Sunspots and Earth’s Climate

Sunspots and Earth’s ClimateYesterday we mentioned sunspots and their potential effect on our planet. Sunspots are areas where the local magnetic field is thousands of times stronger than on the rest of the Sun’s surface. We know that sunspots adversely affect electric grids and orbiting satellites. There are unanswered questions about sunspots and Earth’s climate.

When sunspots occur, the stronger magnetic field constricts the hot plasma of the Sun, creating a somewhat cooler area. Why is it, then, that historically in times when sunspots are rare, Earth’s climate has become colder? Are sunspots the cause, or was it just a coincidence?

Scientists refer to the period from 1645 until 1715 as the Maunder Minimum, because sunspot activity was minimal. That also corresponds with the coldest years of what is sometimes called the Little Ice Age. It was not a true ice age, but the Northern Hemisphere experienced winters that were longer and colder than usual. European rivers froze, Vikings abandoned Greenland, and farmers in Norway lost farmland to advancing glaciers.

So the unanswered question concerns sunspots and Earth’s climate. Does the lack of sunspots cause lowered temperatures on Earth, or have past trends been coincidental? We don’t know, and science cannot find an explanation. Many scientists are predicting reduced sunspot activity in the coming years. Perhaps God is providing a way to counter-balance present concerns about global warming, but only God knows what the future holds.

It is interesting that the years 1643 to 1715 also mark the reign of Louis XIV of France, known as “Louis the Great.” He was also known as “the Sun King” because he chose the Sun as his symbol, and his subjects (or perhaps Louis himself) compared him to Apollo, the ancient Greek sun god. Louis the Great reigned for 72 years during the Maunder Minimum. But even the so-called Sun King could not control the Sun. Only the Creator of the Sun, Moon, and stars can do that, and only He knows if there is a connection between sunspots and Earth’s climate.
— Roland Earnst 2019

Interesting Sun Facts

Interesting Sun FactsWe all know some things about the Sun. We know it is powered by thermonuclear fusion, that it is a G-2 type spectral star, and that it is the primary energy source for the Earth. Many of us have seen a solar eclipse when the Moon blocks out the photosphere of the Sun and lets us see its corona. We know that the Sun is not just a ball of fire but a complex globe. Here are some more interesting Sun facts that are relatively new to us:

The light that we see coming from the Sun is from its photosphere. The photosphere is a thin incandescent layer that is just 200 miles (322 km) thick. That is less than one four-thousandth of the Sun’s diameter and is like the outer skin of an onion, only thinner than that.

The energy of the Sun is created in its core, which is a very small sphere, just one two-hundredth of the Sun’s volume. Every second that small ball emits the energy of 96 billion 1-megaton hydrogen bombs. The Sun’s weight decreases by 4 million tons every second as mass is turned into energy and radiated from the photosphere.

The Sun spins on its axis once a month, just as the Moon does. The center 70% of the Sun spins uniformly like a solid ball. The remaining 30% has different spins with the poles turning more slowly than the equator. These zones spinning at different speeds meet in a recently discovered zone 130,000 miles (209,000 km) below the surface. That zone is called the tachocline, and it’s where the Sun’s magnetic field originates.

Sunspots are areas where the local magnetic field is 5,000 times stronger than on the rest of the surface. The stronger magnetic field constricts the Sun’s plasma. When sunspots are rare, it seems that Earth’s climate becomes colder. Starting in 1645 there were few sunspots for 70 years. During that time, Earth became colder, people abandoned fishing colonies in Iceland and Greenland, and the Thames River and Venice canals went through periods of freezing solid.

As scientists probe more in-depth, they learn many interesting Sun facts. Just as in many other areas, the more we learn, the more questions we have. What effect do sunspots have on life on Earth? How can they affect our climate? What will happen in the next sunspot cycle? Tomorrow, we will look more into questions about sunspots. As we learn more interesting Sun facts, we realize the amazing design wisdom of the Creator to make life on this planet possible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Astronomy magazine, July 2019, page 20.

Jupiter Is in Opposition

Jupiter Is in OppositionJune 10, 2019, is an excellent time to observe the largest planet in our solar system. The reason is that Jupiter is in opposition to our Sun.

When astronomers say that Jupiter is in opposition, they mean that planet Earth is passing between the Sun and Jupiter. At this time, Jupiter will rise in the east as the Sun sets in the west, and it will set in the west as the Sun rises in the east. In other words, Jupiter will be visible all night long, and it will be at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night.

