Incredible Color

Incredible Color
Our ability to see the incredible color in the world around us is amazingly complex. We don’t actually see color with our eyes. We see color with our brains.

Most humans have trichromatic vision. Our eyes only detect red, green and blue. If our eyes detect a lot of red and green but not much blue, our brains decide that we are seeing yellow. When our eyes register equal amounts of red, green, and blue, our brain decides that we are seeing gray. If red and blue are present, but not much green, our brain decides we are seeing purple.

Some of us do not have red or green receptors in our eyes, especially people with XY chromosomes (males). We call it color blindness, but in reality, our eyes just don’t see one particular set of wavelengths. Some of us with XX chromosomes (females) may have tetrachromacy which means we see more than the three primary colors.

In the animal world, color is produced by many different techniques. The wings of the Morpho butterfly appear to be blue or violet depending on how the light strikes them. This is due to light-scattering scales that cover the insect’s wings. Dragonfly wings look similar to the Morpho wings, but the dragonfly’s color comes from waxy crystals that cover layers of the pigment melanin. We call the method of color production in these insects “structural color” because it is produced by the structure of the material rather than by pigments. Cameleons also use structural color using nanocrystals in their skin. They can tune the nanocrystals to reflect different colors. In this way, they can match the color of their environment or their mood.

We use color in many different ways such as camouflage, disguising foods to avoid their natural look, and to identify things. Much of the color that we see in the world has no practical value. For the most part, beauty is not a survival attribute. Evolutionary models attempt to explain some of the coloration we see around us, but in many cases, color is not a survival factor. Incredible color may be simply an expression of God’s desire for us to see the beauty and the majesty of His creation.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

NASA’s Creation Account

NASAs Creation Account
Each day NASA posts an interesting astronomy picture of the day at www.apod.nasa.gov. The picture for October 24, 2017, shows the periodic table of the elements. NASA captioned the picture with a summary of the current scientific theories about the formation of the elements of the periodic chart were formed. We call it NASA’s creation account.

It may be that some will want to simply say God did it by “speaking it into existence.” Of course, NASA does not mention God, but their summary does not in any way denigrate God or the way He works. This brief summary demonstrates the majesty and power required to form the creation. The fact that the process has no scientific explanation of an ultimate cause lends support to the statement, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the cosmos declares the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech: night after night they display knowledge” (Psalms 19:1-2).

Here is the summary which you can read on NASA’s website:

“The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life. The sites of nuclear creation of some elements, such as copper, are not really well known and are continuing topics of observational and computational research.”

We don’t see a conflict between NASA’s creation account and the one found in Genesis 1. The more we learn about the creation, the more we can say, “So that’s how God did it.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Orionid Meteor Shower

Orionid Meteor Shower
The Orionid meteor shower has just passed its peak for 2017. The “shooting stars” that are visible in this annual event are not stars, but they are comet debris.

Halley’s comet (1P/Halley) passes within sight of Earth about every 75 to 76 years. Like all comets, it leaves behind a trail of small rocks that have fallen away. Every year at this time Earth’s rotation around the Sun causes us to pass through that trail of debris. Comet pieces are pulled in by Earth’s gravity, and they burn up because of friction with our atmosphere. We see the streaks across the sky, and since they seem to come from the direction of the Orion constellation, we call it the Orionid meteor shower.

Two years ago I was able to “catch a falling star” on camera. You can see the one I caught streaking downward from Orion’s left foot. In case you have trouble seeing Orion, the hunter, I have added labels to the second picture.

I think Orion is interesting because God talks about it in Job 38:31. God finally speaks in answer to Job and his friends, and God asks Job a bunch of questions that Job can’t answer. Among those questions, “Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their season?” In other words, “Can you untie the belt of Orion?” Of course, Job could not. Nor could he do any of the other things in the questions God asked of him in chapters 38 and 39. Only God can.

The point God was trying to get across to Job is that God is in control and we need to trust Him, even when we can’t understand why things don’t go the way we think they should. Job finally understood that and said, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

There are events in the world and in my life that make me wonder why God allows those things to happen. Orion reminds me that I am not in control, but God is. Like Job, I have to realize that there are things I just don’t understand. The Orionid meteor shower is a yearly reminder of that.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Martian Global Aurora

Martian Global Aurora
On October 6 NASA’s daily space news website apod.nasa.gov contained pictures of a Martian global aurora. Because Mars has virtually no magnetic field, the radiation level goes sky high during solar storms. In the latest storm, radiation levels doubled–which would have been dangerous to life on Mars.

Earth’s magnetic field is very strong, and deflects radiation coming from the Sun. The radiation is deflected toward the poles, which is why we see the auroras near the poles. By deflecting the radiation, the magnetic field protects life on the Earth from dangerous levels. The more we learn about the cosmos, the more we see factors that make life possible on Earth. Our magnetic field is one more example of the design of our planet.

