Space Dimensions and Lunar Motion

Space Dimensions and Lunar Motion
We have had several questions and comments precipitated by the eclipse on August 21. Most of them centered around the fact that the Moon’s motion across the Sun was so slow. In reality, the lunar motion is very fast. The speed is a function of the Earth’s rotation as well as the Moon’s revolution around the Earth. However, when compared to space dimensions, lunar motion can seem slow.

The Moon moves with an orbital speed of 2,288 miles (3,683 km) per hour, taking about 28 days to complete its journey around the Earth. Although that sounds fast, it is quite slow in relation to the size of the cosmos. Other moons going around other planets travel at higher speeds. Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, whizzes completely around the planet in less than two days. While our Moon travels at the speed of a rifle bullet, it is 80 times slower than the speed of meteors. Saturn travels ten times faster than the Moon.

The reason we are not aware of the speeds involved is because of the incredible size of the creation. We see meteors moving fast because they are close to us. Meteors are pieces of space junk whizzing through our atmosphere so quickly that they burn up from friction with the air. The moon is over 239,000 miles (384,633 km) away, so its motion appears to be much slower.

When we look out into the night sky, we are looking far into the past. By the time we see the light from stars like Albireo, that light has traveled 430 light-years. That star is actually two stars spinning around each other. Even though they are orbiting each other and astronomers have been watching them since the seventeenth century, we have not seen them change position.

Space dimensions are beyond our comprehension, and the size of the cosmos affects what we see and how we see it. Understanding that should give a whole new significance to the words of the song How Great Thou Art. It should also expand our understanding of, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).

Data from Astronomy magazine, July 2017, page 10.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Next Total Solar Eclipse 2024

The Next Total Solar Eclipse
The total solar eclipse of 2017 is now history. If you were in the United States, you probably saw at least a partial eclipse. If you missed the totality, you will have another chance in about seven years. The next total solar eclipse visible in North America will be on April 8, 2024.

The eclipse of 2024 will travel from south to north. After traveling across Mexico, it will cross the US border in Texas. It will travel northeast to follow the length of Lake Erie. Then it will skirt southern Canada and northern New England. It will leave the United States when it crosses Maine before crossing New Brunswick and Newfoundland and disappearing in the North Atlantic. Major US cities within the band of totality will include Dallas/Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Although the 2017 eclipse was total for only about 2.5 minutes, the 2024 eclipse will last about 4 minutes in totality. You can get more details about it here.

However, the eclipse of 2024 will not be the next total solar eclipse in the world. Before 2024 there will be other total solar eclipses and partial eclipses in other parts of the world. You can find information about upcoming solar eclipses here and here. You will see the dates and times for solar eclipses up to the year 3000!

How can we predict solar eclipses with such precision, even hundreds of years in advance? The reason is that God has designed a solar system with stability and precision. Those factors also make possible the abundant life on this planet. Design, not chance is evident in the wisdom of creation.
–Roland Earnst ©

Eclipses Are Not Omens

Eclipses Are Not Omens
By now everyone should know that there will be a total solar eclipse across the United States tomorrow. We have been writing about it in our posts for the past week. Please go back to any of them for more information. We hope that everyone knows that eclipses are not omens of some mysterious event. They are a natural phenomenon of the solar system that God designed.

The first written record of a total solar eclipse was in China in the year 2134 B.C. Apparently, that eclipse took everyone by surprise because two royal astrologers who failed to predict it, were beheaded for their crime. Since that time, people have often interpreted eclipses as omens or signs from God (or the gods) of some impending disaster. Human history has many instances of people interpreting an eclipse as a sign that something, usually bad, was about to happen. That is superstition and is not supported by the facts.

In recent years some Christians have declared eclipses, comets, or celestial alignments to be a sign that Christ is about to return or that God was about to send judgment on a nation. There have already been such claims about the total solar eclipse of 2017. That is both untrue and counterproductive for the Christian faith.

