In a few days, a total solar eclipse will cross the full width of the United States, and you can give credit for that to the just right moon.
We have looked at the “how” and “why” of total solar eclipses. We have considered what value total solar eclipses have. We have seen that a total eclipse helped to confirm a very important scientific principle. Also, we pointed out that solar eclipses happen only at the time of the new moon when the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.
A new moon occurs about every 29 days, so why doesn’t an eclipse happen at each new moon? That’s because the plane of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is about five degrees off from the orbital path of the Earth around the Sun. Because of that difference, a solar eclipse happens only when the Moon crosses the path of Earth’s orbit around the Sun (called the ecliptic). A TOTAL solar eclipse happens only when the Sun and Moon are exactly aligned.
What would happen if the orbit of the Moon were on the same plane as the ecliptic? At every new moon we would have a total solar eclipse, and at every full moon, we would have a total lunar eclipse. So the Sun would go dark in the daytime somewhere on Earth every month, and the full Moon would also go dark monthly. The influence of the Sun’s gravity on the lunar orbit might cause more serious problems.
No other planet has a moon that plays such an important part in creating an environment suitable for life. The Moon is right where it should be to serve life on Earth. Our just right Moon lights the night, creates the tides that clean our estuaries, stabilizes Earth’s rotation, and occasionally provides a total solar eclipse that gives us a glimpse of God’s marvelous design of our solar system.
–Roland Earnst © 2017
Here is an interesting story of how a solar eclipse helped to confirm a scientific theory and demonstrated the value of a total solar eclipse.
Yesterday, we pointed out that it’s more than a “marvelous coincidence” that the Moon can exactly block our view of the much larger Sun. It’s an evidence of design. When the Moon hides the Sun’s photosphere, scientists can study the chromosphere and the corona to learn more about the Sun and how it affects life on Earth.
In 1687 Isaac Newton presented his universal law of gravitation answering many questions about gravity. One question that remained unanswered was how gravity can act through empty space.
In 1916 Albert Einstein presented his theory of general relativity in which he proposed that mass produces gravity by warping space. Planets orbit the Sun because the mass of the Sun and the planets causes space to be curved. The theory suggested that light would also follow a curved path because of this warping. Einstein calculated how much light would bend near a massive object and proposed that light from distant stars would be bent when it passes by the Sun.
Einstein’s idea seemed hard to believe, but there was no way to disprove it since the bright Sun hides any starlight passing near it. You can’t see the stars during the day.
Then in 1919, British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington made some measurements during a total solar eclipse. While the Moon blocked the Sun’s photosphere, Eddington made precise measurements of the apparent position of stars that were visible near the Sun. Comparing those measurements with the positions of the same stars at night, he confirmed that Einstein was correct. The light was bent as it passed by the Sun.
The eclipse of 1919 demonstrated the value of a total solar eclipse. Many eclipses since then have added to our scientific knowledge. Understanding how gravity warps space has allowed us to make accurate Global Positioning Satellites. We use GPS in our cars for driving, in our tractors for farming, and in our smartphones for hiking, and for many other things. God designed and engineered an amazing world and gave us the ability to understand it through scientific study. Science and faith are friends–not enemies.
–Roland Earnst © 2017
Yesterday we talked about the upcoming total solar eclipse and the fact that the Moon can completely hide the Sun from view. That seems very strange since the Sun is about 390 times larger than the Moon. By a “marvelous coincidence” the Sun is 390 times farther away than the Moon. Since the Sun is 390 times farther away, it appears to be 390 times smaller. For that reason, when we see the Moon and the Sun in the sky, they appear to be the same size.
The Moon can exactly cover the Sun’s disc which we call the photosphere. At the same time, in a total eclipse, we can see the chromosphere, which is the very bright atmosphere surrounding the Sun. We can also see what is called the corona–jets of hot gas which follow the lines of the Sun’s magnetic field. Under normal circumstances, the chromosphere and corona are invisible because of the glare from the photosphere.
Scientists have learned much about the Sun by studying what we can see only during total solar eclipses. Only during a total solar eclipse can scientists study the “solar wind” which sends out streams of particles called coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs can travel all the way to Earth and knock out communication satellites or terrestrial power grids. Just as scientists work to predict weather on Earth to avoid catastrophes, they want to learn how to predict CMEs to prepare for something that could potentially knock out power or communication to large areas of our planet.
Scientists have also learned some interesting things about the Sun’s temperature during total eclipses. They had measured the temperature of the Sun’s surface to be 6,700 to 11,000 degrees F (3,700 to 6,200 degrees C). However, by observations made during total eclipses, they found that the temperature of the chromosphere is up to 14,000 degrees F (7,700 degrees C) and the corona is 3.5 million degrees F (2 million degrees C)! They are still trying to discover how that is possible.
Was it mere coincidence that the Moon can exactly cover the Sun? We think that God designed it that way so that we can learn how “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). We think it is not just a “marvelous coincidence,” but another example of wisdom and purpose in design. Tomorrow we will tell you about what is probably the most significant scientific discovery made during a total solar eclipse.
