May 14, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Billions of Dead Things: Planetary Rings

They’re dead, and they’re young, too.
Rings are no place to look for life.

 

Creationist Ken Ham is famous for describing fossils as “billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.”1 Planetary rings are also made up of billions of dead things, despite some evolutionists’ wild imaginations that life might be found in them. Such claims are pseudoscientific, not only because there is no evidence for them, and the necessary conditions do not exist there, but also because there is not enough time for the magic of “chemical evolution” to have transpired.

That such claims could be made in the media is more evidence that astrobiology (better dubbed bio-astrology) is pseudoscience.

Could alien life be hiding in the rings of Saturn or Jupiter? (Space.com, 7 May 2024). In his headline, reporter Jason Rao must have decided to lay out clickbait to catch the unwary, because even he knows that planetary rings are no place to be looking for life. Saturn’s rings meet two requirements, he claims: an energy source and organic matter. But there’s no water. ‘Two out of three ain’t bad,’ he thinks.

Take the spectacular rings of Saturn. Within them, two of the three requirements for life as we know it are known to exist. Even out here, there is plenty of sunlight to feed life. And while Saturn’s rings might seem an unlikely place for organic matter to exist, NASA’s Cassini mission found that carbon compounds like butane and propane rain into the gas giant’s atmosphere from its innermost D-ring.

Unfortunately, the third ingredient — liquid water — is missing. “You do have organic material falling into the rings, and there is sunlight, but there’s just no liquid water,” Matthew Tiscareno, a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute in California, told Space.com. “There’s plenty of water, but it’s all frozen.”

Stanley Miller at spark-discharge apparatus, 1953

Since the rings also contain some oxygen, maybe he should fire up his propane or butane torches to see what emerges out there in some imaginary Miller experiment.

Tiscareno makes his living in the belief that chemical evolution of dead things led to the rise of advanced civilizations around the universe. But Rao’s suggestion is a bridge too far even for that evidence-free pseudoscience. Tiscareno must maintain a simulacrum of scientific decor for “planetary “scientist” to appear on his resume. “I like the idea of thinking about creative places where life could be,” he dreams, which is what SETI scientists do all day long, whenever uncomfortable facts are not clouding their imaginations with fogma. Unfortunately for them, Christian chemist Dr James Tour from Rice University has already blown the fog away (8 Nov 2023), leaving ten of the leading chemical evolutionists looking like the sons of Sceva, naked and wounded.

Believers in ring life have another major hurdle: there is not enough time.

The Time Problem

A new paper in Science Advances2 on May 10 casts new doubt on rings lasting for billions of years. Authored by planetary ringmaster Jeff Cuzzi and colleagues, the paper examined data from the Radio Science Subsystem (RSS) instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft. RSS performed occultations of the rings (i.e., viewing distant starlight leaking through the rings as the spacecraft moved). These experiments allowed scientists to assess the density of the rings, and also to calculate particle diameters. The data were particularly interesting for one of Saturn’s most tenuous rings, the F-ring, which orbits outside the main rings. This ring astonished scientists during the Voyager mission flybys in the early 1980s, because it was found to be comprised of several individual strands that appeared to be braided around each other!

Cassini disproved the “braiding” hypothesis; two “shepherd moons” on either side of the F-ring, named Prometheus and Pandora, were found to keep the ring particles confined in a delicate balance of forces, otherwise the particles would drift away into space. But Cassini did identify a number of separate strands in the F-ring along with “kinks” where density was higher. The RSS data also confirmed that most of the ring is composed of particles with diameters in the microns—about as small as smoke particles. (This is also true of Jupiter’s faint rings, and in Saturn’s wispy G-ring, and the E-ring that is produced by the geysers at Enceladus.) There were, however, clusters of particles in the F-ring a thousand times larger: still tiny, but in the millimeter range. Having combined mass a thousand times higher, clusters of these larger particles pull the micron-sized particles toward them, but there’s a problem: the larger particles are not evenly distributed throughout the ring. They cluster into “ring arcs,” similar to those in Neptune’s Adams ring.4 How, then, can the small particles avoid escaping the F-ring over time?

Cassini images of ringmoons of Saturn. Prometheus (not shown) is inside the F-ring.

The paper interprets the RSS data as follows:  Complex interactions of the shepherd moons (especially Prometheus) maintain the arcs in stable lobes. These lobes are distributed not so far apart as to allow the micron-sized particles to escape. A particular resonance with Prometheus and ring particles may create “numerically stable regions [that] act like ‘attractors’ or traps for chaotically diffusing particles even on short time scales.” Yet Cassini photos clearly show that Prometheus perturbs the F-ring each orbit, gouging out ring particles on close approaches (2 July 2008). Scientific, observational data can only propose that the ring has been somewhat stable since 1981.