If you hear anyone saying that this eclipse is a sign of God’s judgment or Christ’s return, don’t believe it. Jesus made it clear that nobody knows when He will return. (Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32) We should always be prepared for Christ’s return because we can’t predict when it will be. It may be today, or it may not be in our lifetimes. Just remember that eclipses are not omens and neither are any other natural events.

Using omens or numerology or personal “revelations” to predict the end of the age and the return of Christ not only makes the false prophet look foolish, but it is a bad reflection on Christianity. It’s both bad science and bad theology. Nobody knows when Christ will return, but when He does, everyone will know it. (Philippians 2:10)
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Opportunity of a Lifetime Experience

Opportunity of a Lifetime
On August 21, there will be an opportunity of a lifetime for many people across the United States. They will get to see a total solar eclipse! This will be the first total eclipse of the Sun visible in the continental United States since 1979 and the first to cross the country since 1918.

The total solar eclipse will begin its travel on land on the west coast of Oregon and move at about 1800 miles per hour to the east coast of South Carolina. Because the Moon moves across the sky from east to west, the shadow will move from west to east crossing the country in about an hour and a half. It will be total for only a little more than two minutes at any location on the path of totality. The path will be about 70 miles wide through the center of the country.

A total eclipse is much different from a partial eclipse. On a clear day with a 90 percent eclipse coverage, the Sun would still be brighter than on most cloudy days. Even a 99 percent eclipse does not have the same impact as a total eclipse. When the Moon completely blocks the Sun, it will be like nighttime. When this eclipse is at totality, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Venus will be visible along with bright stars.

The most impressive sight will be one that you can only see during a total eclipse—the Sun’s corona. The corona contains particles of matter ejected from the Sun and traveling thousands of miles out into space. The particles follow the magnetic field of the Sun, and they are constantly changing with that field. The corona is always there, but it’s normally blocked from view by the scattered light in Earth’s atmosphere. Even though the corona is much dimmer than the surface (photosphere) of the Sun, it is many times hotter.

This is also the opportunity of a lifetime to see the darkness of night in the middle of the day. Looking around on the ground during totality, animals and insects may begin their nighttime activities. There will only be a 360-degree sunset-like glow on the horizon from refraction of sunlight outside of the full shadow (umbra) of the Moon.

For the moments of totality (in this case a little more than two minutes), you will be able to look directly at the Sun without special solar filters. Except for the brief time of totality DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN. Of course, if you are not in the area of the TOTAL eclipse, it is NEVER safe to look at the Sun. Many universities, libraries, and science centers have special glasses available to block the visible and UV light which could permanently damage your eyes. DO NOT USE SUNGLASSES! They will not protect your vision.
To see an animated flyover of the path of totality click HERE. To see a NASA animation of the eclipse from space click HERE. There is an interactive app that you can put on your Android or iPhone to monitor the eclipse. Just go to your app store and search for “Eclipse Safari.” NASA will be live-streaming the eclipse from across the country. You can find the live stream through Eclipse Safari or by going to nasa.gov or NASA’s YouTube channel or Facebook page.

We hope you will enjoy this opportunity of a lifetime to observe one of the wonders of God’s creation SAFELY.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

The Value of a Total Solar Eclipse

Albert Einstein and the value of a total solar eclipse
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

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 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

SETI Is Still Searching for Intelligence

SETI
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

M Dwarf Exoplanets

Imagined M Dwarf Exoplanets
One of the interesting scientific discoveries of the past decade has been that there are planets orbiting other stars (called exoplanets) and that many of these planets may have temperatures that would allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. There has been a special interest in M dwarf exoplanets.

In theory, all stars could have a possible planet in a zone where the temperatures would be between zero and 100 degrees Celcius. However, that zone could be very small, and there are many factors required to make life possible, and many that would make life impossible. In an article in Science News dated June 24, 2017, (page 18) some of those factors were mentioned. They include stellar flares, gravitational locking, and especially the life expectancy of the star.