–Roland Earnst © 2017
With a total eclipse of the Sun less than a week away, let’s consider why solar eclipses happen.
A solar eclipse can occur only at the time of the new moon. The Moon appears to us in phases, and the principle phases are new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third (or last) quarter. Those phases are dependent on the relative position of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The entire sequence of phases takes about 29.5 days, which is a synodic (or lunar) month. The new moon is the time when the Moon and the Sun are on the same side of the Earth.
Obviously, if the Moon is on the side of Earth where the Sun is, we can’t see the Moon at night. It also means we usually can’t see it during the day because the Sun’s brightness hides it except when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. When the Moon only partially blocks the Sun, we see a partial eclipse. When the Moon is precisely aligned with the Sun, we see a total eclipse.
During a total eclipse, the Moon casts a moving shadow over a portion of the Earth. Those who are outside of that shadow can still see a partial eclipse. How much of the Sun is hidden by the Moon depends on how far the viewer is from the shadow. People all over North America will see the eclipse that is coming as a partial eclipse. It will only be total for those who are in the 70-mile-wide path of the shadow that will travel from Oregon to South Carolina.
The fact that the Moon can completely cover the much larger Sun, as it will do in the coming eclipse, has been described as a “marvelous coincidence.” We think God planned it that way. Tomorrow we will tell you why solar eclipses with the Moon exactly covering the Sun are important.
–Roland Earnst © 2017
Those of you who work with children know that we have 16 Children’s books dealing with the wonderful natural world around us. Six of those books were authored by Charlsy Ford of Temple, Texas. These include our books for elementary students explaining Eagles, Kangaroos, Fungi, Animals of the Cold, Frogs, and God Creating Humans with a Spiritual Nature. Charlsy died on Friday August 11 from burns suffered in an accident on her farm two days before. Charlsy was talking with us two days before the accident about some new books we are working on. She was a creative and hard worker, and we will miss her.
Here is a link to her obituary.
One of the confusing points about evolution for many Christians is not understanding that there is a difference between the fact of evolution and naturalistic theories of evolution. Evolutionary adaptations have given us plastic-eating worms.
Attempting to say that evolution eliminates God from the picture of creation is an incredibly ignorant statement, and yet we see it in both atheist and Christian papers. The word “evolution” means “unfolding change.” The fact that God engineered life in such a way that living things can change is one of the most incredible examples of design.
Darwin’s work in the Galapagos Islands showing that finches could change physically to meet the local food supply does not contradict the Bible in any way. When we visited Darwin Station in the Galapagos and talked with the workers, they were dumbfounded to hear that anyone thought there was a biblical problem with the work they were doing there.
The August 2017 issue of Scientific American (page 21), carried an article about the larvae of the greater wax moth that has mutated so that it can consume polyethylene plastic. Humans produce some 300 million metric tons of plastic every year, and this material is clogging landfills and showing up in lakes and streams. To find a way to biodegrade this material would be a huge ecological breakthrough, and it is possible because of the design of the genetics of the wax moth larvae. Beeswax is the main food of the larvae, but the mutation allows them to degrade polyethylene as well.
The scientists involved are studying the process to discover the enzyme that the plastic-eating worms use to break down the polyethylene. God apparently built a solution to the biggest waste problem we face today by the design of the genome of the wax worm.
Current Biology journal originally published news of this discovery on August 7, 2017.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
On August 21 people across North America will have a unique opportunity to see a total solar eclipse. It is a very rare event, and especially rare to have so much of the United States involved. The experience itself is worth a considerable drive if you don’t live in a zone of totality.
The Moon is just the right size to cover the the Sun. That means that the shadow of the Moon will fall on a small area of the Earth. Normally the bright photosphere of the Sun overpowers everything else. In a total eclipse of the Sun, the photosphere is covered, and you can see the outer atmosphere of the Sun called the corona. When light from the photosphere shines through a valley on the Moon just before and after totality, a blast of bright light appears to viewers on Earth. It looks like a huge diamond ring.
The sky is not the only place where strange things happen. We enjoyed a partial eclipse when I taught astronomy at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana. We made a point of telling our 1600-member student body what was going to happen. We set up our telescopes and pin-hole cameras to project the event onto poster board. The principal allowed the whole student body to gather in front of the school.
When the eclipse started, there was the usual teenage horsing around as the Moon began to cover the Sun. All of a sudden the kids got very quiet as it became noticeably darker and you could feel the air become cooler. Dogs started howling as the eclipse progressed. Leaves in the maple tree in front of the school projected small pin-hole images on the sidewalk of the Sun with a chunk missing. We even had a few kids who became disturbed by what was happening. This was not a total solar eclipse, but just a partial eclipse which didn’t cover the entire Sun. Those who live near the path of totality will have the rare experience of seeing complete coverage of the Sun and darkness in the middle of the day.
