Searching for Other Worlds

Searching for Other Worlds
In 1999 astronomers detected the first exoplanet–a planet in another solar system. The number of planets detected orbiting around stars other than our Sun has grown to more than 3,500 today. There are billions of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy so searching for other worlds is just getting started.

NASA’s main tool for finding exoplanets has been the Kepler space telescope. The method of detecting those planets is watching for occlusions. If there is a planet orbiting a star, it will sometimes pass in front of that star from our viewpoint causing an occlusion or mini-eclipse. The planets are too small for us to see, but we can see a small dip in the light coming from the star. If the dip comes on a regular interval that means it might be an orbiting planet. The amount of the dip in light level indicates the size of the planet in relation to its star. Using this method of detection, astronomers have compiled a catalog of detected planets.

As I said, until now the Kepler telescope has been the method for finding most of these planets, but it will soon end its life. However, 2018 will be the beginning of new opportunities to look for exoplanets because of two new satellite-based observatories. Very soon NASA will launch TESS. That stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. By the end of the year, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch CHEOPS or Characterising Exoplanet Satellite. (Aren’t you glad we have acronyms.)

The Kepler telescope was very good at searching for other worlds, but only in a small area of the sky. TESS will take a much wider view with the hope of finding many more. For obvious reasons, so far most of the planets detected are giant planets. TESS will be targeting bright stars in the hope of finding smaller planets that more closely resemble Earth. Astronomers will be able to target TESS more precisely toward selected stars.

It will be interesting to see what new discoveries will come from the investment of time and more than a quarter of a billion dollars. So far there have been no more than a dozen planets that even come close to being possible outposts for life. As we have said before there are many parameters required to sustain any kind of life and even more to support advanced life. We have also said many times before that whether there is life anywhere else in the cosmos has nothing to say about whether God exists. A God who is great enough to create the cosmos can create life anywhere He chooses. We are just glad He chose planet Earth so scientists can continue searching for other worlds.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

No-Boundary Proposal and the Big Bang

No-Boundary Proposal and Big Bang
The universe had a beginning. For over two-thousand years from the time of Aristotle until the twentieth century, the accepted view was that the universe was eternal. It took much of the twentieth century for the evidence to compel scientists to concede that there was a beginning to the cosmos. Finally, in the twenty-first century, it was fully confirmed by observations in space. A thousand years before Aristotle, Moses wrote, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Some scientists are still trying to get around the problem of a beginning with the No-Boundary Proposal.

Why is science reluctant to accept the fact that the universe is not eternal? The simple reason is what that implies and the questions that it creates. If the universe had a beginning, that implies that there is something beyond the material world that we observe. The big question then becomes, “What (or Who) brought everything into being?” This leads to the questions, “Why are we here?” and “What is our purpose?” Those are questions that science is afraid to handle. Indeed, those are questions that science cannot handle.

If there was a beginning, there must have been a beginner…a Creator. That Creator, whether personal or impersonal, would have existed “before the beginning.” Science now suggests that the beginning, or the “Big Bang” as it was derisively dubbed by atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle, was not only the starting point for matter and energy, but also for space and time. It was even the starting point for the laws of physics. So how can science explain the beginning? Brilliant scientists have been working on that problem and some have settled on the No-Boundary Proposal.

Last Sunday on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s National Geographic Channel TV show StarTalk, Stephen Hawking said that he knows the answer. Hawking is probably the world’s best-known living physicist and cosmologist. The heart of Hawking’s proposal of what came before the beginning is the No-boundary Proposal. This proposal, according to Hawking, is that before the Big Bang, time was “bent.” According to Hawking’s earlier statements, if we could go back before the Big Bang, we would find that time (and I presume space and matter/energy), “was always reaching closer to nothing but didn’t become nothing.” In other words, there never was a point where something was produced from nothing. There was never nothing. It just seems that way from our perspective. (*You can see the further explanation by Stephen Hawking on the StarTalk show below.)

In a previous lecture, Hawking stated: “Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the big bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the big bang.” This seems to me like a clever way of getting out of speculating on what caused the beginning. It is like saying that the beginning was going on forever and so the beginning never really had a beginning.