The picture was taken by the JunoCam on NASA’s spacecraft Juno which is currently orbiting Jupiter. NASA posts the raw images online and encourages individuals to download and process them. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill enhanced this one. You can find access to the raw images and see the work of other citizen scientists by clicking HERE.

When you see Jupiter in the sky tonight, it will not look like this picture, but it will be the brightest object in the sky. Jupiter is not a rocky planet like Earth. It’s a gas giant which if were 80 times more massive, would be hot enough to set off nuclear reactions in its core. Then it would be a star giving off its own light instead of just reflecting the Sun’s light. However, if you could lump all the other planets in our solar system together (including Earth), Jupiter would be 2.5 times more massive than them all.

Why do we need such a huge gas giant in the outer solar system? As we have said in previous posts, Jupiter is a comet sweeper. With its massive size and gravity, Jupiter protects us from objects such as comets coming from outside our solar system. In the 1990s, NASA observed Jupiter pulling apart and destroying comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. You can read about that in our previous post HERE. Jupiter also affects Earth’s climate cycles, which you can read about HERE.

Jupiter is in opposition about every 13 months. Last year opposition occurred in May. Next year it will be on July 14. If you miss seeing Jupiter tonight because of cloudy weather or any other reason, don’t despair. Jupiter will be closest to Earth on June 12, and it will continue to be visible, but right now it’s visible all night long.

While Jupiter is in opposition, or at any other time, look up and thank God that He has created such a marvelous and unique solar system to make life possible.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

How The Sun Works

How The Sun WorksWe depend on the Sun every day to generate the energy that makes life on Earth possible, but have you considered how the Sun works?

The key to the Sun’s energy-supplying ability is a delicate balance between gravity and electromagnetism. Gravity curves space and pulls together all objects that have mass. The greater the mass, the greater the force of gravity. Right now gravity is pulling us toward the center of the Earth, but we are being held in place by the strength of the Earth’s crust and whatever floors or objects we have below us. The strength of the surfaces supporting us comes from electromagnetic forces between electrons and the protons in the nucleus of atoms. Those forces bond atoms of elements to each other forming compounds.

Since the Sun’s mass is more than a million times that of Earth, its gravity is more than a million times as great. The tremendous force in the core of the Sun overcomes the electromagnetic force and squeezes atoms of hydrogen tightly together igniting a thermonuclear reaction producing helium.

The creation of helium atoms releases high energy gamma-ray photons. If those gamma rays reached Earth, they would kill us. But the vast majority of them are transformed before they leave the surface of the Sun. On the way from the core to the surface they bounce off protons and electrons heating the hydrogen gas in the outer portion of the Sun. That heating increases the gas pressure enough to overcome the pull of gravity. Otherwise, the Sun would collapse on itself.

The bouncing of those gamma rays slows them so much that it takes hundreds of thousands of years for them to reach the Sun’s surface. If they could travel in a straight line, it would take only seconds, but they would emerge as deadly gamma rays that would reach the Earth in eight minutes, destroying all life. By the time those sterilizing gamma-ray photons reach the Sun’s surface, their energy has mainly been reduced to life-giving optical photons. There are still some dangerous rays that reach the Earth, but our atmosphere takes care of most of those.

That is a very simplified description of how the Sun works. Our Sun is a special star that provides the energy needed to sustain life on Earth without the high-energy rays that would destroy it. As you enjoy a beautiful sunset, you don’t have to know how the Sun works, but the Creator did. This finely-tuned system shows evidence of design by a Master Engineer, not a chance accident.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

How Far Away Is the Sun?

How Far Away Is the Sun?Does it matter how far away the Sun is? Absolutely yes. The picture shows the order of the planets in our solar system, but not their distance from the Sun. So how far away is the Sun from Earth?

Any star that has planets orbiting it may potentially create a “habitable zone” where the light and heat are just right for the possibility of life to exist. Earth resides in the middle of the Sun’s habitable zone with Venus and Mars near the edge of the zone. Of course, there are many other factors required to support any kind of life, and it appears that Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has all of those factors. Earth has everything needed to support not just primitive life, but advanced life.

So what is the range of the habitable zone? That depends on the star. The size and brightness of the star are critical. Another essential factor is the type of radiation emitted by the star. Our Sun has the just-right radiation. Other stars may emit x-rays, gamma rays, or other deadly radiation in amounts that would destroy all life and prevent a habitable zone from existing.