Stars age and the period during which their habitable zone could exist in a stable form is very short. M dwarf stars are held up as having long enough lifetimes for water to exist and biological processes to take place. Since they are the most common type of star in the Milky Way (70% of all the stars in our galaxy) scientists are studying them closely. We have reported before on one of them called TRAPPIST-1.

As more data comes in, it is becoming apparent that although M dwarf exoplanets remain as they are for very long times, they are still not stable enough to sustain life. Scientists hoping to find another “earth” orbiting another star are learning that M dwarfs are not good candidates even though they have some of the conditions necessary for life.

As we have said before, if God wanted to, He could create life elsewhere in the universe. However, the special nature of Earth continues to be more apparent the more we learn. As we learn more about the universe, we see more clearly that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Listening for E.T. Continues

Listening for E.T.
The media seems to be obsessed with the quest to find life in outer space. They are especially interested in a “Mr. Spock” type of life–human in appearance but with super powers. SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has been going on now for almost 60 years. Billionaire Yuri Milner has committed $10 million dollars per year until 2025 to keep the SETI project listening for E.T.

We have pointed out many times that finding life in space would not invalidate Christianity or the Bible in any way. Humans seem to be dedicated to finding an alternative to God’s way as revealed in His Word. Many seem to believe that finding an advanced alien civilization would be such an alternative.

The September 2017, issue of Astronomy magazine, has an interesting article by associate editor John Wenz. The article on pages 34 and 35 is cleverly illustrated with cartoons by Theo Cobb. It shows 16 different “alien” cases that all turned out not to be messages from E.T. Wenz traces the misguided attempts to find alien signals from outer space that would indicate intelligent life out there wanting to interact with Earthlings. He goes back to 1960 when SETI’s first project called OZMA claimed to have received a signal from Epsilon Aurigae, a star about 2,000 light-years from Earth. The team, including Frank Drake who founded SETI, thought that they were receiving a signal from space, but it turned out to be terrestrial in origin.

Again, this is not an apologetic issue, but it does show the desire of humans to find a better existence. We would suggest the better existence comes from reading and understanding God’s Word, not from seeking alien help in straightening out the mess we have made. Those listening for E.T. may be waiting for another 60 years–or perhaps thousands.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Toxic Martian Cocktail

Toxic Martian Cocktail
Mars researchers have discovered a new issue in their attempts to find life on Mars—a toxic Martian cocktail.

One reason scientists believed that life might be possible on Mars was that tests from Martian soil samples show chemicals that are a potential energy source for bacteria. However, because Mars has such a thin atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation levels are very high. A Recent sampling of the Martian soil has also shown that it contains perchlorates, which are toxic to living cells. An article in Scientific Reports on Nature.com said that the UV rays combined with perchlorates as well as iron oxide and hydrogen peroxide together give what the researchers are calling a “toxic cocktail.” The bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which is often found in spacecraft and can survive extreme conditions of space, is wiped out in 30 seconds when exposed to this cocktail.

In other words, the surface soil on Mars can kill living cells. On July 6 Popular Science reported on these findings and indicated that you would have to go six feet below ground to get away from this toxic mix. Surface expressions of life on Mars are almost certainly not going to be found. Deep underground testing is the only possibility for finding life on Mars.

The mass media often oversimplifies what it takes to make life possible on a planet. This oversimplification continues to be bombarded by the facts. Just being in the zone where water can exist as a liquid, called the “habitable zone,” doesn’t qualify a planet as a dwelling place for life. The “uninhabitable zone” keeps getting larger.

The number of variables that have to be tweaked to allow life continues to grow as scientists make new discoveries. The toxic Martian cocktail is another factor that has generally been ignored. God’s creation shows the hand of a Master Engineer arranging all of the variables that make life possible to create the unique planet on which we live.
–John N. Clayton © 2017