Maybe we should call the No-Boundary Proposal the No-Beginning Proposal. It seems to me that this takes us back to Aristotle’s concept of an eternal universe. The difference is that this new proposal says the universe was much more compact before the “beginning.” Is this just a way of getting around the simple statement of Moses in Genesis 1:1?
–Roland Earnst © 2018

*These are Hawking’s words in his interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, “According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, space and time together form a space-time continuum or manifold which is not flat but curved by the matter and energy in it. I adopt a Euclidean approach to quantum gravity to describe the beginning of the universe. In this, ordinary real time is replaced by imaginary time which behaves like a fourth direction of space. In the Euclidean approach, the history of the universe in imaginary time is a four-dimensional, curved surface like the surface of the Earth but with two more dimensions. Jim Hartle and I proposed a “no-boundary” condition. The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary. In order terms, the Euclidean space-time is a closed surface without end, like the surface of the Earth. One can regard imaginary and real time as beginning at the South Pole which is a smooth point of space-time where the normal laws of physics hold. There is nothing south of the South Pole, so there was nothing around before the big bang.”

Expanding Universe and What It Means

Expanding Universe
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.

The bottom line is this: What did Moses know that Einstein and scientists before him did not know? That the universe had a beginning. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
–Roland Earnst © 2018

OSIRIS-REx Photograph

OSIRIS-REx
At first glance, this picture may not look like much. However, you need to take a good look at the large white dot in the center. That’s us. In September of 2016, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx. The name stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Its purpose is to study asteroids. Specifically, it was launched to study an asteroid named 101955 Bennu, to take a sample from it, and return that sample to Earth. Scientists hope that studying that asteroid sample will help us learn more about the formation of our solar system. The project will cost about one billion dollars.

On January 17, 2018, OSIRIS-REx turned its NavCam 1 camera toward Earth and snapped this picture. The spacecraft was almost 40 million miles (63.6 million km) from Earth and traveling away at 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 km per second). The largest and brightest spot in the picture is Earth. The smaller dot close to it is our Moon. The cluster of stars in the upper left is the Pleiades. In the upper right is Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries. Surrounding the Earth and Moon are five stars that are the head of the whale in the constellation Cetus.

The spacecraft is expected to reach Bennu this summer and will orbit the asteroid until July of 2020 when it will land and gather a sample. In September of 2023 is it scheduled to deliver that sample to the scientists on Earth. The purpose is to learn more about this near-Earth asteroid. The hope is that will help us to learn more about asteroids in general and what we might do to prevent one from slamming into our planet. There is also hope for mining useful minerals from asteroids and getting a better idea of the history of Earth. The whole list of scientific objectives for this space probe is contained in that long name for which we use the acronym OSIRIS-REx.

Forgetting about the cost and ambitious objectives, we enjoy looking at this view of Earth from far, far away. It reminds us of what a big solar system and universe we live in and how amazing is the God who designed it all. It also reminds us of the challenge God gave to Job about the Pleiades in Job 38:31-33.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Driving to Mars in a Red Convertible

Driving to Mars
On February 6 SpaceX launched a red Tesla roadster convertible owned by billionaire CEO Elon Musk in a trajectory toward Mars. The photo from an onboard camera shows the dummy driver leaving Earth and driving to Mars.

Will the car ever get there? Astronomers say that it will go into orbit around the Sun and eventually come to the vicinity of Mars. However, it will probably not come very close to the planet depending on the timing of orbits. It has no onboard thrusters to adjust its direction for driving to Mars. At any rate, it will take several months to arrive anywhere near Mars. The closest Mars ever comes to Earth is 33 million miles (54.6 million kilometers). It takes a long time to “drive” that far.

Musk has been promoting the idea of colonizing Mars. His company has developed the world’s most powerful space rocket, the Falcon Heavy Rocket, which they used to launch Musk’s car. However, Mr. Musk doesn’t seem to be doing much to solve the problems of interplanetary space travel. For humans to survive on long space flights away from the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, will require much more effort than launching them into space.

Earth has been designed to shield us from the deadly effects of space. Of course, the vacuum of space would be deadly to anyone not in a pressurized suit or cabin. That problem has been solved to allow astronauts to live in the International Space Station and make spacewalks. If the tires on the car were pressurized, I suspect they would have blown out by now. Another problem is food, medicine, and other supplies. Resupply launches provide for the needs of people on the ISS, but that would not be practical for people traveling to or colonizing Mars.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is cosmic radiation and debris coming from outer space. Earth’s atmosphere is designed to protect us from those things. The space station in low Earth orbit is still somewhat within the magnetic field of Earth. In outer space, the only protection is what you can take with you. Apparently, from what Elon Musk posted on Twitter, his car was headed on a dangerous trip into the asteroid belt beyond Mars.

