Solar System Reversals
The planets keep going around, but theories about them often stop and go backward or sideways. When nothing else works, send in the impactors!
How are planets formed? Elizabeth Howell starts off this entry with a review in Universe Today about the leading theory, the “protoplanet hypothesis.” The general picture is made to look straightforward, “as the theory goes,” except for all the exceptions. It hardly seems scientific, though, to throw in “Then something happened.” Once upon a time, there was this gas cloud:
Then something happened that triggered a pressure change in the center of the cloud, scientists say. Perhaps it was a supernova exploding nearby, or a passing star changing the gravity. Whatever the change, however, the cloud collapsed and created a disc of material, according to NASA.
“Whatever.” It must be so if NASA says so. Howell presents the basic bottom-up theory, but understands a fundamental challenge for scientists:
One major challenge to this theory, of course, is no one (that we know of!) was recording the early history of the Solar System. That’s because the Earth wasn’t even formed yet, so it was impossible for any life — let alone intelligent life — to keep track of what was happening to the planets around us.
She obviously has no use for the Genesis record, even though it meets the requirements of an intelligent observer who kept track of what was happening. Deprived of an Eyewitness account, what’s a scientist, taught to base theories on observation, supposed to do? The solution: models.
That said, there still are some complications. We can’t use modelling yet to exactly predict how the planets of the Solar System ended up where they were. Also, in fine detail our Solar System is kind of a messy place, with phenomena such as asteroids with moons.
And we need to have a better understanding of external factors that could affect planet formation, such as supernovae (explosions of old, massive stars.) But the protoplanet hypothesis is the best we’ve got — at least for now.
It meets the requirements of the “Best-in-field fallacy,” in other words. Who decided it was “best”? She didn’t say. God didn’t get to vote in that peer group.
Mercury volcanism: A paper in Icarus puzzles over the volcanic plains in the Caloris Basin. There are no ghost craters above 10 km in diameter, leading them to believe the volcanism that covered the basin floors up to 3.5 km deep must have happened quickly after the impact that formed the basin; “Most Caloris interior plains were emplaced within a geologically short time period,” they say. If you want to know what it would be like to live on Mercury, see this Space.com article.
Venus: Back to square one: A major puzzle following the radar mapping of Venus by Magellan in the 1990s was finding that all the large craters appeared to be the same age. This led to a theory of a global resurfacing event that obliterated evidence of 90% of the planet’s presumed history. Later theories questioned that conclusion, saying the evidence supported equilibrium resurfacing over vast ages. A new study of the data published on Icarus reverts back to the catastrophic resurfacing theory. Three planetologists concluded, “These findings are readily and consistently explained by global resurfacing scenarios and are difficult to reconcile with equilibrium resurfacing scenarios.” There’s been global catastrophism on the planet next door.
Moon service: Earth’s moon may not be vital for habitability on Earth, Astrobiology Magazine now claims. That idea, however, is bound to be disputed by other models, if history is any guide. The new opinion doesn’t address the usefulness of total solar eclipses, though; and the article admits that some life forms that use lunar cycles would be adversely affected. Tides and seasons would change, possibly affecting the liveable area for complex life. We would also miss its romantic presence; “After all, would Beethoven have written the Moonlight Sonata without it?”
Mars impact: Howell’s article was decorated with artwork of a Mars-sized object crashing into early Earth to form the Moon. An article on Science Daily conjures up a moon-sized object crashing into Mars to create the puzzling “Mars dichotomy”—a big difference in terrain between the Martian northern and southern hemispheres. The new theory is similar to the old theory, except that the poles have been reversed: the impactor hit the south pole, not the north pole. Arguments are still going on over that. One problem of invoking major impacts is that it makes the picture bleak for wet-Marsers and Mars-lifers. “Since the beginning of time, this planet was characterised by intense heat and volcanic activity, which would have evaporated any possible water and made the emergence of life highly unlikely,” one researcher remarked.
Naked Titan: How long could Saturn’s large moon Titan go naked outside? A press release from JPL has the headline, “Cassini Catches Titan Naked in the Solar Wind.” The spacecraft caught the moon outside the planet’s protective magnetosphere, exposed to the gas-stripping rays of the sun. “This left the moon exposed to, and unprotected from, the raging stream of energetic solar particles,” the article says, adding, “Titan spends about 95 percent of the time within Saturn’s magnetosphere.” Assuming a 4.5 billion year age, the remaining 5% of the time when Titan goes streaking outside would amount to 250 million years of sunburn. This presumably would strip away the atmosphere over time. “After more than a hundred flybys, we have finally encountered Titan out in the solar wind, which will allow us to better understand how such moons maintain or lose their atmospheres,” the magnetometer lead said, without connecting the dots of how long Titan’s atmosphere could last in the nude.