Looking for life in space is not just about whether there is water on a planet. There are a huge number of other factors that must be present. A strong magnetic field to shield from radiation is just one of those factors. Of course, an atmosphere suitable for life is also a requirement. NASA has a space probe called MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) orbiting Mars. The purpose is to find out if Mars lost its atmosphere due to not having a strong magnetic field.

The Martian global aurora is just one more reminder of the blessing of life on planet Earth. It also indicates that life on this planet is no accident.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Natural Elements of the Periodic Table

Natural Elements of the Periodic Table
One of the things high-school chemistry students have to learn is how to use a periodic table of the elements. As we worked with the chart, I almost always had a student ask me how the natural elements of the periodic table came into existence. Our textbook simply said that the elements were produced by “the event that produced the universe.”

Dr. Timothy C. Beers is the chair of astrophysics in the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame Magazine for Autumn 2017 contains an interesting article about his efforts to understand the processes that formed the natural elements of the periodic table. Dr. Beers calls it “Galactic Archaelogy.”

Beers was the first scientist to identify “carbon-enhanced metal-poor stars.” These stars appear to have formed very early in the creation of the universe, and thus they give a window into the past. When the universe was created, only hydrogen and helium were present. Beers and his fellow researchers are working to understand what is called a rapid neutron-capture process. When neutrons bombard the lighter elements, some of those neutrons latch on and create heavier elements. As we watch that process taking place, we see that producing the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium requires a more complex process than anyone could imagine.

The Bible simply says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens (outer space) and the earth (elements that make up our planet).” God doesn’t tell us how He did it, but Genesis 2:3 tells us that God created (did a miraculous event that humans cannot do) and made (did an event that we can do and understand). The team that Dr. Beers leads is trying to understand how God did it.

Understanding how God created the stuff that makes up our bodies is a part of seeing the handiwork of God. Dr. Beers says, “I think human beings want to know the story,” and he says that his work will surely produce a religious response. The design of the natural elements of the periodic table is amazing. Learning how God formed them is a rich source of data about God’s design and creative wisdom.

In Proverbs 8:22-23 wisdom speaks of the creation, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the Earth was.” Knowing how God did the marvelous creation we see around us includes the very large such as the Grand Canyon and the very small such as quarks. Understanding how He made the elements is one of the most astounding evidences of design we can see in the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

More Viewers than the Super Bowl

More Viewers than the Super Bowl
The “Great American Eclipse” of 2017 had more viewers than the Super Bowl. According to Nielson ratings, the 2017 Super Bowl had 111 million viewers on TV. About 215 million adults, or 88 percent of the United States adult population, watched the eclipse. That total includes those who watched it live, plus TV and internet viewers. Of course, many children watched it too.

The University of Michigan and NASA compiled the viewing statistics with a joint survey. Sixty-one million adults in the United States watched the eclipse on TV, computers, tablets, or phones. Unlike the Super Bowl the vast majority, about 154 million, watched it directly with the aid of viewing glasses or pinhole cameras. About 20 million traveled to locations where they could see the totality. I can testify that the roads in southern Illinois were crowded with travelers. After the eclipse, it took 3 hours to drive 40 miles. You can watch a speeded-up view of the eclipse on this video. Be sure to turn the sound up so that you can hear the reaction of the people around me during the eclipse.

In addition to a large viewership, the satisfaction rate was high. Seven out of ten said they were not disappointed. (Probably about half of the Super Bowl crowd was disappointed because their team lost.) If you listen to the video that I edited, you can tell that the crowd on the bluff overlooking the Ohio River was not disappointed.

We are pleased that there was this much interest in a science-related event. God’s creation can draw more viewers than the Super Bowl.

–Roland Earnst © 2017

Extraterrestrial Intelligence and God

Extraterrestrial Intelligence and God
Why do people want to believe in extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), space aliens, and UFOs? It has been my experience that proponents of these things are people who reject Christianity and belief in the God of the Bible. Now there is scientific data which supports what my experience has indicated about extraterrestrial intelligence and God.

The scientific journal Motivation and Emotion published a study by North Dakota State University researchers showing that the more people believe in extraterrestrials, the less they believe in God. The researchers wrote, “ETI beliefs serve an existential function: the promotion of perceived meaning in life. In this way, we view belief in ETI as serving a function similar to religion without relying on the traditional religious doctrines that some people have deliberately rejected.” In other words, people believe in extraterrestrial intelligent beings to take the place of belief in God.

The research seems to indicate that believing in ETI provides a way to develop a view that gives meaning to life. The researchers say that belief in ETI “could make humans feel like they are part of a larger and more meaningful cosmic drama.” Even some scientists such as Nobel prize winner Francis Crick have advanced the idea that extraterrestrials planted life on Earth. It just goes to show that when you don’t believe in God, you will believe in anything. Atheist Michael Shermer who is the publisher of Skeptic magazine says “any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God” (Scientific American, January 2002).