Musk said in a news conference that the car was “just going to be out there in space for maybe millions or billions of years.” That may be doubtful. Musk admitted that SpaceX had not tested the materials of the red convertible for space endurance. The mannequin space traveler is wearing an authentic space suit, but the car is made of the usual materials. Even if the car avoids major collisions with asteroids, it will become riddled with pockmarks from micrometeorites. Leather, fabrics, plastics, and even the carbon-fiber frame will break down from exposure to unfiltered sunlight and cosmic radiation. The carbon-carbon and carbon-hydrogen bonds in those materials will break down, and the car will fall apart. At least one scientist, William Carroll, a chemist at Indiana University and an expert on plastics and organic molecules, said, it won’t last a year in space.

One more thing to note is that the radio in the car was playing David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity.” However, sound can’t travel through a vacuum, and since there is no atmosphere in space, the radio is playing the sound of silence. The battery will run down in a short time anyway. Driving to Mars is going to be a challenge, even in a well-designed spaceship. The need for power, food, protection from the elements and many other things, make us very happy to live on planet Earth. It almost seems as if Someone designed this place for us to call “home.”
–Roland Earnst © 20018

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Lunar Eclipse and Lunar Effects

Lunar Eclipse and Lunar Effects
Many of us missed the super blue blood moon lunar eclipse this morning. We may have missed it either because of weather (clouds) or because it wasn’t complete in the part of the world where we live. So did we miss seeing a rare phenomenon?

A total lunar eclipse happens about once every year-and-a-half, but this one was special. An eclipse like the one this morning has not happened in North America in the last CENTURY-and-a-half. (Yesterday we explained what a super blue blood moon is.) The last time there was a supermoon total eclipse in North America was in 2015. A blue moon lunar eclipse last occurred in 1982. But the last time that North America saw a total eclipse of a blue supermoon was in 1866. Unfortunately for most of us in North America, this morning’s eclipse happened at or near the setting of the Moon, so we could only see part of it at best. In addition to that, much of central North America was cloudy.

Watching a lunar eclipse can be fascinating, but what is special about the Moon? Compared to the moons of other planets in our solar system, our moon is larger in relation to planet Earth. The size of the Moon and it’s distance from the Earth makes total SOLAR eclipses possible, but we have examined that before. The size of the Moon and its distance from Earth puts it in tidal lock with the Earth. What that means is that the same side of the Moon is always facing the Earth. We see only one side of the Moon every night year-after-year.

What is our Moon good for except to look at? The truth is that without the Moon, Earth would be a much more hostile place to live. The gravity of the Moon creates the ocean tides which clean the bays and estuaries essential for many plants, animals, and birds. The gravity of the moon has slowed and stabilized the Earth’s rotation and tilt, shaping the life-cycles of plants and animals and determining our wind patterns and weather. The Moon reflects the light of the Sun to give a night light essential for many forms of life.

A super blue blood moon lunar eclipse is interesting to watch, but there are more reasons for the Moon to exist. We should be thankful that we have the Moon because it really is “super.” I suggest that it is not an accident, but part of the cosmic design of a Master Engineer.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Supermassive Black Holes and Creation

Supermassive Black Holes
One of the most interesting objects in the creation is the black hole. Now supermassive black holes give us something even more intriguing to think about.

At one time many scientists thought black holes were a joke. I had a physics professor back in my undergraduate days who taught us the basic principles behind the formation of a black hole. Then he proceeded to ridicule the idea as pure fantasy.

It certainly seemed like fantasy in the middle of the twentieth century. The basic idea was that there are two forces at work in stars. One was the electrical force that repels charged matter pushing it away from the stellar center. That force is proportional to the amount of charge present and the distance between the charges squared. It could be calculated by knowing a proportionality constant which governed electrical interactions and was determined experimentally. Its value is 9 x 10^9, so it is a very large force.