The situation became even more puzzling when it was realized that the entire F ring region was dynamically chaotic; that is, perturbations by Prometheus cause any particle in the region to undergo substantial, and unpredictable, orbital changes on time scales of weeks or months. There is evidence for just such chaotic motions in rare objects crossing the F ring, and yet the F ring itself has persisted from the Voyager Saturn encounters in 1980–1981 to today in basically the same orbit.

Persistence for 50 years does not imply persistence forever. Voyager’s single measurement was not precise enough to compare with Cassini’s dozens of measurements at a far closer range.

What happens when chaotic interactions occur? Since “orbital conjunctions between Prometheus and specific F ring longitudes are phased to occur only when Prometheus is at its periapse, furthest from the F ring and least likely to deliver a strong enough gravitational impulse to send the ring particles off onto chaotically diverging orbits,” it seems likely that at apoapse (closest to the ring) the particles could become destabilized, careening out of the ring altogether. The authors mention the possibility of “unusually strong, chaos-inducing perturbations” when Prometheus is closer to the F-ring. They also mention that late in the Cassini mission (2013), “Prometheus had glitched to a new orbit” producing four anomalous measurements they chose to ignore. How often does that happen? Those are probably not rare: “Saturn system gravitational interactions and is also known to incur large, somewhat impulsive, jumps due to chaotic interactions with Pandora.

An obvious question arises: has this delicate dance been going on for 4.5 billion years? The authors of the paper do not address that question with an estimated lifetime. They only say in the conclusion,

Because Prometheus’ orbit does evolve chaotically by small increments (and we think we have seen one such event), the true core material must be able to adapt and track stable sites that move by small amounts now and then…. Perhaps an even more notable problem, which our theory does not resolve, is how these disconnected arcs manage to maintain a common, uniformly precessing, eccentric orbit.

Since deep-time believers hesitate to invoke special times at which phenomena like this are observable when humans happen to exist, it seems the burden is on them to explain how such delicate interactions can last for billions of years. As reported earlier, Larry Esposito, another planetary ringmaster, could only get the densest part of Saturn’s rings (the B ring) to last for 1/5th the assumed age of Saturn (13 Dec 2007). But then he backtracked, saying he was back to square one explaining the age of the rings (3 Jan 2018), concluding that “no existing theory is satisfactory” (23 April 2019).

If the rings are young, there is not enough time for chemical evolution to occur, even if the rings met the requirements for life (which they do not), and even if chemical evolution were plausible (which it is not). We can consider ring particles, therefore, to consist of billions of dead things—dead young things. Whoever postulates that life might exist there is engaging in pseudoscience.

Next time I will analyze other reported locations where astrobiologists are looking for life.


1. Fossil “dead things” were once alive, of course, but Ken Ham uses the phrase to indicate the consequences of the Genesis flood.

2. Cuzzi et al. Saturn’s F ring is intermittently shepherded by Prometheus. Science Advances (10:19, open access), 10 May 2024. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adl6601.

3. Dr Jeff Cuzzi was among the leading ring specialists who agreed that all of Saturn’s rings must be much younger than Saturn itself. If the main rings cannot be as old as the assumed age of the solar system, how much less the F-ring and other wispy rings?

4. When Neptune’s ring arcs were discovered, scientists had a challenge to explain how they could be sustained over long ages.

Without any “bio” in astrobiology, it reduces to astrology. If Tiscareno were really a scientist, he would tell Jason Rao, “That is a stupid idea.” But since both are evolutionists, their loyalty to Darwin forgives a multitude of sins.

The paper about F-ring dynamics illustrates a point we make here at CEH: deep time is not a solution to the problem; deep time is the problem. Materialist moyboys think that making reckless drafts on the bank of time gives them a bigger playground for storytelling. What ends up happening is that it creates a whole new set of difficulties to explain: dinosaur soft tissue, upper limits on the age of planetary rings, rapid erosion of continents, the abrupt rise of civilization a few thousand years ago, a rapidly decreasing magnetic field, and many other phenomena we report on here. It would be a relief for scientists to follow the evidence without the ball and chain of the geologic column’s insistence on a moyboy timeline. Unfortunately, Darwinism’s stranglehold on Big Science keeps them chained.

 

 

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