Design in the Solar System , Planetary Rings , Catastrophes in the Solar System, Moons , Craters ,Two Evolutionist Views
In recent years the space program has discovered exciting things we never knew about our solar system. Many interesting things were never photographed until recent years. The Voyager I and II spacecrafts especially added a great deal to our knowledge. This paper is an introduction to the solar system from a creationist perspective. Much has been written about the solar system by planetary scientists and astronomers who are evolutionists. In astronomy, believing evolution means accepting the idea that all the stars and galaxies ultimately came from the Big Bang, and our solar system formed long after that. The Big Bang explosion is believed to have happened about 16 to 20 billion years ago. Our Sun and other objects in our solar system is said to have formed about 4.6 billion years ago. The details of how the solar system would have formed by natural processes are included toward the end of this paper. This paper is a creationist alternative to the evolution based ideas on how the solar system came to be.
Evolution is accepted by most scientists and evolution-based scientific research is funded with lots of money. But, creationist scientists are also studying astronomy and finding exciting facts that agree with a creation view. No scientist can scientifically prove anything about the past or how things formed in the beginning. Proving things scientifically requires being able to repeat measurements or experiments. No scientist has a time machine to go back in time and make a video of what happened as it occurred! But, what we believe about the origin of things is important since it determines how we think in other areas of life. So, we do need answers. We can use science to help us decide which view of the beginning is more reasonable. We cannot have complete certainty from science alone, since scientific ideas change and science is just not perfect. Scientists can learn amazing things, but they are not perfect. To have complete certainty about how everything got here, we need the written word of the only One who was there, our Creator. The author believes the Creator-God has spoken to us all in the Bible.
There are important implications for us in studying the solar system. God intends for man to give Him glory for His greatness as Creator. The extreme features of the moons and planets teach us that God is not limited to the familiar things we know of on earth. Serious study of the Solar System should allow us to better appreciate and understand the excellent home God has given us called Earth. Also, some events that have occurred in the solar system may have affected Earth.
According to Isaiah 45:18 in the Old Testament, our planet was designed not to be "empty" but to be inhabited. As a whole, our solar system has been made with certain regular patterns and also with significant "surprises." The regular patterns provide stability which makes life safer for us on Earth. The "surprises" display God's power and unlimited creativity. The following will examine facts pointing to design and facts implying there have been some major catastrophes in the history of the solar system. The Solar System has not remained in the same condition since creation. As we take a kind of tour of the solar system in the following pages, we will become more aquainted with our planet's "neighborhood."
"Catastrophism" in the study of earth history refers to the concept that catastrophes involving processes out of the ordinary, especially Noah's Flood, caused the formation of the fossils, rock strata, and landforms we see today. The approach of to evolutionists has always been to rely on natural processes known to be occurring today operating over vast periods of time. This is gradual evolution and this approach is the accepted one in evolutionary biology, geology, and astronomy. Today, in both geology and in studies of solar system origins, scientists are turning to an approach which relies on multiple catastrophes which occur over long periods of time. In the Solar System, this evolutionary catastrophic approach does avoid certain problems of the traditional view, but it becomes quite cumbersome and difficult to believe due its reliance on numerous very unlikely events. Also, the evolutionary catastrophic approach ignores evidence that the Solar System is only thousands of years old.
A number of observations of different kinds can be explained in a simpler and more convincing way if 1) the Solar System is young, not 4.6 billion years in age, 2) there has been some major catastrophe that occurred some time in the past, and 3) some features are not due to natural processes but have been designed by a Creator-God. "Design" usually means God intelligently planned things to be a certain way, for a purpose. It also means that supernatural processes dominated when God was actually creating in the beginning, then the orderly natural processes He made "took over" after that. Natural processes, like gravity or magnetism, preserve the order that God created in the beginning. This doesn't mean God is not in control or that He cannot do miracles today.
This paper will describe some facts that may indicate design and that some major catastrophe may have occurred in the history of the Solar System. Two opposing evolutionary views will be explained as well. These views are the Modified Nebula Hypothesis and the Capture Theory. A creationist approach which allows for some kind of major Solar-System-wide catastrophe appears to be superior to both evolutionary views. Four possible solar system catastrophes will be suggested. This catastrophe would then be responsible for most of the craters and some other characteristics of our System's thousands of objects.