Back in the eighteenth century, scientists determined the distance to the Sun by watching a transit of Venus across the Sun. Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun twice every hundred years or so. By measuring the time of the transit of Venus from two locations on Earth, scientists were able to use triangulation and simple math to calculate the distance to the Sun.

But the question was, how far away is the Sun? The Sun is about 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 km) away from us. Since the speed of light is 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, it takes about eight and one-third minutes for the light from the Sun to reach the surface of the Earth. The energy the Sun delivers to our planet is just right to make life possible.

If someone asks you “how far away is the Sun,” you can say it is the “just right” distance. There are so many “just right” features of our planet that we can genuinely say we are in the “Goldilocks Zone.” Some think it was all just an accident, but we believe it was God’s plan and design.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Properties of Light

Properties of LightWhen you open your eyes in the morning, take a minute to thank God that you can see. We should reflect upon how good it is to have light instead of the darkness of night. The properties of light make it unique and special.

I am keenly aware of my gift of sight because of a long association with Glynn Langston, who is blind and manages our outreach to the visually impaired. In my lectures, I frequently refer to Edwin Abbott’s book Flatland to help people understand dimensions and how the spiritual is different from the physical. Glynn was born blind, so he is unable to visualize the concept of a sphere crossing a plane and leaving the outline of a circle. He has been kind about it, but my wife once said to me, “How do you expect a blind man to visualize anything!” Even those of us who can see have trouble understanding the properties of light beyond what meets the eye. Radio waves, gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet rays, and infra-red rays are all light!

The properties of light make it difficult to comprehend. The most general definition of light is that it is the energy released when a charge changes momentum. The bundle of energy released is called a photon, and the amount of change in momentum determines the energy of the released light. Even in the visible spectrum for humans, the different colors we see are determined by how much energy the light has. Violet has much more energy than red. Ultraviolet has more energy than violet. X-rays and gamma rays have even more energy, but they are still light. Infrared, and radio waves have lower energies than red. That is why infrared warms you and ultraviolet gives you a sunburn. It is also why radio waves can pass through the walls of your home without causing damage and gamma rays can also pass through things, but they will do significant damage.

In the creation process, there had to be special accommodations for the properties of light coming to Earth from the Sun and from outer space. The ozone layer had to be in place to absorb ultraviolet and avoid damage to life. The eyes of every living thing that uses some form of sight had to be designed to function in the part of the spectrum that fit its diet. Rattlesnakes, for example, have specialized sight organs to see in the infrared. Because they eat rodents whose bodies give off radiation in the infrared, a rattlesnake can see its prey on the darkest night. Nearly every insect sees some part of the spectrum other than the colors visible to humans. That is how a mosquito finds you and how insects navigate at night.

Not every star in the sky gives off the properties of light that are needed for life to exist. Some stars radiate in the X-ray part of the spectrum, and others radiate energies too low to be useful to life. Even our trees and shrubs require light in the green part of the visible spectrum to know when to shed their leaves in preparation for winter. In Job 38-41, God spoke to Job to show His wisdom and design and convince Job of his ignorance. Many of the designs God pointed to are connected to light. “Where is the way where light dwells, and where is the location of darkness?” (38:19) “By what process is light parted which scatters the east wind upon the earth?” (38:24) “How does the eagle seek the prey and see that which is afar off?” (39:29)

The Bible speaks of light that is not produced by the acceleration of an electric charge. The most important of these is described in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Let those of us who are Christians not only be amazed by God’s design of the properties of light and the world in which we live, but let us also strive to be the light Jesus calls us to be.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Such a Large Universe? – Viewing Cosmological History

? - Viewing Cosmological HistoryWe have received some questions from readers who are perplexed by the fact that we frequently refer to a discovery or an event in outer space, millions of light-years from Earth. We have also mentioned NASA’s daily blog (apod.nasa.gov) showing gorgeous views of deep space objects many light-years away. Why such a large universe, and what does that mean to us?

It all comes down to viewing cosmological history. When we look through a telescope, we are looking at the past. If the next closest star exploded, it would be over four years before we would see it. You can see the light from the nearest major galaxy called the Andromeda, with your naked eye. It is two-million light years away, which means the light from that galaxy left there two million years ago. When we look at the sky, we are viewing cosmological history. Even the light from the Sun left there eight minutes ago. The question boils down to, Why such a large universe? Why did God create so much? It may seem presumptuous even to discuss that question. We would not attempt to speak for God who obviously can do whatever He wants to do. Nevertheless, there are some observations we can make.

