## A Lesson in Perspective from the Moon

“It all depends on how you look at things.” You hear that common phrase applied to many kinds of issues. If you doubt that, here is a lesson in perspective from the Moon. First, let’s look at the facts about the Moon and what we think we see when we look at it. Astronomer Bob Berman’s article In the October issue of Astronomy magazine contains some interesting facts comparing what we see and reality.

How big is a full moon? Berman points out that it would take 180 full moons stacked on top of each other to fill the space between the horizon and a point directly overhead. The Moon is very small from our perspective, even though it appears large, especially when it’s near the horizon. How much brighter is the Sun than a full moon? The answer is that the Sun is 450,000 times more luminous. The Moon is a very dim object, just a little brighter than coal and much dimmer than dark green leaves. If you remember albedo from your high school physics class (the proportion of the incident light reflected by a surface), the Moon’s albedo averages 11, and a dark green forest is 15. Charcoal is 5.

Why does the Moon look so bright on a clear night when the Moon is at full phase? The answer is a lesson in perspective. Our eyes are designed to give measures of brightness based on what surrounds the object we’re observing. From our perspective, when we look at the Moon, we see an object in front of a black background. Our brain tells us that the Moon is white because its surroundings are completely black.

Astronauts have been to the Moon and found that most of its surface is basalt, a black volcanic rock. Basalt reflects very little of the light coming to it from the Sun. So compared to Venus or Jupiter, which have clouds efficiently reflecting light from the Sun, the Moon is a dim and dark object.

On a human level, there is a lesson in perspective. An old joke tells about the response a man gave when asked if his wife was beautiful. He responded, “Compared to what?” The same issue arises when someone asks if Christianity offers any advantage to a person or the world in general. Compared to all human philosophies, the answer has to be that the world and humanity have benefitted from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We are talking about the actual teachings of Christ, not the perversions such as the Crusades, the inquisitions, or ethnic struggles. What have atheism and secular humanism done to benefit the people of the world?

Jesus gave a lesson in perspective in Matthew 5:14-16 when he said, “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine before mankind that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The Sun is the source of the small amount of light we get from the Moon. Jesus is the source of the light we give to the world. The question for those of us who are Christians should be, “What is our albedo?” How much of what Jesus shines on us do we reflect on a very dark planet?

— John N. Clayton © 2021

## First Solar Eclipse of 2021

On the morning of June 10, 2021, the Sun will rise as a crescent in areas of the far northern United States and southern Canada. That will include the upper peninsula of Michigan, northern New York State, New England, and southern Quebec and Ontario. It’s the beginning of the first solar eclipse of 2021.

Solar eclipses happen when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. This will not be a total eclipse because the Moon will not completely cover the Sun. It’s called an annular or “ring of fire” eclipse. Total solar eclipses happen when the Moon completely blocks the Sun from view, as we saw in 2017. Because the Moon’s orbit is elliptical, it is not always the same distance from Earth. This time, it’s too far away for its shadow to cover the Sun.

When the eclipse reaches its peak, there will be a ring of light from the Sun visible all the way around the Moon’s shadow. Unfortunately, that ring of fire will not be visible anywhere in the United States. The full annular eclipse will only be visible in a narrow path across northern Canada, parts of Greenland, and northeastern Russia. A partial eclipse will be visible from a much wider area, including much of North America, Asia, and Europe. If you are attempting to view any solar eclipse, do not look directly at the Sun without special eye protection similar to welding glass. Ordinary sunglasses will not do. Some websites give instructions for building a simple pinhole viewer.

If you miss the first solar eclipse of 2021, you might be interested to know you will probably miss the next one. It will be a total eclipse on December 4, visible in Antarctica. Don’t despair. There will be more in the coming years. You can also safely watch the eclipse live on the websites listed below. We can accurately predict solar and lunar eclipses years in advance because of the excellent engineering design God has put into our solar system.

You can view the eclipse live on the Date and Time website and the Virtual Telescope Project.