Several terms and conventions need to be understood to appreciate what follows. In the study of the Solar System many properties of the planets are compared to the Earth. For instance one Astronomical Unit (A.U.) is 92.6 million miles, the approximate distance from the Earth to the Sun. Other earth properties, such as its mass or diameter, are often assigned the value of one, to make it easy to compare with the other planets. The region from Mars inward (1.5 A.U. from the Sun) is known as the inner solar system and from Jupiter outward (5.2 A.U. from the Sun) is the outer solar system.
Figures 1 and 2 below are scale diagrams of the inner and outer planets.
Making them "to scale" means they show how far apart they are in comparison
to each other. It is not possible to show the outer planets and the inner
planets on the same diagram without making the diagram or "map" very large.
On a diagram of the outer planets, even the orbit of Mars is very small.
Table 1 gives basic numerical facts about each of the planets. Jupiter
is over five times as far from the Sun
as the Earth is and is "heavier" than all the other planets put together!
Saturn is about twice as far out as Jupiter and Uranus, the next planet,
is about twice as far out as Saturn. Pluto is about one hundred times as
far from the Sun as Mercury! Perhaps you can notice other interesting patterns
from the numbers in Table 1.
The planets all follow orbital paths called ellipses. The degree of
elongation of the ellipse is measured by the eccentricity. See Figure 3
which shows what an ellipse looks like. An eccentricity of zero would mean
the orbit is a perfect circle and a value of one would mean the orbit is
a perfect straight line. In reality, all of the planets orbits are reasonably
close to being circles, with the exception of Pluto, which has an eccentricity
of .25. When a planet follows an ellipse, it is close to the Sun at some
times and farther from the Sun at other times. The point where it is closest
to the Sun is called perihelion. The point where it is farthest away is
known as aphelion.
The orbits of the planets each are inclined at a different angle, measured
from an imaginary plane called the ecliptic. The planets also each have
their own tilt, or spin axis angle. The ecliptic is the plane formed by
the Earth's orbit. The ecliptic is not determined by the Sun's equator.
The Sun is tilted 7 degrees in angle compared to the earth. Of the nine
planets, all have orbit inclinations within a 4 degree angle of the ecliptic,
except Mercury and Pluto (which have inclinations of 7 and 17.2 degrees,
respectively). All the planets as well as all known asteroids (objects
orbiting mostly between Mars and Jupiter) move in a right-handed sense
in their revolution around the Sun. This means that if the right thumb
points up or toward the northern pole of the earth, the motion around the
Sun is in the direction in which the fingers curl. This is also the normal
direction in which most solar system objects spin. This right-handed motion
is called prograde, the opposite direction of revolution or spin is called
retrograde. Venus, Uranus, and Pluto rotate retrograde, which would be
a left-handed spin.
Design in the Solar System
There exist several orderly patterns present in the Solar System as a whole. Scientists usually interpret these as clues that there is a natural cause of the pattern. Sometimes natural forces can produce interesting patterns. There are also certain surprising motions of objects for which it is difficult to imagine a natural cause. Creationists believe that some of these patterns and unusual motions have been intelligently planned by the Creator-God. As research proceeds, it is possible that some of the facts which to a creationist points to design may be found to be due to some natural effect. In a sense everything in nature exists by design since God creates things for a reason and He is in control of all things. Some things in nature, however, are special evidences for design since they seem so unlikely, given natural processes alone.
Two of these patterns in the Solar System are that the planet's orbits are inclined very little and they are close to being circles. (Again, Pluto is an exception to this.) Evolutionist space scientists usually believe that the planet orbits are near the plane of the earth's orbit in angle because all the planets were once part of the same spinning cloud that became our Solar System. In such a large spinning cloud, collisions would tend to flatten it into a rotating disk. It could be that the low inclination angles are actually by design instead, to allow people on earth to see the planets. The planet orbits may also exhibit design in being nearly circular. If planetary orbits were very elliptical in shape, collisions would be much more likely. Elliptic orbits often precess, which means the orbit itself rotates slowly. Precession can lead to orbits crossing each other on occasion, making collisions more likely. We can be glad that the planets go on in their paths and never collide. This is safe for us.
