Astronomy Picture of the Day: APOD

Astronomy Picture of the Day
One of my favorite free websites is NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Every morning I begin my day by looking at what new image is on that site. Since there is an explanation of the image, this is also an opportunity to learn about objects in space and how those objects might fit into our understanding of the universe. The picture from April 17, 2018, is called “M57: The Ring Nebula.”

M57 is known as a “planetary nebula,” but the glowing material does not come from planets. Scientists believe it is the outer layers expelled by a star very similar to our Sun. It went through a process that we see happening in space where stars explode and seed space with heavy elements produced by the explosion. What is left of the star is the tiny dot at the center of the nebula. That dot is a very dense remnant of the core of the star that is spinning very rapidly obeying the laws of physics as it does so.

This is not creation. The material this explosion produced is not coming from nothing. It is the product of previous materials that were produced at the moment of creation by a process that we cannot duplicate or even adequately describe in scientific terms. The process of fusing hydrogen to heavier elements, seeding space with all of the material produced, and reforming the material to make terrestrial life possible is outside of our capacity to observe. To some extent, it can be described with mathematical equations. The astronomy picture of the day on the NASA site continues to detail the process that produced our world and all we see around us.

God is not limited by time or space or our capacity to understand. In Job 38:4 God challenges Job to deal with “the foundations of the Earth.” In Proverbs 8:22-27 wisdom speaks about the planning and design God made before the Earth came to be (verse 23). Wisdom speaks about the preparation of the heavens (verse 27).

When we look at the astronomy picture of the day on the NASA website, we are not seeing the present. We are looking into the past. M57 went through the process of seeding its neighborhood with heavy elements 2,000 years ago, and we witness that event today. Virtually everything on the NASA website, and in astronomy, is in the past. Seeing these things allows us to wonder at the power, wisdom, and majesty of God. It reinforces David’s statement in Psalms 8:3-4: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you visit him?”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

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

Super Blue Blood Moon Arrives

Super Blue Blood Moon
As most people know, tomorrow morning (January 31) before sunrise there will be a total eclipse of the Moon. It will not be an ordinary lunar eclipse because it will be a Super Blue Blood Moon. What does that mean?

It’s called “super” because the Moon is at perigee. That means the Moon is at its closest point to the Earth. The Moon’s orbit of Earth is somewhat elliptical so at times it is farther away, and sometimes it’s closer. At the closest point, it is somewhat larger and brighter than when it is at its farthest point, called apogee.

What about the “blue?” One thing for sure, the Moon won’t look blue. This will be the second full moon during January. Two full moons during one month don’t happen very often, only “once in a blue moon” as the saying goes. When we do have two in one month, the second full moon is called a “blue moon.”

Why is it called a “blood moon?” That’s because during a total lunar eclipse the Moon looks red. A lunar eclipse happens when Earth’s shadow blocks the Sun’s light from the Moon. Lunar eclipses only happen when the Moon is at its “full” stage because that is when the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. Only when the Moon, Earth, and Sun line-up perfectly does Earth’s shadow block the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon. However, even during a total eclipse some of the light from the Sun is bent by the Earth’s atmosphere enough that it reaches the Moon’s surface. The bending occurs mostly in the red end of the visible spectrum, so some red light reaches the Moon, and we see that red light reflected back to us. It’s the same red effect we see at sunrise and sunset.

So that’s how we can have a Super Blue Blood Moon. If you want to know when you can see the eclipse in your area, there are many websites that give that information such as NASA.gov.

If someone tries to tell you that this eclipse, or any solar or lunar eclipse, is a sign of some catastrophe or dramatic event that is about to happen, don’t believe it. The dramatic events are the eclipses themselves. The way the solar system has been designed to make life possible and allow us to enjoy watching eclipses is a demonstration of the wisdom and creativity of the Designer. Eclipses allow us to learn more about the system that God has created. We are in awe of this life-giving system.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Kepler-90: Our Twin Solar System?

Is Kepler-90 a Twin to Our Solar System?
It seems that every week astronomers make an announcement that the media use to suggest that the cosmos is overflowing with life similar to planet Earth. The latest system presented as identical to our solar system–and therefore harboring life–is around a star known as Kepler-90, 2545 light-years away.

Kepler-90 is made up of a parent star and eight planets, the same as ours. The star that serves as the sun for the Kepler system is a G type star, and our Sun is a G-2 star. Some of Kepler-90’s planets are rocky planets comparable to the Earth. There are also two large planets comparable to Jupiter and Saturn. Three of Kepler-90’s planets are the size of Uranus and Neptune. Tabloids have been calling this system our twin because of these similarities. They are even suggesting that we need to make contact with the “humanoids” living there.

The reality is that no scientist, at least in print, feels that this solar system is the same as ours. First, all of Kepler-90’s planets are closer to the sun of the system than the Earth is to our Sun. They would undoubtedly be much too hot to support any kind of life based on carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is also important to note that in our solar system our large planets have a function that can only happen if they are farther from the Sun than the life-bearing planet. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all serve as shields to planet Earth. The four Jovian planets will absorb any large object from outside the solar system that is on a collision course with Earth. The famous Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet in 1992 was torn apart by Jupiter and destroyed. Had Jupiter not shielded the Earth, the collision of the Earth and Shoemaker-Levy 9 would have been devastating.

A system with a star emitting the right spectra and having rocky planets does not necessarily support the existence of life. We produced a chart titled “Evidence for Design in the Universe” that lists 47 variables necessary for a planet to harbor life. You can access the chart on our doesgodexist.org website, or request it from us and we will mail you a copy.