## Factors Required to Support Life

The media often brings news about newly-discovered planets in the “habitable zone” of some star beyond our solar system. They usually mean that scientists think the planet may be the right distance from the right kind and size of star for water to exist in liquid form.
Calling such a planet “habitable” may be misleading because there are many factors required to support life.

One of those factors is that the star also has to be extremely stable, as our Sun is. Consider the fact that a change in the Sun’s luminosity of only two percent would make Earth uninhabitable. That seems hard to believe, but scientists have calculated and modeled it.

If the Sun were only two percent dimmer and everything else the same, there would be more snowfall. Because snow reflects more of the Sun’s heat than land or water does, Earth’s surface would become cooler. The cooling would cause more snowfall, resulting in more reflection of the Sun’s rays and, therefore, more cooling. The result would be a runaway freezing of the surface water, and the entire Earth would become covered with ice and snow.

On the other hand, a two percent increase in the Sun’s brightness would cause greater evaporation of Earth’s surface water. The resulting water vapor would act as a greenhouse gas, trapping more of the Sun’s heat in the atmosphere. The increased heat would cause more evaporation resulting in more water vapor and an increased greenhouse effect. The result would be global warming on a massive scale.

Either way, life on Earth would not be possible. We don’t know if there are any other planets in the universe with all the factors required to support life. Our finely-tuned Sun is only one of many features that allow life on this planet. Some people would suggest that our just-right Sun is merely an accident, but we think this is another case of design by a wise Creator.

## Solar Wind and Earth’s Magnetic Shield

For a hundred years, scientists looked for the answer to a perplexing question. In 1859 British astronomers observed what we now call a solar flare. The next day there was a disturbance of Earth’s magnetic field called a geomagnetic storm. Scientists were puzzled over what was happening. After a century of study, the answer came down to solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield.

In 1958, American astrophysicist Eugene Parker described the phenomenon and named it “solar wind.” The solar wind consists of charged particles ejected from the corona (extended outer layer) of the Sun and traveling at high speed into space. This material is plasma, a mixture of negative electrons and positive ions. Since electric charges and magnetic fields interact, the planet’s magnetic field steers the solar wind away from the planet’s surface when it reaches Earth. Because Earth’s magnetic field originates from the North and South poles, we see the interaction in those regions as beautiful auroras, the Northern and Southern lights.

What if Earth did not have a magnetic field? The solar wind would reach Earth’s surface and significantly damage living cells, bringing an end to life. Our neighboring planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury have little or no magnetic field and therefore are bombarded by the solar wind.

Why is our planet different? Why do we have the protection of a magnetic field? The motion of the molten iron in Earth’s core produces the magnetic field. Why does Earth have a molten iron core? Heat generated by the decay of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium keeps the iron core from becoming solid.

The bottom line is this: Hidden inside our planet is a magnetic-field generator powered by unseen radioactivity that gives us an invisible magnetic shield protecting us from invisible destructive particles coming from the Sun. This same process also gives us beautiful auroras we enjoy watching. The solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield give us one more example of the beautiful design of the planet we call home. Did this all happen by accident? We don’t think so.

## Mighty Powerful Sun

The power released by the Sun every second is equal to ninety-six billion megatons. One megaton is the explosive power of one million tons of TNT. That is a mighty powerful Sun.

All of that energy is released by immense numbers of tiny hydrogen atoms fusing into helium atoms at a rate of four hydrogens to make each helium. The process requires incredibly high temperatures to get it started. After the fusion, the helium atom has less mass than the total of the four hydrogen atoms by 0.7 percent, indicating that a tiny amount of mass has been converted into energy. The energy released provides heat to keep the process going and the energy that powers our solar system and our planet.

Humans duplicated the process of atomic fusion in 1952 with the first hydrogen bomb. It was repeated in 1954 with a more powerful explosion equal to fifteen megatons. To obtain the high temperature required, scientists had to use an atomic (fission) bomb to get the fusion process going.