If the inclination angles of the planet orbits were not small we would not be able to see the planets well from earth. The angle one must look at in the sky to see a planet, such as Mars for instance, depends on the inclination of Mar's orbit and on the latitude on earth at which the person is standing. Since the earth is tilted it also depends on where the earth is in its orbit at the time. All this means that if the planet orbits were inclined at high angles, the planets would only be visible to us rarely and perhaps only for people at certain latitudes on earth. Individuals living near the equator might seldom or never see a planet if it's orbit were inclined a great deal. It would not serve God's purpose for it to be so hard to see the planets, because Genesis 1:14-18 says the lights we see in the sky are to mark seasons and days. The light of the stars and planets give order and beauty to the night and twilight times. Since the planet orbits are inclined small angles, most people, wherever they live are able to see the planets much of the year, each planet at its own times and dates.
Isaac Newton, the great physicist who explained the motions of the planets and was the first to determine some of their masses, believed the Solar System was designed. He said the following:
"Atheism is so senseless. When I look at the Solar System, I see the earth at the right distance from the Sun to receive the proper amounts of heat and light. This did not happen by chance. The motions of the planets require a Divine arm to impress them."(1)
There is another interesting pattern in the composition of the planets. "Composition" is what the planet or object is made of, including how much of each material. The inner planets are dense and rocky, being composed of elements with high melting points. The densities are shown in table 1. The outer planets are less dense and are composed mainly of elements with low melting and boiling points--often gases like hydrogen, nitrogen, or ammonia. The general pattern is high boiling point elements near the Sun where the temperature is high and low boiling point elements farfrom the Sun where it is quite cold. The densities in Table 1 follow this pattern in a general way, but with exceptions such as Saturn and Pluto.
Evolutionists attribute this pattern to materials solidifying in the cloud according to temperature and pulling toward the center due to gravity. The higher the temperature in the cloud, the faster lighter elements (like nitrogen) would boil away. Planets closer to the Sun would not "hold on to" light elements because of this effect. Rather than being merely a result of natural forces, perhaps this pattern exists for stability and for displaying variety. This would give a purpose to how God made the solar system.
Elsewhere in the Solar System this pattern sometimes is followed and sometimes is not. Evolutionists expected the same pattern to be true for the moons of the giant planets. However, Laurence Soderblom of the U.S. Geological Survey has been quoted saying, "They should become less dense as you move outward, but Saturn's satellites don't follow."(2),(3) There is a similar pattern, or "composition gradient" as it is called, across the asteroid belt. However, for the asteroid belt the situation is much more complex since there are several different types of asteroids and some of them show this relationship and some do not. Pluto is somewhat of a misfit among the outer planets; in recent years astronomers have found that its density is higher than previously thought, implying it must have more rock inside than expected.(4) In the Solar System, there appears to be just enough regular patterns to make natural explanations sound good, but there are just enough surprises to make evolutionary explanations hard to believe. The Creator-God is not limited to the naturalistic patterns predicted by evolutionists.
These are some of the patterns in the system as a whole, now let's look at some features that may indicate creation by design. These include several unusual motions and planetary rings. At present scientists know of no natural processes which adequately explain their origin. It should be kept in mind that as research proceeds, it is possible that at least some aspects of these phenomena could be found to have a natural cause.
The planets and over 60 known moons in the Solar System are in periodic motion in their revolution around the Sun and in their rotation. Anytime there is periodic motion with more than one object, the phenomenon of resonance is possible. Resonance here means a special timing relationship between two orbiting objects. The relationship is in the relative positions of the two objects over time. These resonances in some cases are clearly caused by gravity and the periodic motion of the objects. In other cases it is difficult to believe that the relationship could evolve by chance due to natural effects. Some resonances may require intelligent arranging of the positions and speeds involved. One example is an orbit resonance between Jupiter's moons Io and Europa (see Figure 5). Europa travels slower being outside Io in it's orbit. Io completes two orbits as Europa completes one. This resonance causes their orbital periods (the time for one orbit) to be in a ratio of 2.007. There is also a similar resonance between Europa and Ganymede, the next moon out from Europa. These resonances at Jupiter are part of the cause of the volcanoes on the moon Io.
