Earth’s Atmospheric Shield

Earth's Atmospheric Shield Protects Against Meteoroids
In 2013 a 10,000-ton 60-foot (20 m) wide asteroid entered the Earth’s atmospheric shield and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The explosion occurred 18 miles (29 km) above the Earth emitting a shock wave equivalent to 10 Hiroshima bombs.

A team led by Dr. Jay Melosh of Purdue University has extensively studied what controls how much damage a rock from space can cause. Dr. Melosh’s research was funded by NASA’s Office of Planetary Defense, and some interesting facts have come from the research. According to the study, Hollywood disaster movies aren’t even close to being realistic. Dr. Melosh says “Realistic stuff doesn’t make a good story. Hollywood usually manages to get it wrong.”

Meteoroids are hunks of rock that come in all shapes and sizes and with different amounts of porousness. As a rock enters the atmosphere, air pressure builds up in front of it, and a vacuum develops behind it. For most porous rocks, the air will rush into the rock and blow off pieces, like an air hose blowing in a bucket of sand. The design of the Earth’s atmosphere is what causes the break-up of the meteoroids. It is only if they are too big to blow apart that they hit the Earth leaving a crater such as Meteor Crater in Arizona.

The article about Dr. Melosh’s work in the Herald Bulletin says that Earth’s atmospheric shield is better than we thought. Modern astronomy continues to find design features of the universe and the Earth that allow life to exist on this planet. This is another example of a design feature that makes it so that we don’t have to walk around looking up to dodge an incoming celestial missile.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

A Glimpse of God’s Incredible Power

A Glimpse of God's Incredible Power
A very long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, two neutron stars circled each other. They got closer and closer, speeding up as they did so. They reached a speed of 100 orbits every second, and then they collided. The collision was so violent that a gravitational wave was sent out and a cloud of subatomic particles was released that produced large amounts of gold, platinum, and uranium. As that happened, a blast of high energy gamma rays was released. By this process, we received a glimpse of God’s incredible power as the energy reached Earth last August.

As astronomers were watching at 8:41 AM EDT on August 17, 2017, they observed the gravitational waves followed 1.7 seconds later by the gamma-ray burst. They gave the identification of SSS17a to the merger of the two neutron stars. Its location was in galaxy NGC 4993. Astronomers were amazed at the timing of the collision and the fact that they had their telescopes in the right place at the right time to observe and measure it. Astronomer Ryan Foley says, “We’ve been walking around for all of humanity being able to see the universe but not able to hear it. Now we get both. It’s even hard to predict where this field will go.”

The location of the collision was so far away that it happened some 130 million years ago and it took the energy that long to reach the Earth. Science is now beginning to understand God’s creation of gravity. Also, scientists are learning how heavy elements like gold and platinum were produced.

For Christians, all of this shows a glimpse of God’s incredible power. It almost seems as though God knew that it was time for us to comprehend His making of the special things in the cosmos. He sent a glimpse of the process in 2017, so we could see and wonder at all He has done. It gives a whole new understanding to: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Astronomy, January 2018, page 10.

Dark Energy and Creation

Dark Energy and Creation
One of the great mysteries of cosmology is the fact that the cosmos is speeding up as it expands. Scientists explain this acceleration by an invisible pressure called dark energy which makes up about 70% of the energy in the cosmos.

This explanation is based on an assumption called the Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker metric which took Einstein’s equations and applied them to a universe they assumed to be homogeneous and isotropic. In other words, it assumes a smooth universe. Science has determined that the universe is not smooth. It is made up of great voids separating networks of dense galaxy clusters and filaments.

Emily Conover writing in Science News for November 25, 2017, (page 22) said, “If the universe were soup, it would be more of a chunky minestrone than a silky smooth tomato bisque.” When the equations are applied to a universe that is not isotropic and homogeneous, the acceleration of the cosmos seems to be explained without the need for dark energy. By the very nature of the lumpy design of the cosmos, its collapse is avoided.

It is interesting to note that the cosmos was created in such a way that its very existence contains the fingerprint of a design that allows great stability over an infinite amount of time. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.

Many aspects of the creation we may never understand, but as our instruments get better and data accumulates, we understand that we have, in the words of Issac Newton, “found a pebble of knowledge while an ocean of truth lays before us.”

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is really all we need to know. Seeing His power, wisdom and design bolsters our faith in the fact that “The Lord possessed wisdom at the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old: wisdom was appointed from eternity from the beginning. Before the world began…” Proverbs 8:22-23.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI)

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Since 1960, scientists have been using radio telescopes to search for signs of intelligent life in the universe. The program is called SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). So far it has been 57 years of listening without any positive results. Scientists have now entered the next phase of the search called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI).