The hydrogen bomb is the most power that humans have ever been able to release, and we hope it’s the most that will ever be released on Earth. Compare that one-time 15 megatons to the ninety-six billion megatons per second released in the Sun. Then compare our mighty powerful Sun to many other stars which dwarf the Sun’s power. The stars Rigel and Deneb each release the energy of 200,000 Suns, but even they are not the largest power generators in the universe.

All of this is already far beyond my ability to comprehend. I can only say, “Tell everyone about God’s power…his strength is mighty in the heavens” (Psalms 68:34 NLT).

## X-Ray Vision and X-Ray Destruction

The fictional character Superman is supposed to have x-ray vision. That super-ability to see through objects is shown in the comics and movies as something coming out from his eyes. As everyone knows, vision doesn’t come out from our eyes. We see because of the light coming into our eyes.

X-rays are electromagnetic radiation similar to visible light, but at a higher energy level and shorter wavelength. Then why can’t we see x-rays? For one thing, our eyes use a lens to focus light on the retina. X-rays can’t be focused by the lens in our eyes, or even by glass lenses. X-rays are focused by using metal tubes to guide the rays because metal is one thing X-rays can’t penetrate.

However, x-rays can penetrate flesh and destroy the molecules by tearing them apart. Even if the lenses of our eyes could focus x-rays on the retina, the x-rays would destroy the retina. Medical and dental x-rays use low doses for short durations, so they don’t pose a health risk. Your body can easily repair the slight damage that occurs.

Another reason we can’t see x-rays is that we are not normally exposed to them, and that’s good news. On Earth, radioactive minerals and radon gas emit x-rays in small amounts. From space, the Sun, other stars, and black holes emit x-rays, but we are protected by our atmosphere. X-rays from space arrive at the upper part of our atmosphere called the ionosphere, where they are absorbed. If all of the x-rays reached Earth’s surface, they would destroy living things and eventually sterilize the planet. The ionosphere makes life on Earth possible.

We don’t think this is just another coincidence. We believe it’s part of the divine design of this planet. X-ray vision is only for comic-book characters and movies.

## Vernal Equinox Arrives Today

The orbit of the Earth around the Sun produces variations in the seasons with four orbital positions having particular significance. Today, March 19, 2020, the Sun will pass directly overhead at the equator. The exact time will be 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT March 20, 2020). We can rejoice that the vernal equinox arrives today!

This is the earliest equinox in the United States in 124 years! As you can see in the diagram, the usual date for the vernal equinox is March 20 or 21, depending on where you live on the Earth. The reason it arrives on the 19th this year in North America is somewhat complicated, but it has to do with leap years and daylight saving time. We won’t get into that, but I thought we should explain why the diagram differs from this year’s dates.

There is wonderful history of how the Greek scholar Eratosthenes of Alexandria used the equinox to measure the circumference of the Earth. He knew that on the equinox, a pole stuck vertically in the ground left little or no shadow at noon, depending on location. He compared the length of the shadow of a pole in Syene, a town in southern Egypt, with one in Alexandria in northern Egypt. Using the difference in the shadow lengths, he calculated the circumference of the Earth. His calculation was very close to the known circumference today, and it proved the Earth was round. He did that in 245 BC, long before Columbus sailed.

The four polar positions roughly predict the seasons that have been used by every culture to control planting, harvesting, and preparing the soil. In Genesis 1:14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of space to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” God not only instituted day and night, but He also positioned the Sun and Moon so they could be used to mark the seasons we would need to live on this planet.

As the vernal equinox arrives today, we wish you a happy equinox!! Enjoy the season and the official end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We will have more on the spring equinox tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2020

## Earth’s Twilight and What It Means

The part of Earth’s atmosphere we live in, fly airplanes in, and which contains over 90% of our oxygen is called the troposphere. It is much thinner than you may realize. Earth’s diameter is about 8,000 miles, and the thickness of the troposphere is much less than eight miles, making it one one-thousandth of the diameter of Earth. Our air is like an onion skin around our planet. Earth’s twilight daily reminds of the thin blanket that protects us.

