Spinning Solar System Objects to Keep Them Old
If you remove the obligation to think in billions of years, many phenomena in the solar system make more sense.
More anomalies on Pluto look young. “Pluto is coloured red by ammonia spewing from underneath its surface,” writes Leah Crane for New Scientist. That should sound baffling for an object assumed to be 4.5 billion years old.
In space, ammonia doesn’t last long – it is easily broken up by ultraviolet light and charged particles from the sun, as well as cosmic rays from elsewhere in the galaxy.
“Ammonia is a fragile molecule in a space environment, so the fact that we see it exposed on the surface means that it was put there recently,” says New Horizons team member Dale Cruikshank at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. “I don’t mean last Thursday, but maybe 100 million years ago.”
In context, 100 million years represents only 1/45th the assumed age of the solar system. And there’s a lot of the ammonia present. Unexpected findings like this require auxiliary hypotheses to keep them old. Try as he might, Cruikshank can’t stretch the age out far enough:
Because the ammonia is spread over such a large area, it probably emerged in spurting fountains of ice particles as well as by oozing, Cruikshank says. He and his colleagues calculated that this activity must have taken place at most one billion years ago for the ammonia to still be detectable, though it may be more recent.
So how and why did it start spurting in the last 1/5th of the assumed age? Quick! Change the subject! “This does not mean that life is present — and we have not yet found it — but it indicates a place where we should look,” another planetary scientist says in an article on Space.com. The paper in Science Advances, however, cannot get 4.5 billion years [4 x 109] out of Pluto.
At times when Pluto’s atmosphere is 10% transparent to Lyman-α photons, this flux corresponds to a time scale of ~4 × 105 years [450,000 years], indicating a geologically short lifetime. At times of lower atmospheric transparency, the equivalent lifetime for the ammonia is ~4 × 108 years [400 million years].
Ultima Thule [Arrokoth]
Another surprising body in the outer solar system is Ultima Thule, the Kuiper Belt object that New Horizons encountered in January two years after its Pluto flyby. Space.com drew attention to “mystery mounds” that the discovery team found. Listen to the sound of scientists gasping when the two lobes of the body were found not to be spherical:
“That caught us by surprise,” Stern added. “I think it caught everybody by surprise.”
New Horizons imagery also revealed a number of abutting mound-like features on the larger of the two lobes, which mission team members call Ultima. (The smaller lobe, naturally, is Thule.)
“They seem to be raised, but exactly what causes them we’re not sure,” Stern said. “It’s still early days.”
An early hypothesis held that the mounds resulted from convection of low-temperature ice, which was driven by the heat generated by the radioactive decay of aluminum-26. But further work suggests that this is an unlikely scenario, Stern said. The team now thinks the mounds may be the retained outlines of the small planetesimals that came together to form the Ultima lobe long ago.
“But there could be other processes as well,” Stern said. “So, this is an active topic of debate.“
[Note: Ultima Thule was later renamed Arrokoth to avoid an unsavory association in another context.]
Another object showing activity is Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. When Voyager 2 flew by in 1989, scientists were astonished to see evidence of cryovolcanoes and nitrogen geysers. An article on Phys.org tries to explain which gases are likely responsible (N2 and CO), but dodges the question of whether its activity could have been occurring for 4.5 billion years. This article also changes the subject, saying of nitrogen (an inert gas in its diatomic molecular form), “Its abundance in the outer Solar System is an important key to life’s origins, as it is an important part of the building blocks of life.” But the scientists admit Neptune and Triton most likely do not have life. The statement titillates the public with an irrelevant supposition in order to dodge the question of age.
With Cassini data safely archived on Earth, scientists will be combing through its findings for years or decades. In a recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters, the main findings from Cassini’s last year at Saturn have been summarized. All of them sound too dynamic to last for billions of years.
New discoveries examined in this issue include tiny ring particles with complex hydrocarbons streaming into Saturn’s atmosphere, methane from the rings feeding Saturn’s upper atmosphere, electric currents flowing between Saturn and its rings, and a new inner radiation belt. Saturn gravity and magnetic field measurements detected deep winds and differential rotation in its upper layers. Results from Cassini’s final orbits turned out to be more interesting than we could have imagined. Understanding the interior of Saturn and the interplay between the rings and planet will provide insights into how our solar system formed and evolved and the role of gas giant planets in exoplanet systems.
Scientists often mask their surprise at false predictions by calling the findings “interesting” while issuing more promissory notes about how the findings will “provide insights” into “evolution” of this or that phenomenon.
Aren’t we lucky to have a star that spins slowly? That’s uncommon. In fact, the planets have far more of the solar system’s angular momentum than the sun does. That seems backwards. New Scientist describes how lucky Earth was in the sun’s early history:
[Prabel] Saxena and his team used data from the Kepler Space Telescope on other sun-like stars to build three models of the young Earth and moon, each with the sun rotating at a different rate. The faster the young sun rotated, the more often it would have experienced flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), blasting huge plumes of plasma into space and battering the inner solar system.
They found that for the fast- and even medium-rotating models, there were too many CMEs. Even if the sun rotated just about once every week, there could be tens of CMEs a day, enough to erode away all of the moon’s potassium and much of its sodium – volatile elements that we know still exist there today.
In reporter Leah Crane’s headline, “The young sun spun slowly, which could explain why we are here.” Count your lucky stars.
Two false assumptions are holding back real science about the solar system: (1) the moyboy mindset, and (2) secularism. Think of how liberating it would be to see our extremely special Earth as a product of intelligent design not that long ago.
From a philosophy of science standpoint, there is no obligation for scientists to spin observations into a preferred timeline. Suppose, for instance, each scientist were to just look at processes occurring on a moon—say, the geysers on Triton or Enceladus—and make reasonable upper limits about how long that could have been going on. Why not call that number the maximum age of the moon, and leave it at that? Why all the spin doctoring to force-fit the age into the 4.5 billion years belief?
Taking the supposition further, why does the 4.5 billion year age, derived from meteorites, take precedence over everything else? Why couldn’t that age bow to younger ages of other objects? Or, to think even more outside the consensus box, why couldn’t each object in the solar system have its own age?
You know the answer. Secular scientists want a comprehensive, materialistic world view from big bang to man. They want galaxies to evolve, stars to evolve, planets to evolve, life to evolve, and human minds to evolve. Everything has to fit that vision, so everything has to evolve in the right order. Plus, Darwin needs those billions of years for life to evolve. It’s irritating to have objects show up out of their spot in the timeline. If Pluto looks too young, it must be artificially aged via storytelling!
But what if it is young? Just asking.