First, it would be foolish to question whether the cosmos really is that large. There are a dozen different methods of measuring the distance to an object in space, and they all agree even though they are based on very different assumptions. The Doppler shift is very different from interstellar reddening which is different from cepheid variable measurements, but they all give the same answer for distances in space.

Some creationists suggest that God created the light that appears to be from a distant galaxy or star, already reaching Earth some 6000 years ago. In other words, what we see today when we look at the stars is essentially a video of something that never happened. We think we are viewing cosmological history, but we are being fooled. First of all, this explanation was invented to defend a denominational teaching that is not biblical. The Bible does not give the age of the cosmos or the Earth. No human calculation based on interpreting the Hebrew words in the Bible can stand up under examination.

However, the main problem with saying that God is trying to fool us is that such an explanation degrades God. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22 the Bible repeats over and over that God is Truth. God does not lie, He does not mislead, and He does not misrepresent. James 1:13 says it well: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man.” Faking an event in space that never happened so that humans could be fooled by it, would certainly be a deliberate effort to tempt honest, seeking humans into believing something that is wrong.

So why such a large universe? Why are we able to view the cosmological history of stars forming and dying? Why do we see billions of other galaxies beyond our Milky Way Galaxy? There may be multiple reasons known only to God. The ancient psalmist stated it well: “The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1). The writer of Proverbs in chapter 8 has wisdom saying: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the Earth ever was…” (verse22-23). These statements and many more like them are not just expressions of ancient people. Here we are more than 2,000 years after Christ, and we are still trying to understand what electric charge is and what causes gravity. Moses couldn’t even see most of what modern science is investigating.

I would suggest that God structured the massive size of the cosmos and gave us the ability to watch matter being altered to produce stars and new planets so we could see His power and wisdom. Romans 1:20 rings true as we admire the work of scientists who help us understand that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” Asking why such a large universe leads us to say, “I will praise you, Lord, for I (and the cosmos) am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works” (Psalms 139:14).
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Scientific Method Is a Friend of Faith

Scientific Method Is a Friend of FaithOur mission statement is: “Science and faith are friends and not enemies.” One of the challenges that we hear from atheists and skeptics is that statement is bogus because the scientific method can not be applied to it.

As a public school science teacher I always tried to make sure that students knew what scientific method is and could see how to apply it to the problems we face in the modern age. Sometimes that is incredibly difficult to do. Our textbooks usually gave six steps to use the scientific method:

1. Identify and define the problem.
2. Accumulate all possible data.
3. Formulate a tentative hypothesis that would solve the problem in step 1.
4. Conduct experiments to test the hypothesis – the more experiments, the better.
5. Interpret the results of the experiments without prejudice.
6. Repeat the steps until you find an acceptable solution.

In high school science classes, those six steps are usually easy to do, but sometimes later data alters what we thought was a solid fact proven by scientific method. Suppose we ask, “What causes gravity?” We could say “I think gravity is a property of mass.” All objects with mass have a gravitational attraction for all other d objects that have mass. Other people might say that it’s a property of electric charge, or maybe spin. You write down all the possibilities and conduct experiments to see which hypothesis can be experimentally verified.

To see if mass produces gravity, I fill two large bags with cement, and I hang them close to each other. If mass causes gravity, they should attract each other. That is an experiment I can do. I can also charge two balls electrically and see if they attract each other including the electric forces in the calculation. I can spin the two balls and see if they change their attraction for each other as they spin. The mass experiment works, and all the others don’t. I publicize my results and wait for additional experiments to support or deny what my experiments have shown.

The example I have just described is in most physics textbooks and has been done and repeated hundreds of times. But then a scientist did an experiment that didn’t support this conclusion. He found that when a beam of light passed by a huge object (the Sun), the light curved. This suggested that gravity was actually a product of space, not mass. The difference was that the size of the experiment produced different results when you used a star instead of a bag of cement.

As we have looked at the very large (quasars) and the very small (quarks), we have found that the scientific method is hard to do and sometimes impossible. String theory, brane theory, multiverse theory, and a variety of other proposals simply cannot be tested by an experiment. For the time being at least, we cannot test them by scientific method. They are not alternatives we can hold up as fact. They cannot even be considered as serious scientific explanations since they cannot be demonstrated or falsified by scientific method.

Trying to use the scientific method in areas like psychology, sociology, and matters of faith are also frequently difficult. What we generally do is to rely on statistics to evaluate a potential cure for a psychological difficulty. Does a treatment method work? Is a particular activity statistically helpful in relieving a mental or spiritual problem? As more and more data become available, we examine that data. We must reject some psychological theories (like Freud’s view of sex) and use the data to make a new proposal we can analyze.