You might wonder if the thin nature of our atmosphere is not a risk to us. The truth is that our troposphere is a uniquely designed structure, and if it were any different, life could not exist on this planet. The troposphere has to be…

…thin enough to allow enough light in for the photosynthetic processes of plants, but thick enough to burn up hunks of rock from space as they are pulled in by Earth’s gravity.

…thick enough to provide oxygen to breathe, but not so thick as to create pressures that would cause oxygen toxemia.

…thick enough to trap enough of the Sun’s heat to keep us warm, but thin enough to not overheat us.

…thick enough to refract and scatter dangerous radiation away from us, but thin enough to allow critical wavelengths to reach Earth’s surface for biological purposes.

…thick enough to allow water to exist as a liquid, but not so thick that other gases liquefy or dissolve in water,

These are just a sampling of the critical elements involved in the design of the troposphere. There are additional layers above the troposphere that do other things to support life on this planet. As science has examined the atmospheres of other planets within our solar system, we see that they are very different. The acid air and greenhouse effect of the atmosphere of Venus has turned it into a hellish environment. We do not have the ultraviolet light that bathes and sterilizes Mars because our ozone layer filters out much of that destructive component of the Sun’s light.

Each day as we watch Earth’s twilight come, we should be reminded of the incredible wisdom built into the structure of our atmosphere. As the sky turns from blue to a brief green, to yellow, to orange, and then red, we are seeing the longer wavelengths which we don’t see in the daylight because they are mixed in our atmosphere. Our air keeps X -rays away from our planet. Its density allows flight and keeps the lakes and oceans from evaporating. Its low density allows it to move and carry warmth and moisture from one area of our planet to another so that life can exist from the equator to the poles. Earth’s twilight is a daily reminder of the care and design built into our planet because of God’s love and wisdom.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

## Do Exoplanets Disprove God?

One of the interesting developments of the past twenty years has been the study of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. So far, scientists have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets. Those who believe the formation of Earth and its ecosystem is a product of blind mechanical chance seize upon this fact to affirm that God had nothing to do with the creation. They argue that given enough time and enough planets, life was bound to happen somewhere eventually. Do exoplanets disprove God?

One obvious difficulty with this claim is that the real issue of creation is how time, space, and matter/energy came into existence in the first place. How it got into a form that would sustain life is a matter of whether the creation was designed and planned by an intelligence, or whether it was a product of chance. Astronomy magazine, in its January 2020 issue, carries an article about the summer 2019 discovery of the first planet that exists in the habitable zone of its star. The media at that time made wild claims about the probable existence of life on that planet. Known as K2-18b, the planet orbits a red dwarf star which is about one third the mass of our Sun. What that means is that water could exist on the planet as a liquid.

So could life exist on K2-18b? This discovery highlights the incredible complexity of planet Earth. K2-18b is roughly twice the diameter of Earth and eight times as massive. The mass of the planet means that gravity there would be much higher than Earth’s gravity. That would result in a much deeper and denser atmosphere with pressures and temperatures thousands of times higher than we experience on Earth. Also, red dwarf stars emit powerful flares, and the orbit of K2-18b is twice as close to its star as Mercury is to the Sun. There is no way that life could survive the conditions on this planet, even if liquid water were present.

Remember that K2-18b is the first planet discovered that is located in a so-called habitable zone. The study of exoplanets has shown that the creation of planet Earth is a highly unique and special event. Do exoplanets disprove God? As we have said before, God can create life anywhere He wants to. But as more and more data becomes available on what exists throughout the cosmos, support for God as the creator and sustainer of life on this planet grows.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

## Stirring the Pot – The Sun and Parker Solar Probe

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: apod.nasa.gov for 12/9/19