Astronomers haven’t yet found anything close to a twin to our planet. Even if they did, and even if there were life on it, all that would prove is that God created life elsewhere. It would indicate that the Creator carefully chose the right constants and chemical constituents to allow life to exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

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

Autumn Equinox and Season Design

Autumn Equinox and Season Design
We have just passed the autumn equinox and what we call “the first day of fall.” It will be late December before fall officially ends at the winter solstice. On the first day of fall here in Michigan, it was unseasonably hot, and people were griping about “where is the cool fall weather we are supposed to have?” Long before the first day of winter on December 20-21, we will have snow. Is there something wrong with the seasons, or is the trouble with our understanding?

“Equinox” suggests that the length of the day is equal to the length of the night. The Sun is overhead at the equator, and from now until December 20 it will be directly overhead at progressively greater southern latitudes until it reaches just past 23 degrees south latitude. Here in the north, the Sun’s elevation above the horizon will get progressively lower, meaning that less and less of the Sun’s energy will strike the Earth’s surface so the weather will get cooler.

The problem with this simple picture is that there is a lag in the seasons. During the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere the lakes and oceans warm from the sunshine. Water has a high specific heat, so that heat is stored and is released slowly. That means we stay warm longer than expected in the fall. In the Southern Hemisphere the picture is complicated by the fact that the Earth is closer to the Sun during their summertime, so the radiation is more intense. That might be a problem except that the Southern Hemisphere has more water than the Northern Hemisphere because oceans cover more of the southern Earth’s surface. With that greater storage and absorption capacity moderates the temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.

The autumn equinox reminds us of the incredibly well-designed system of the Earth. It is easy to over-simplify the seasons and the equinoxes and solstices, but the system functions remarkably well. Without that careful design, the weather picture would be far more unstable than it is. Proverbs 8:22-31 speaks of wisdom’s involvement in all of the creation. We are just now beginning to understand how the system works and how our use of Earth’s resources affect the system.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Great American Eclipse “Engineered”

The Great American Eclipse
One month ago today a total solar eclipse crossed the United States. The so-called Great American Eclipse had many interesting things associated with it.

We have pointed out in previous discussions that people have attached all kinds of erroneous connections to eclipses. Some people have suggested that the eclipse predicts the doom of kings and in recent weeks the demise of Donald Trump. We have seen religious prognostications of all kinds attached to the eclipse including the second coming of Christ. There are those who have denigrated biblical events such as the darkness at the time Christ died, saying it was just an eclipse. (No eclipse can last for three hours.) None of these claims and predictions have any value.

One message that should stand out from the eclipse is the precision that God has built into the creation of the cosmos. How can astronomers predict when eclipses will occur including the exact time for a given location? This is quite simple if you understand the design of the creation. Astronomers have a grid in the sky that is an extension of the latitude/longitude system on the surface of the Earth. All objects in space, including the Sun and the Moon, can be plotted on this grid system. This allows scientists to plot the movement of the Moon and the shadow the Moon casts on Earth. (Remember that a solar eclipse is the Moon’s shadow on the Earth.)

Many of us earth science teachers use the Earth Science Curriculum Project. It has a lab where students plot an eclipse and predict what kind of eclipse will occur. They can predict when it will start, how much of the Sun will be covered, and when it will end. One of my students commenting after doing the lab, “Wow, what engineer thought up this system?” Another student responded “No engineer did it. God did it!” The first student responded, “Well God is a pretty cool engineer!”

We have pointed out that one of the problems people have with faith is that they attempt to explain everything as mysticism and magic. When it becomes obvious that planning and design are part of the system, that understanding erodes their faith in God. A good magician can mystify us, but still, he is using methods we can understand if we learn how he did it.

The Great American Eclipse spoke well about how precisely and carefully God has designed the planetary system in which we live. The eclipse is one more witness to the statement that, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton

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

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

Just Right Moon

Solar Eclipse Thanks to Just Right Moon
In a few days, a total solar eclipse will cross the full width of the United States, and you can give credit for that to the just right moon.

We have looked at the “how” and “why” of total solar eclipses. We have considered what value total solar eclipses have. We have seen that a total eclipse helped to confirm a very important scientific principle. Also, we pointed out that solar eclipses happen only at the time of the new moon when the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.

A new moon occurs about every 29 days, so why doesn’t an eclipse happen at each new moon? That’s because the plane of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is about five degrees off from the orbital path of the Earth around the Sun. Because of that difference, a solar eclipse happens only when the Moon crosses the path of Earth’s orbit around the Sun (called the ecliptic). A TOTAL solar eclipse happens only when the Sun and Moon are exactly aligned.

What would happen if the orbit of the Moon were on the same plane as the ecliptic? At every new moon we would have a total solar eclipse, and at every full moon, we would have a total lunar eclipse. So the Sun would go dark in the daytime somewhere on Earth every month, and the full Moon would also go dark monthly. The influence of the Sun’s gravity on the lunar orbit might cause more serious problems.

No other planet has a moon that plays such an important part in creating an environment suitable for life. The Moon is right where it should be to serve life on Earth. Our just right Moon lights the night, creates the tides that clean our estuaries, stabilizes Earth’s rotation, and occasionally provides a total solar eclipse that gives us a glimpse of God’s marvelous design of our solar system.
–Roland Earnst © 2017