Christ challenged his followers to examine the data. When the disciples of John came to Christ to ask if He was the promised Messiah, He responded: “Go and tell John what things you have seen and heard: how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised …” (Luke 7:22). Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to take His word for it. He asked them to look at the evidence. The evidence supports the claims of Christianity. If we honestly examine the evidence, our investigation will lead to a better understanding of how our faith works.

The scientific method is not an enemy of Christianity. The whole basis of our ministry is to ask people not to blindly accept what anyone says. The title of our ministry is “Does God Exist?” and that is the question at hand. We offer data for our readers to evaluate. The tentative hypothesis is that God does exist and that intelligence and design will be seen everywhere we look in the creation. As you continue to look at new data, we hope that you will find the solution for the struggles in life. The scientific method is a friend of faith.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Is The Equinox Important?

 Why Is The Equinox Important?

Today, March 20, 2019, is a special day as the spring equinox arrives for the Northern Hemisphere. Today the Sun will set exactly in the west and tomorrow it will rise exactly in the east when observed from the Equator. The day will be exactly 12 hours long and night will be exactly 12 hours long. After today in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will be longer than the nights. Officially spring arrives today at 9:58 PM Greenwich Mean Time (5:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time where we live).

In reality, all of this is an exaggeration of the real situation. Don’t expect a balmy spring day if you live in Michigan (as we do) or other northern areas. Ice and snow have to melt, and the land has to warm up. Nevertheless, the equinox does remind us of Earth’s design and how many variables control our existence on this planet. What does happen on this day is that the Sun will be directly overhead at noon at the equator.

During the northern winter, Earth’s tilt has caused the Sun to be overhead south of the Equator. As the Earth moves around the Sun, the Sun’s location relative our planet will drift north until June. When the summer solstice occurs on June 21, the Sun will be overhead at 23 degrees north latitude. The more direct sunlight not only warms the Northern Hemisphere, but it avoids overheating the Southern Hemisphere.

If Earth did not have a 23-degree axis tilt, the Sun would beat down on the equator from directly overhead all year long. The Equator would become so hot that nothing could live there. The northern and southern latitudes would both freeze. Wind belts created by air rising violently at the equator would be hurricane force 24/7. We see that happening on planets in the solar system that do not have an axis tilt.

Ancient people knew that the position of the Sun changes throughout the year. They used elaborate but primitive observatories to determine the time to plant and harvest based on the Sun’s position. Unfortunately, this led many cultures to worship the Sun. Nowhere does the Bible encourage or condone the worship of any celestial bodies. The Bible recognizes the seasons and the role of the Sun as designed by God for human existence. (See Genesis 1:14-15).

The ancient psalmist David said it (Psalms 8:4) and the writer of Hebrews quoted it (Hebrews 2:6), “What is man that you keep him in mind or the son of man that you look after him?” The equinox is a good time to be reminded of God’s provisions for us and thankfully worship the Creator, not the creation.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Sirius Shining Brightly

Sirius Shining Brightly

On a clear night look around to find the brightest star. (Don’t get confused with planets which sometimes are more brilliant than stars.) The brightest star in the sky is Sirius.

The name comes from an ancient Greek word which means “glowing.” It’s in the constellation Canis Major which means “big dog.” Sirius is at the base of the dog’s neck. It looks bright because it’s 25 times more luminous than the Sun and is “only” 8.6 light-years away. Other stars are more luminous, but they don’t appear as bright because they are farther away from the Earth.

We see Sirius as a single star, but it’s more than that. It is actually a binary star consisting of Sirius A and Sirius B. A binary star is two stars orbiting around a central point. There are star systems composed of 2, 3, 4, or more stars orbiting each other which look like a single star to us. Astronomers estimate that half or more of the stars we see in the night sky are actually multiple star systems.

If our Sun had been part of a multiple star system, we wouldn’t be here. Imagine being on a planet orbiting a star which is orbiting one or more other stars. Gravitational forces would pull the planetary orbit apart. Days and seasons and years would be completely chaotic. Life would not be possible.

Genesis 1:14 tells us that God established the Sun and Moon to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” It’s no coincidence that we are orbiting a single star to light the day, and we are orbited by a moon to light the night. Together it is an unusual and extraordinary system. It is a gift from God.

–Roland Earnst © 2019