An amazing example of unusual motion relates to two of Saturn's many moons known as the coorbitals. Not far outside Saturn's rings lie two small moons called Janus and Epimetheus. They are irregular in shape, varying from 100 to 220 kilometers in size. From Voyager I and II data scientists found that they lie in two orbits bringing them very near each other. Approximately every four years, Janus and Epimetheus actually exchange orbits! They trade orbits because of a very delicate balance of speed and distance which is extremely unlikely (see Figure 6).(5) These moons do not collide or force each other out of orbit. Scientists know this because of very precise plots of the moon positions made by both Voyager spacecraft. Most scientists assume the two moons were once one object which broke apart or which were two fragments of a collision. This might explain why their orbits are so near each other, but it does not explain how the speed and position could be so matched to make this "dance" possible.
The Voyager I and II spacecraft provided us with a vast amount of new data about the rings of the outer planets. It is now well known that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have rings. Each of these planets has a set of rings with its own unique characteristics. Many fascinating and mysterious features were discovered in the rings. Outside Saturn's main rings is a very narrow ring called the F-ring. The F-ring has two moons called shepherd moons, named Prometheus and Pandora. One of these moons is inside the F-ring and one is outside the F-ring. Together they keep the ring particles (mostly chunks of water ice) from drifting away from the ring. Some features in the rings of Saturn only last a few hours. An example is the spoke-like features that were seen to travel around as the planet rotated. The F-ring even had something that looked like a braid. The braid was found by Voyager I and was gone by the time Voyager II arrived at Saturn.
Four observations surprised planetary scientists and agree well with a creationist view. First, Voyager found more dust present in and around the rings than expected. If the rings were 4.6 billion years old as the planets are believed to be, this dust should have long ago fallen into the planet. This applies especially to Jupiter's ring, which is made completely of microscopic dust. Scientists have reacted to this discovery by proposing mechanisms for how the dust could be replenished continually. This possibility cannot be dismissed without serious study. But, this dust could mean some rings are very young, maybee even much younger than the planet! It has been estimated that some of the dusty rings at Uranus must be less than 1,000 years in age.(6) Scientists were even more amazed at what is called the fine structure of Saturns rings. This structure includes two of the four important observations, that there are rings which subdivide into narrower rings, and that many rings have clear cut sharply defined edges. Collisions and other processes tend to cause the ring particles to spread out or fall into the planet. One prominent planetary scientist, Larry Esposito, in discussing this spreading of narrow rings said, "Either they are young and have not had time to spread, or they are confined by some force."(7) It turns out that orbit resonances between ring particles and certain moons explain some of this structure in the rings. Moons sometimes create gaps in the rings by pulling on any objects that happen to be "in the wrong place at the wrong time." But there simply are not enough moons to go around to explain the many gaps and fine rings within rings. M.I.T. professor James Elliot, in describing the exciting days of discovery of this structure said, "A thousand rings seemed a monumental problem for theorists. They had run out of resonances long ago."(8) There are several types of waves which travel through or around Saturn's rings and some complex processes occurring which scientists have used to estimate the ages of the rings. Saturn's A ring, based on ring waves and collision processes, has been given an upper limit of 10 million years.(9) This is the maximum, meaning these rings are probably even younger.
The rings of all four of the giant outer planets bear the marks of being much less than billions of years old, possibly even thousands. Although we have learned very much about the planetary rings, there are two crucial questions we are unable to answer. We do not know how round or irregular in shape the ring particles may be, nor how hard or soft. Without this information it is probably impossible to thoroughly understand the rings. It is possible there are two classes of rings. There may be created rings which have designed structure built in from the beginning, and catastrophic rings. The catastrophic rings may have come from the debris of a collision or perhaps from the debris of a moon or asteroid that broke up when it came too close to the planet.
Evidence for Catastrophes in the Solar System
Although God has created order in our Solar System, there have been processes which occur today either very little or not at all that have altered that order. Occasionally, as we watch the television news we are shocked and amazed at the effects on earth of natural disasters. Our knowledge of the Solar System implies that events have occurred on other planets and moons which make earth's natural disasters seem gentle! Collisions are the primary catastrophes to be concerned about in the Solar System. Another process suggested often today is called "capture." This is when one object passes close enough to a planet to be pulled by gravity into orbit around the planet, rather than continuing on in its former path. The "object" could be a moon, an asteroid, or a comet. The capture of a passing object by the Sun or a planet is a very unlikely occurrence. Capture and collision processes are invoked frequently by planetary scientists who believe evolution theories in order to explain some of the Solar System's remarkable features. There are other powerful geological processes to consider on planet and moon surfaces, but even these are probably caused in some cases by impacts.