All of this confusion about extraterrestrial intelligence and God is the result of an unfortunate, mistaken concept of what God is. It also results from not looking at all of the evidence for the existence of God. It does explain, however, why many people desperately try to find a way to believe that aliens are our creators.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

God’s Provision for Food

God's Provision for Food
In the September issue of National Geographic, there is a very interesting article titled “A Tiny Country Feeds the World” by Frank Viviano. The article shows how the Netherlands has developed agriculture to such an extent that they not only can feed their own dense population (1300 inhabitants per square mile), but they have become the globe’s number two exporter of food. They are second only to the United States which has 270 times the amount of landmass. As many people in the world are starving, the work of the Dutch people reminds us of God’s provision for food.

Since 2000 the Dutch have increased production of food by applying their intelligence to the problem. By improved scientific methods, they have reduced their need for water for crops by 90%, virtually eliminated the use of chemical pesticides, and cut the use of antibiotics in livestock by 60%. They have done this by fully utilizing all of the resources available to grow food, and not allowing the negatives that humans have introduced. The Dutch growers use greenhouses where they can control the light, nutrients, and water. They waste nothing and allow no destructive agents. The food is still “natural” but without those things which cause us to add carcinogens to control insects and blight.

The Netherlands is also a major exporter of seeds. Their agricultural technology uses molecular breeding, rather than GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) to produce new seed varieties. Their method is faster and cheaper than GMOs, and the article says the method “is a direct descendant of methods used by farmers in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago.” The Fertile Crescent, by the way, is the area of the Garden of Eden, bounded by the rivers which are still known today.

Projections are that by 2050 the Earth may have as many as 50 billion people to feed making is necessary for us to use all the intelligence as well as resources of God’s provision for food. We have the tools to do this, but it will take work and full utilization of God’s design to feed the world. God told Adam that he would eat by “the sweat of his brow.” God was saying it wouldn’t come easy, but He has taken care to provide the resources and tools to do it.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Titan Studies Verify Earth’s Uniqueness

Titan Studies Verify Earth's Uniqueness
Yesterday we wrote about the end of the Cassini mission. We mentioned that an early highlight of that mission was landing the Huygens probe on Titan in January of 2005. Titan is a moon of Saturn and the largest moon in our solar system. Scientists were very interested in studying Titan thinking they might find evidence of life. Instead, the Titan studies verify Earth’s uniqueness.

It took seven years for the Huygens lander to make the 2.2-billion-mile (3.5 billion km) journey to Saturn on board the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini arrived at Saturn in June 2004, but it was not until Christmas Day that the Titan probe separated from the Cassini spaceship. On January 14, the probe entered the upper atmosphere of Titan at 12,400 miles (almost 20,000 km) per hour. After opening three parachutes, Huygens eventually completed a 150-minute descent to land on the surface of Titan.

As Huygens descended to the surface, it made measurements of all kinds and turned on a spotlight to photograph its soft landing. It then sent pictures and data from the surface of Titan to the Cassini spacecraft for about an hour-and-a-half. The Cassini spacecraft relayed the data and pictures to Earth. This expedition was an incredible success and told us much about conditions in another area of the solar system.

Some experts predicted that they would find life, or at least the precursors of life, on Titan. Spectrographic analysis of the atmosphere had shown a huge amount of nitrogen and some methane (natural gas) in the atmosphere. The presence of methane was of special interest to scientists because methane, with a carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, is the building block of more complicated organic molecules. Some biochemists predicted massive numbers of complex organic molecules in oceans of hydrocarbons on Titan–perhaps even some basic life-forms.

As the Huygens probe sent back pictures from Titan, scientists were amazed to see carved river channels, old shorelines, and clouds. With a temperature of minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (-184 C) these obviously could not be water-carved channels. As Huygens landed, it broke through a crusty surface and sank several inches into the ground. The chemical studies of the spongy surface showed that it was not rock, but frozen gaseous material. Titan’s atmosphere could not sustain life. The clouds turned out to be methane,and scientists could find no oxygen or oxygen compounds on Titan. Titan has a spongy surface saturated with organic compounds. The density of Titan tells us that deep down under all of this organic ice there must be very dense rock.

It is becoming apparent that the other planets in our solar system have very little in common with Earth. Titan studies verify Earth’s uniqueness once again. Jonathon Lunine, a planetary scientist who worked on this project, described the findings in this way, “This is a planetary scene like no other, vaguely disturbing and nightmarish to me and certainly not Mars or Venus.”

Our point is that all the discoveries science has made about the solar system have shown how special and unique the Earth is. It is wonderful that humans can build a machine to probe such strange and exotic places. As we learn more about the universe, we see the truthfulness of the Psalmist’s words, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Psalms 19:1-2, NIV).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

July/August 2005

Cassini Exceeded Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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