A second force is gravity. The mass of two particles multiplied together and divided by the distance between them squared calculates the gravitational attraction the particles have toward each other. Again there was a proportionality constant which could be measured in the laboratory, and it was 6.67 x 10^-11. That meant the electrical force is massively greater than the gravitational force by a factor of 10^20. That is why we have electric motors and not mass (or gravity) motors.

The question is what would happen if you had a star that was so massive that the gravitational force exceeded the electrical force? The answer was, of course, that the star would collapse. The amount of mass needed to do that would be astronomical, but it is possible. Einstein showed that huge masses could actually warp space. If a huge mass warped space, it might create a situation where even light could not escape. The result would be a black hole–a point in space where matter collapsed upon itself. That hole would continue to absorb anything that came near it, so it would just continue to grow in mass.

Astronomers have now observed black holes in many places in space. It might be more accurate to say that they have seen the holes produced by black holes. We now know that most if not all galaxies have black holes at their cores. We have seen black holes collide, and the resulting shock waves allowed scientists to detect gravity waves.

Now scientists are concerned about new finds of supermassive black holes which seem too large to have been formed by the process we just explained in an oversimplified way. Apparently, these new black holes were formed at the beginning of the creation perhaps by the collapse of huge clouds of gas and dust that were not a part of a galaxy. These strange supermassive black holes are around 1000 times bigger than normal black holes and may be remnants of the creation of the cosmos itself. This is a new area of study, but it should be supported by observations from a new telescope scheduled to go into orbit in 2019.

Black holes have much to teach us. If black holes are scattered universally throughout the cosmos, and if they are sweeping up all matter that gets anywhere near them, what would that mean? Obviously, it means that eventually the entire cosmos will be swallowed up by supermassive black holes! This confirms again that the cosmos has not existed forever and that there was a beginning to the creation.

In 2 Peter 3:10-13 we read that ultimately the cosmos will dissolve and the elements will “melt with fervent heat.” Matter/energy is not eternal. It had a beginning, and it will have an end. We don’t know if the Lord will use natural processes that have resulted from the creation itself, or whether He will use His power directly. Peter wrote in verse 11, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be..?” Those words receive new support from the evidence of supermassive black holes in the cosmos around us.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Scientific American, February 2018, page 26-29.

The Meaning of Life

Meaning of Life-Michael Shermer
Perhaps the most influential atheist in America today is Michael Shermer, who expresses his views on the meaning of life. A graduate of Pepperdine University, Shermer has had some theological training. As an atheist, he publishes Skeptic magazine. He also has a regular column in Scientific American magazine through which he promotes his atheistic views and the various books he has written attacking believers in God. His most recent book is Heavens on Earth which he promotes heavily in his column in the February 2018 issue of Scientific American.

Atheists like Shermer view something that they don’t understand as impossible to understand. Shermer spells out a view of the future of the cosmos and the meaning of life–or lack thereof. Suggesting that the cosmos will end in total heat death with nothing but endless darkness, he then says: “In light of that end, it’s hard for me to understand how our moral choices have any sort of significance. There’s no moral accountability. The universe is neither better nor worse for what we do. Our more moral lives become vacuous because they don’t have that kind of cosmic significance.”

Shermer’s views are typical of atheist arguments on the meaning of life. Notice:

1) Heat death is not the only possible conclusion that one can come to as far as the demise of the physical cosmos is concerned.
2) The fact that it is hard for Shermer to understand does not mean that it cannot be understood. It is somewhat arrogant to argue that what I can understand is all that is possible.
3) Later Shermer states his belief that, “We live in the here and now, not in the hereafter.” That is a faith statement which is not backed up by empirical scientific data.
4) Shermer denigrates the attempts of Christians to help and serve others by saying that life choice has no cosmic significance. It may not benefit molecules and atoms, but it has huge significance on the future of humanity. The negative effects of humans upon planet Earth fill the pages of Scientific American, and that is not addressed by what Shermer claims is the purpose of our existence.
5) Shermer says, “our most basic purpose in life is to combat entropy by doing something “extropic,” in other words, expending energy to survive and flourish. Every demagogue who ever lived would agree with that statement–if they understood it.

The reality is that “It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). That is also a faith statement, but it makes more sense to most of us than believing Shermer’s faith which says, “we are sentient beings designed by evolution to survive and flourish in the teeth of entropy and death.”