On October 16-18, 2017, scientists beamed a message toward a red dwarf star known as GJ 273 in the hope that there might be someone there listening. Of course, there are always radio and TV signals of various kinds going out from transmitters all over the Earth, but this attempt is a concentrated signal beamed toward this specific system. The transmission contained mathematical and scientific information as well as music. The reason scientists chose GJ 273 is that there are two planets orbiting the star that they hope might be able to support life. And it is the closest possible potential life-supporting location.

Picking one random star to direct a communication signal toward may seem like shooting in the dark–and it is. However, a METI team member said that this is just a prototype of what they want to do “one hundred times, or one thousand times, or one million times.” In other words, this is just the beginning.

So when will the results of this experiment be in? GJ 273 is more than twelve light-years from Earth. So in about 2030, the signal will reach its destination. If there is intelligent life there listening and they respond right away, we might hear something by 2042 or 2043. Translation will be a challenge. If Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence continues to send out signals to other potential inhabitable planets, they will be farther away, and thus it will take longer to hear anything back.

Some scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have criticized this effort because they are afraid it might wake up hostile extraterrestrial beings to the fact that we are here. Perhaps the aliens will not like our music style and decide that they want to put an end to it. They could send their “storm troopers” to start a Star Wars type of scenario. Of course, since they would not be able to travel at anything close to the speed of light (if Einstein is correct), they might arrive here centuries from now to find nobody left on this planet.

We have three observations on this project. First, all indications are that the chances of life existing anywhere in space are very slim. There are far too many variables needed to make life possible on any planet or moon. Secondly, the resources going into SETI and METI could better be used helping people right here on our own planet. Thirdly, as we have said before, whether or not life exists anywhere else in the universe has no bearing on whether God exists. God can create life anywhere He chooses.

When it comes to messaging extraterrestrial intelligence, we believe that there is Intelligence out there. We also believe that He would like to hear from us. We further believe that He has been to Earth to communicate with us. And we believe that if we choose to communicate with Him, we will not be limited to the speed of light. He can hear us instantaneously.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Life on Other Planets Doubtful

Life on Other Planets?
We have repeatedly pointed out that finding life on other planets has no bearing on the question of God’s creation of life on Earth. The Bible does not say that this is the only place where God created life.

Astronomers have observed over 3500 planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Many writers have suggested that life in space is natural and likely because of the number of planets that exist. That assumption has a problem. There are an enormous number of variables that must be precisely controlled to allow life to exist.

Scientists have recently discovered that while it takes 243 days for Venus to rotate once, its atmosphere requires only four days in what is called “superrotation.” How can a planet’s atmosphere rotate 60 times faster than the planet itself? What effect does this have on the conditions at the surface of the planet where life could exist?

Another recent discovery concerns Proxima Centauri b, a planet orbiting in the habitable zone of the closest star to us other than the Sun. The star it orbits, Proxima Centauri, is continuously flaring and driving away any atmosphere that an orbiting planet might have. Astronomers working on the study of this star and the planets around it released a statement saying “any chance for life on Proxima Centauri b may be toast.”

We continue to find that the conditions needed for life on other planets are numerous. Having water is important, but many other factors must be carefully controlled for a planet to support even the most simple forms of life.

God’s creation of the Earth and the conditions that allow life to exist here becomes more and more amazing as we learn more about the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Data from Astronomy magazine, December 2017, pages 12 and 17.

Stretched Out Gravity Waves and the Nobel Prize

Stretched  Out Gravity Waves
One of the interesting words in the Old Testament dealing with space and its creation is the Hebrew word natah–usually translated stretched out.

This word describes God’s act of creating space/time. Natah suggests that the cosmos is a like fabric that can be stretched. It could also mean stretching out as when we pull the cord of a lawnmower or outboard motor. (For uses of the word natah, see: Psalms 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; 44:24; 45:12; 51:13; Jeremiah 51:15; Zechariah 12:1)

Three United States scientists won the Nobel physics prize in October of 2017 by detecting ripples of gravitational waves traveling through the universe. In September of 2015, these scientists and others detected gravitational waves for the first time confirming a part of Einstein’s predictions.

The bottom line is that space is not empty, and objects in space are not isolated. The creation is like a garment that can have ripples in it. Stretched out gravitational waves fill the universe.

The next step for scientists will be to learn how to use gravity waves to study cosmic phenomena that they can’t observe by light or other electromagnetic radiation. Gravity waves will help us to learn more about God’s creation, and they are another verification of the biblical description of the nature of the cosmos.
–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