It is amazing that our solar system is designed in such an incredible way that even high school students with a knowledge of math and astronomy can predict when the eclipse will start, reach totality, and end. The fact that the Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun is remarkable. In the past, humans believed that eclipses were the prognosticators of a coming disaster. For us, the total solar eclipse is simply a wonderful display of the precision and design built into our solar system and the fact that we can understand what God has done by studying the events that we see in the sky.
A word of warning–don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eye. Special eclipse glasses are available. Don’t risk losing your eyesight.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
The September 2017 issue of Reader’s Digest has an interesting article titled “Have Bestsellers Become Dumber?”(Page 118). The article contains data on the grade level of New York Times bestsellers over the years. That refers to the reading grade level needed to comprehend the text. In 1960 that level was eighth grade, and in the 2010s the level is grade 6. This calls us to think about the reason for this dumbing down of the best sellers.
In our materials we have talked about fog indexes, which indicate how clearly the literature expresses its ideas. The Gunning fog index shows the reading level a person must have to understand what the written material is saying. We strive to be clear in what we present.
The problem with this dumbing down is that the public cannot read and understand material that is academic and documented concerning facts about the cosmos. Since many scientific journals and reports are written at a college graduate level, getting factual information is impossible for much of the American public. As a result, the public relies on someone else to tell them what to believe.
More and more people rely on television, movies, and other media to determine what is factual and what is not. This also puts a responsibility on programs like DoesGod Exist? to be honest and factual with what we present. We can never be perfect, but we can strive to be open to instruction and factual in all of our presentations.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
We tend to view Tyrannosaurus rex as a 20-foot tall flesh eater who ran down its prey. Some have called this dinosaur “the most efficient carnivore who ever lived.” Science fiction movies like Jurassic Park have probably been the main source of this image, but the fact is that T. rex was nowhere near that fast.
Past studies of T. rex suggested that its huge mass–in the vicinity of nine tons–prevented it from running down much of anything. The muscle strength needed to accelerate that mass is simply not available to any form of life. Now simulations of acceleration and bone strength have verified that understanding. A speed of about 12 mph would have been the top limit for T. Rex and for only a short distance. That means a human could easily outrun a T. rex.
Tyrannosaurus rex was probably more of a scavenger than a hunter. There were other slow-moving dinosaurs such as Edmontosaurus, Triceratops, and Ankylosaurus that T. rex might have been able to catch. It is more likely that the T. rex population were the vultures of their day, not the lions of their day.
God created dinosaurs for a purpose, and every year we understand more about how they helped sustain the ecosystem that produced many of the resources we need. Every little boy seems to be fascinated with the media presentations of these creatures, but they really were not that glamorous.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
A few days ago we wrote about the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). The newest SETI project is in the news because the Chinese government can’t find anyone to manage it. That is in spite of the fact that the chief scientist-manager will receive a $1.2 million-dollar salary plus housing. The job is to supervise the operation of the world’s largest “filled aperture” radio telescope.
This new telescope is designed to search for radio signals from intelligent life in the universe up to 1,000 light-years away as well as to monitor pulsars and detect interstellar molecules. Its name is Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) because it is 500 meters (1600 feet) in diameter. It was constructed in a natural basin in southwest China at the cost of $180 million dollars. Since FAST can’t be turned to receive signals from different directions, it is made up of 4450 metal panels that can be rotated independently to pinpoint different areas of space. Construction has been going on since 2011, and it’s in the testing stage now.
Sixty-five people lived in a village located in the valley where FAST was built. The Chinese government evicted them. Also, to prevent interference from electronic devices in the area, more than 9,000 residents within 5 km (3.1 miles) of the site were also relocated. They were given about $1800 each for relocating. About 500 families tried to sue over the demolition of their homes without adequate compensation. In the end, the Chinese government spent about $269 million to relocate the previous residents in addition to the cost of the telescope.
Now China is searching the world to find someone to manage the operation of FAST. So far they have had no success in spite of the large salary. There are several reasons why they haven’t filled the job. For one thing, the area is very remote and doesn’t have much to offer in the way of entertainment or activities. Also, because of the failure rate of the mirror activators, any scientist who wants to spend time in research using the telescope may end up mostly dealing with technical problems. In addition to those factors, the Chinese government has placed very high requirements on potential job applicants. With the educational and experience requirements, there may be only a handful of qualified candidates in the world.
China will eventually find someone to manage FAST. Calibration of the radio telescope is projected to take three years. Then the operation will require hundreds of astronomers and the SETI project will spend years and large sums of money searching for intelligent life in the universe. We have said many times before that whether life exists anywhere else in the universe has nothing to do with whether God exists. God could choose to create life anywhere, but so far the effort to find signs of intelligent life beyond our planet has not been promising.
What if they get this new radio telescope working and receive a signal from intelligent beings 1000 light-years away? That message would have been sent out 1000 years ago. If we send a “Hello” message back to them, it will arrive 1000 years later. A two-way conversation under those conditions would be slower than postal mail. In the meantime, thousands of people have lost their homes, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent plus millions more will be spent to continue the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
–Roland Earnst © 2017