasons as our planet makes its year-long solar revolution. That tilt makes it appear that the Sun is moving north and south through the sky each year and gives us seasons. Without seasons, only limited areas of Earth would be habitable. Without day and night, one half of the Earth would be baking in the sunshine while the other half would be continually cold and dark. When the Moon has made one revolution around Earth, we can see that it has completed all of its phases and we know that one lunar (or synodic) month has passed.

As we consider these lights of the seasons, keep one thing in mind. When Moses recorded the words of Genesis, people didn’t understand what caused “seasons, days, and years.” Now we do. We can see the full meaning of Genesis 1:14 when God opened the sky to reveal the lights of the seasons. Moses accurately recorded what God revealed to him, but he didn’t understand it. Science allows us to know how God did what He did. We believe that is what science is all about – discovering how God did it. True science and a correct understanding of the Bible are in complete agreement because God is the author of both.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Average Star? – No Way!

Average Star? – No Way!
In the past, astronomers thought that the Sun was just an average star. After all, there are hotter stars, and there are colder stars. There are larger stars, and there are smaller stars than the Sun. If you plot the luminosity of all visible stars, the Sun falls near the middle of the system.

However, in recent years, it has become clear that the Sun is not an average star, but an extraordinary star. Without specific properties of our “oddball” star, life on Earth would not be possible. Here are just four of the many unique features of the Sun:

1-Most of the stars in the universe are binary or trinary stars. That means they are actually two, three, or even more stars orbiting each other although they appear to be a single star. A life-supporting planet could not survive that arrangement.

2-The Sun is relatively stable while most stars have much more violent flares that send out lethal radiation.

3-The Sun produces light in the proper wavelength to sustain life. Sunlight has the right wavelengths for photosynthesis and does not have the high-energy wavelengths of other stars.

4-Our Sun also has the right temperature and size to allow a large solar habitable zone where Earth can have an elliptical orbit and still support life.

There are many more “special” features that make our Sun more than an average star. If we didn’t have an above average star, we wouldn’t be here. We see our special star as another evidence that the Sun and our solar system is the work of a Master Designer.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Sun Stand Still

Sun Stand Still
Many times when a skeptic attacks a biblical story, the problem is caused by misunderstanding a word. In Joshua 10 there is an account of a battle between the Amorites and the Israelites. In verses 12 and 13 of the King James translation, Joshua said, “Sun stand still” and the Sun and Moon stood still for a whole day.

There is no question that God can make the Sun stand still. He can do anything He wants to do, but the physical consequences of stopping the Earth from rotating on its axis are enormous. The inertia of the water in the oceans, the effect on the atmosphere, and even the impact on the land masses challenge the imagination. A careful study of the words used in the biblical account resolves what appears to be an impossible statement in the scriptures.

The New Testament uses the Greek word “helios” which means Sun, but there is no Hebrew word for Sun in the Old Testament. In Genesis 1:16, the word for lights is “maor,” and the Sun is identified as “gadol maor” usually translated “greater light.” In Job 31:26, the Hebrew word is the shorter version “or” and Job 30:28 it is “chammah” referring to the heat of the Sun. In Judges 8:13 and 14:18 the word used is “cheres” again referring to the Sun’s burning heat.

In Joshua 10, the Hebrew word used is “shemesh” which refers to a ministrant, a device to minister to a need. It usually refers to the Sun but could be any ministrant. The word for Moon is “yareach” which refers to a wondering object. There is another interesting point about the words in the last part of Joshua 10:12. The pronouncement of God’s provision for the battle to continue says in the King James, “Sun stand thou still upon Gibeon (El-Jib today); and thou Moon in the valley of Ajalon.” Ajalon is in Dan and Gibeon is 4 miles from Bethel. These two locations are less than 30 miles apart. That fact should suggest that these are not the celestial Sun and Moon.

The question is not whether God caused a “great light” to allow the battle to continue at Joshua’s request, but what was the method by which God did it. There are many ways God could provide a great light or series of lights as a ministrant. Verse 11 speaks of “great stones from heaven” cast down on Azekah which was a town in Judah near Gibeon. Many astronomical possibilities to provide light are worth considering such as an asteroid or meteor shower or an aurora.

If you read the rest of the chapter, the main message is that God fought for Israel. Verse 14 indicates “there was no day like it before or after.” If you are satisfied with assuming that “Sun stand still” was simply a miracle of God and no explanation should be attempted, that is your prerogative. But to the skeptic, there needs to be an answer, and the evidence gives several possible answers that enable the believer “to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the hope that is within us” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2018