The element phosphorus is used to make matches. Molecular phosphorus has two common forms. There is white phosphorus which is dangerously combustible and is used to make fireworks and weapons. The more stable red phosphorus is used on the side of any box of safety matches. When you strike the match against the red phosphorus, a small amount of it is changed to white phosphorus to ignite the match. But phosphorus has more important uses than starting fires. Life needs phosphorus. The average human body contains about 26.5 ounces (750 grams) of phosphorus. Most of it is in our bones.
Phosphate is a compound of phosphorus and oxygen. It combines with sugars in living tissue to form the backbone of DNA, which is the blueprint for life found in every living cell. Phosphate is also part of a complex organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) found in every living organism. ATP releases energy so that cells can function. Life needs phosphorus and could not exist without it in an abundant supply.
Recent research presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science on April 5, 2018, indicates that phosphorus may not be widely available in the Milky Way. The research indicates that it is more random than scientists had previously thought. That means even if one of the recently discovered exoplanets had all of the conditions required to support life, it still might be lifeless without phosphorus.
We have often referred to the many conditions required to make a habitable planet. Here is one more to add to the list. Life needs phosphorus, and apparently phosphorus is less widely distributed than we thought. Phil Cigan, one of the astronomers involved in the study, said, “It’s not a guaranteed thing to have phosphorus abundant everywhere, ripe for the picking. It seems to look like luck plays a bigger role in this.”
We live in an expanding universe. For thousands of years, from Aristotle to Einstein, scientists thought that the universe was eternal. Einstein’s equations proposed in his general theory of relativity in 1915 seemed to indicate that the universe was not stable. Einstein thought it was a mistake and tried to correct for the “error” by creating a variable called the “cosmological constant.” The only error was the cosmological constant, and Einstein later called it “the biggest blunder of my life.”
Later in the 1920s, Edwin Hubble found strong evidence that the universe was expanding. That evidence was further confirmed in 1964 when radio astronomers accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background. It was finally confirmed by space-based experiments in the twenty-first century.
The rate of expansion of the universe based on experiments was established and is known as the Hubble constant. On February 22, 2018, a new survey of the expansion rate was released. This scientific paper was based on the most precise measurements of the universe’s expansion rate using the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists are surprised to discover that the expansion rate is faster than they thought. This new information may require some re-evaluation of the scientific understanding of the universe.
This is not the first time a re-evaluation was needed. Evidence of an expanding universe indicates that it had a beginning. If you trace the expansion backward through time, you can see that at one point the entire universe would have been compacted into a single point. The evidence of the expansion shows that the universe had a beginning when that expansion began. Since the expansion is accelerating, that means that the universe will never contract back and start over. Therefore, the universe is not eternal. It had a beginning, and it will have an end.
At a June 7 meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Benjamin Hoscheit presented information gained from studying 120,000 galaxies. The study agreed with earlier findings that our Milky Way galaxy is located in the largest cosmic void that we can observe. When scientists look one billion light-years out into the universe, they find that the cosmic density becomes much greater. The conclusion they have reached is that the Milky Way is in a relatively open area of space about two billion light-years across. We live in a quiet neighborhood.
The computer image from the Millennium Simulation Project illustrates the dense filaments of dark matter stretching through space. Galaxies are mostly clumped along the filaments. The Milky Way resides in one of the voids between those strands. What are the implications of that? Galaxies tend to be in clusters, and our cluster is called the Local Group. A typical galaxy cluster will have 10,000 galaxies close together. (Close by cosmic standards.) The Local Group has only forty galaxies, and all of them are dwarf galaxies except the Milky Way and Andromeda which are medium-sized. If there were large galaxies close to us, their gravity could distort the spiral structure of the Milky Way making advanced life on Earth impossible.
The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy—the only kind of galaxy capable of supporting advanced life. Star formation drives the spiral motion. Star formation requires the infusion of gas and dust which the small galaxies provide. Clusters of galaxies reside inside superclusters. Our Local Group cluster is on the outer fringe of the Virgo supercluster. If it were near the center of Virgo, the massive clusters there would absorb the Local Group and make life impossible. Also, our solar system is located in the best position within our galaxy at about two-thirds of the distance from the center. In the center of the Milky Way (and most galaxies), there is a massive black hole that would swallow our solar system if we were anywhere near it. If we were farther out in the spiral, the solar system would be subject to massive instability, again making life impossible.
Of course, Earth is also located in the solar habitable zone where we are not too close or too far from the Sun. One final thing to note is that in this cosmic void and the position in our galaxy, we are at the optimum location for observing all of the things I mentioned. We have an excellent view of the universe. We are in more than a quiet neighborhood. We are in the “Goldilocks Zone” where everything is “just right.”
One of the most interesting areas of scientific research today is the study of dark matter. We have known for more than half a century that galaxies are groups of billions of stars revolving around a core. Science had assumed that the glue holding galaxies together was the gravitational force produced by the mass of the stars in the galaxy. The problem with this explanation was that the stars were spiraling too fast for the gravity produced by their mass to hold the galaxy together.
If you stand in the center of a circle and spin a bucket of water on a rope, you have to spin it at a certain speed to keep the water in the bucket. If you go too slow, the bucket will hit the ground, and if you go too fast, it will break the rope. In the case of galaxies, the stars were going so fast for the gravity of the stars to hold the system together. Some other gravitational force must be the glue doing the job. The discovery of black holes in the center of galaxies was thought to be a possible answer, but the speed was much too fast for even that source. The amount of mass it would take to hold some of the galaxies together is as much as 85% higher than what we can observe.
This problem led to the proposal that there is a missing mass. Scientists suggested particles called WIMPS, which is an acronym for “weakly interacting massive particles.” For some time now, experiments have been conducted to find evidence for WIMPS. The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, has been smashing protons together in hopes of detecting the particle. The Large Underground Xenon experiment in South Dakota has been looking for traces of them as well. So far neither attempt has been successful. In an article in Scientific American (October 2016, page 16) Edward Kolb, who was involved in proposing the existence of WIMPS, said: “We are more in the dark about dark matter than we were five years ago.” David Spergel who is an astrophysicist at Princeton says, “…we now need more hints from nature about where to go next.”
It seems that God has already taught us quite a bit about the complexity of creation. Thanks to Isaac Newton we know that mass has a connection to gravity. Thanks to Albert Einstein we know that the shape of space has something to do with it as well. Making a galaxy is not a simple task. Just like the making of electric charge, the process involves understandings that science is just beginning to comprehend. Quantum mechanics has taught us that a whole new set of laws governs what happens in forming these building blocks of what we see.