What would be the signs of catastrophic events in the Solar System? What would be clues of order which has existed from the beginning? At the beginning of the seventeenth century a few people believed Copernicus' theory that put the Sun at the center of the solar system. At that time these people believed that the orbits of the planets were circles. This was due to a strong belief that the circle reflected perfect order and therefore God would certainly use circles. Johannes Kepler, however, found that the observations and mathematics clearly showed the paths were elliptical. The Creator did not quite follow the expected pattern. Today, we must guard against letting beliefs we assume are true keep us from the truth. Nothing in the Bible precludes there being major collisions in the Solar System. Some of them may have even affected Earth. Indeed, in recent years geologists have discovered about 130 large craters on Earth--a few over 100 miles in diameter. Collisions and unguided natural processes tend to destroy order. Creationists operate on the assumption that God acted supernaturally in the beginning to create order. Then, after the creation week, there was no longer any supernatural creating, but instead various natural conservation laws operated to maintain the original order. When we find random variations in the Solar System, such as the wide variation in the orbit tilts of the asteroids or in the irregular shapes of the asteroids, these could perhaps be signs of catastrophe. Regularity, symmetry of shape, circular orbits, and other special relationships could perhaps be signs of design.
If the solar system is not billions of years old, but only thousands, then this creates a mystery. The mystery is this: What happened to the solar system to create all the craters and other features? Several facts could be evidence of a major solar system catastrophe. These include orbit characteristics, cratering across the Solar System, and tilted and offset magnetic fields. One major catastrophe coupled with an assumed age of about 10,000 years or less has advantages in explaining the origin of the Solar System. Here, "major" means some event which affected much of the Solar System in a relatively short time, rather than over billions of years. Many problems with the evolutionary views stem from the assumption of an old system. Legitimate possibilities creationists have considered are 1) no major catastrophe but plenty of impacts since creation, 2) the explosion of a planet which resided in the region of the asteroids,(10) 3) the collision of two planets or of two objects of some kind, or 4) that a large cloud of debris passed through the Solar System.
The first type of observation is random variations of orbit characteristics. This leads us naturally to considering the asteroids. The asteroids are small objects orbiting the Sun, mostly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Some asteroids do cross earth's orbit and some have orbits carrying them even beyond Saturn, part of the time. The largest known asteroid is Ceres, which is roughly 500 miles in diameter. Scientists estimate there are probably hundreds of thousands of them. The total mass of the asteroids is estimated to be about one-tenth the mass of our Moon. Astronomers have discovered an interesting variety in the composition of asteroids. Details of their orbits and rotations are known for about two hundred. The origin of the asteroids may be the greatest mystery of the Solar System.
On the average, asteroids have orbits more elliptical and more inclined
than the orbits of the planets. Eccentricities (the degree of elongation)
usually are between .1 and .3 but can be as much as .6. Most of their orbits
are inclined about 18 degrees or less, but a few are inclined much more.
Sometimes two or more asteroids seem to rotate each other or even be attached
to each other. Asteroids always seem to move in the right handed sense,
and are often irregular in shape. These are some of the varied characteristics
of the asteroids. Some properties of the asteroids seem to speak of collision
processes and some do not.
There are over 60 known moons orbiting seven of the nine planets. The moons of the solar system display an amazing variety and gave scientists many surprises. Some of the surprising moons were Io (Jupiter), Ganymede (Jupiter), Titan (Saturn), and Miranda (Uranus). Before looking at other aspects of the moons, let us look at their motions.
Planetary moons have very interesting motions in several cases. Jupiter has 16 known moons which are neatly grouped into four groups of four according to distance. The second group are known as the Galilean moons; these would be the innermost group shown in Figure 7. The first group are not shown in Figure 7 since they would be so close to Jupiter they could not be seen. Each of the four groups have orbits which are inclined nearly the same. The last group all orbit retrograde, in a left-handed direction around Jupiter. This arrangement also appears rather unlikely, especially if the moons all formed out of the same cloud Jupiter condensed from. It is often suggested that this group of moons have been captured, perhaps as one object which broke up. One of Saturn's innermost moons, Hyperion, seems to exhibit a changing or chaotic rotation. This implies either it is young or it was captured or struck in the not too distant past. Hyperion's motion needs to be studied further.