I am sure that the atheist community will rise in praise of Shermer’s new book. However, his subtitle of the Scientific American article “Science reveals our deepest purpose” is grossly inaccurate. In fact, we suggest that science doesn’t support his faith well at all.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

UFO Claims and 22 Million Dollars

UFO Claims
The New York Times recently reported that the United States government between 2008 and 2011 spent 22 million dollars on a secretive program to investigate UFO claims. A collection of stories has now emerged concerning the results of the study. It includes:

Reports of pilots seeing strange aircraft that moved at great speeds and made 90 degree turns at full throttle.

Claims of government contractors constructing specially-modified storage buildings to house mysterious “metal alloys” recovered from UFOs.

A quote from the former director of the program saying “What was considered science fiction is now science fact.”

We have pointed out repeatedly that whether there is life in outer space is not an apologetic issue. God may have seen fit to create life elsewhere. Historically the UFO claims have been used by skeptics and opponents of Christianity in all kinds of ways to suggest that aliens are responsible for our existence and that we are just pawns in some alien chess match. The fact that this story is raised repeatedly in the media is a reflection of that way of thinking.

The fact is that the story of pilots seeing strange space vehicles originally occurred in the 1940s and has been shown to be reflections off the cockpit windows. I have a friend who works with government contracts to test new alloys and materials. All of their samples come from the Earth, and there are dozens of buildings built with government contracts to store all of the materials being tested. His favorite line is, “We have a solution, now we are looking for the problem for the solution to solve.”

We can’t blame aliens for the chaos that is in our world today, and we can’t look for aliens for solutions to our problems. Christ has the answers everyone is looking for, but He will not force solutions on us against our will. What Jesus calls us to do goes against our selfish desires. Wasting 22 million dollars on UFO claims is a reflection of the ignorance that permeates the governing agencies of our culture.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most famous scientist in the world today. Hawking is a British theoretical physicist and cosmologist. In 1963, when he was 21 years old, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The doctors gave him two years to live. He has far exceeded the life expectancy of an ALS patient, even though the disease has gradually taken away his ability to move.

Today Hawking speaks using a computerized voice that he controls with his cheek muscles using a slow process of selecting words and letters. In spite of his disability which he does not talk about, he has given lectures and written best-selling books. Although he had previously written that God was not needed to explain the creation, in 2014 he openly declared himself to be an atheist.

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965. Over the years his illness and his celebrity put a strain on the marriage. Also, Jane Hawking was a Christian and Stephen was an unbeliever, which added to their differences. In 1990 Stephen left Jane for one of his caregivers. In 1995 he divorced Jane and married the caregiver, Elaine Mason. In 2006 Stephen and Elaine divorced. Hawking then resumed a closer relationship with his first wife and his children and grandchildren. Jane wrote a book about their renewed relationship, and it was made into a movie The Theory of Everything in 2014. Eddie Redmayne played Stephen Hawking in the film, and the role won him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Speaking of the Theory of Everything, that is what Stephen Hawking and other scientists have spent years trying to find. On January 8, 2018, a new episode of the series Favorite Places premiered on CuriosityStream.com. In the show, Stephen Hawking is shown traveling through space to visit some of his favorite places including Venus, the Sun, and the star Proxima Centauri. Narrating the adventure with his computer-generated voice, he tells about his search for the Theory of Everything:

“I have been searching for something my whole life. Something to explain the world that is by turns kind and cruel, beautiful and confusing. A single all-encompassing idea that can explain the nature of reality—where it all came from and why we exist at all—the Theory of Everything.”

Perhaps Hawking has been overlooking the answer. Perhaps he has left out the key to that answer—God. Perhaps his ex-wife Jane had the answer all along in her Christian faith. Stephen acknowledges that the universe is amazingly fine-tuned for life. He attempts to explain that by the idea that this is only one of an almost infinite number of universes with different parameters and we just happen to live in the one universe with the right parameters and laws to allow life to exist.

Instead of an accidentally fine-tuned universe, what if God created a perfect universe. What if God is love and He created us so that He could love us and so that we would love and serve Him. What if our failure to do so explains why the world is “by turns kind and cruel.” That would explain “where we came from and why we exist at all.” It would also explain “the nature of reality.” That is what Stephen Hawking has been searching for his “whole life.”

We think that the “Theory of Everything” is written in the Bible ready for each of us to discover for ourselves.
–Roland Earnst – © 2018