Uranus weather: Major storms have been seen racing across Uranus lately, and nobody knows why. That’s the gist of a piece on New Scientist. “Their cause is a mystery,” the article says. Let’s call in the experts. What do you think, Dr. Imke de Pater of UC Berkeley? What’s causing these big storms? “We have no idea. It’s very unexpected.” He posits that maybe there is a vortex deep in the planet’s atmosphere. The new-agers in Sedona, Arizona might perk up at that suggestion. The research paper in Icarus states that eight large storms were observed “in contrast to expectations…In spite of an expected decline in convective activity following the 2007 equinox of Uranus,” things heated up.
Dawn of a new asteroid visit: After a year-and-a-half circling Vesta, the Dawn Spacecraft is closing in on Ceres, the largest of the asteroids in the asteroid belt. Pictures are getting more detailed every day as the craft prepares for its March 6 orbit insertion. Looking back on the discoveries at Vesta, a JPL press release puzzles over indirect evidence of water flows sometime in the asteroid’s past. Nobody told Vesta it was supposed to sing “How dry I am.”
“Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates,” said Jennifer Scully, postgraduate researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “However, Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body.“
The study has broad implications for planetary science.
“These results, and many others from the Dawn mission, show that Vesta is home to many processes that were previously thought to be exclusive to planets,” said UCLA’s Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission. “We look forward to uncovering even more insights and mysteries when Dawn studies Ceres.“
Asteroids do the twist: A press release from MIT puts a “twist on asteroid origins.” For a long time, theorists imagined meteors as building blocks of planets. Not so, says the new theory: they are fragments of collisions—byproducts of planetary origins, not building blocks. Here’s what happened to the mysterious chondrules (molten material long puzzling to planetologists), according to the new twist:
The team found that bodies as large as the moon likely existed well before chondrules came on the scene. In fact, the researchers found that chondrules were most likely created by the collision of such moon-sized planetary embryos: These bodies smashed together with such violent force that they melted a fraction of their material, and shot a molten plume out into the solar nebula. Residual droplets would eventually cool to form chondrules, which in turn attached to larger bodies — some of which would eventually impact Earth, to be preserved as meteorites.
The only part of that scenario actually observed is the meteorites on the ground. The new theory lends itself more to the silver screen at least: “it tells us the early solar system was more violent than we expected,” one expert said. For details of the new twist theory, see Nature: “An impact origin for chondrules implies that meteorites are a byproduct of planet formation rather than leftover building material.”
Asteroid moon: Some asteroids wander into our neck of the solar system. The big one that flew by on Jan. 26 surprised observers by sporting a moon. How such a small body with low gravity could hold onto a moon for millions or billions of years was not explained by Astrobiology Magazine. Nor by the BBC News. Nor by JPL. The asteroid was too far away to be a threat, but scientists still believe a big one caused extinction of the dinosaurs. Now, though, planetary scientists at the University of Exeter have cast doubt that the extinction was caused by a global firestorm after the impact. They tested this by burning dry plant material in a basket in the lab. Pay no attention to the major difference in order of magnitude; this is science.
Really old planets: If 4.5 billion years sounds old for our solar system, look at what scientists are saying about planets detected around star Kepler 444, a smaller star than our sun about 117 light-years away. “The Old Ones were already ancient when the Earth was born,” Lisa Grossman says in New Scientist. “Five small planets orbit an 11.2 billion-year-old star, making them about 80 per cent as old as the universe itself. That means our galaxy started building rocky planets earlier than we thought.” Mother Universe is precocious: “These planets mean it only took the universe a couple billion years to figure out how to build rocky planets, and they’ve been around for a really long time.”
Coming up: After the success of Rosetta/Philae at Comet 67P (1/26/15), prepare for two more big “space firsts” that will make 2014-2015 a year to remember. On March 6, Dawn reaches asteroid Ceres and goes into orbit; watch JPL’s Dawn website for news. On July 14, New Horizons makes its historic flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto (to many, it’s the 9th “planet”). Feb. 4 was discoverer Clyde Tombaugh’s birthday (1906-1997). Already, fuzzy images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon are coming in (Universe Today). Back at Comet 67P, scientists are hoping that Philae will wake up as the sunlight increases. In the tradition of all space encounters, expect the unexpected!
Given the awful record of explaining our solar system by materialist “experts,” who are continually baffled by everything they see, whose eyes are distracted by hydrobioscopy, and whose main recourse is to invoke asteroid impacts for whatever they don’t understand, one wonders how much better off planetary science would have been if they had started with Genesis. A Genesis principle that could have been useful is that, since we are told by Isaiah that God made the Earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18), He would have shown the degrees of conditions that made everything else uninhabitable so that we could appreciate His careful design of the Earth. Without anything to compare it with, we might think Earth was just ordinary. Another working principle that is usually fruitful in all of science is the law of entropy (second law of thermodynamics). Planets don’t build up; they break up. With those two principles, we could envision a very productive science of exploration of everything in the solar system. Example: Venus. Finding evidence of a global catastrophe there would reinforce the evidence for a global catastrophe here. And instead of asking “Could there have ever been life there?” scientists would rejoice and say, “Thank God we are so blessed with a temperate climate, atmosphere, magnetic field and so many other things on God’s green Earth – how different from Venus!”