Neptune possesses two moons which are uniquely difficult to explain from evolutionary assumptions. They are called Triton and Nereid. Triton follows a highly circular orbit near Neptune but moves retrograde around the planet. Nereid follows the most elliptical orbit known except for the comets, with an eccentricity of .75. Nereid moves prograde, (right-handed) around Neptune, but not in a circular orbit as the Nebula Hypothesis says. Both of these moons have very inclined orbits. They are tilted in two opposite directions compared to Neptune's equator. Evolutionists usually assume that an elliptical orbit is a sign of the object being captured. Retrograde orbital motion also is taken to imply capture. But, circular motion appears to agree with the belief that the planets and moons formed from one spinning cloud (the Nebula Hypothesis). In the case of these two moons, you find all these in one place.
It is impossible for a moon to be captured into a circular orbit, like
Triton's, since the speed must be exactly matched to the distance. Design
is a reasonable alternative to capture in such a case. It is possible,
however, that Nereid could actually be a captured object, judging from
it long narrow orbit. One planetary scientist, David Morrison, wrote, "This
system is distinctly peculiar, although there is no consensus among scientists
as to how it might have originated."(11)
There are special moons in the solar system that are very unique and very interesting. Io is one of these and is found at Jupiter. Three scientists wrote before Voyager got to Jupiter that Io could have active volcanoes, volcanoes that could erupt today. This was found to be true when scientists first saw the Voyager pictures. Several volcanoes were discovered in the act of erupting while the Voyager spacecrafts were there. The heat output of the volcanoes and other properties of the surface were also measured by the Voyager spacecraft. The heat given off by Io's volcanoes is about 60 million million Watts! This is equivalent to 60 million nuclear power plants. This is so much heat that scientists are having difficulty explaining it, even with all they have learned about it. Io has no craters because the surface is not completely solid and craters are quickly covered over by the sulfur compounds that come out of the volcanoes. The temperature on Io's surface ranges from -145C to over 300C in the day. The volcanic vents themselves are the "hot spots." Sulfur compounds can look white, yellow, orange, or black, depending on their temperature. This is why the surface of Io looks as it does.
Another special moon is Titan, the large moon of Saturn. Saturn has 23 known moons and could have even more. All of Saturn's moons are small except for Titan, which is 5,140 kilometers in diameter (how big is this in miles?). Titan is unique in the solar system because it is the only moon known to have a thick atmosphere. Titan's atmosphere is about 1.5 times as thick or dense as earth's atmosphere. Like earth, the most abundant gas in Titan's atmosphere is Nitrogen, about 94 percent. Titan also has Helium, methane, ethane, and other organic gases that are carbon compounds. Methane is the primary gas in the "natural gas" used in homes on earth.
Saturn has several other unique moons such as Iapetus, Tethys, Dione, and Phoebe. Iapetus and Phoebe have orbits that are very inclined, compared to Saturn's equator. Phoebe was the first moon discovered to be travelling retrograde (left-handed) around its planet. Even more interesting is that Phoebe rotates prograde or right-handed! It is the only known case of an object that spins one way and travels the other. Iapetus has a large dark spot on the side of it facing its direction of motion (see Figure 9).
Dione also has a dark spot on one side, but it is opposite that of Iapetus.
On Dione, the spot is on the trailing side. You see, most of the moons
in the solar system rotate at a speed so that the time for them to spin
once equals the time for them to make one orbit. This is called synchronous
rotation and is why our Moon always keeps the same side facing the Earth.
Dione has what is sometimes called a companion moon that shares the same
orbit. It is called Helene and always makes a 60 angle with Dione. Saturn's
moon Tethys has two companion moons, called Calypso and Telesto. Again,
these three moons are 60 apart in angle. [A good project would be to draw
this using a ruler and protractor.]
Most of the moons of the solar system are at Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus (see Table 1). The moons of Jupiter seem to be part water ice, and part rock, with some other materials in smaller amounts. The moons of Saturn are made mostly of water ice, but probably have a rocky core.
The largest moon in the solar system is Ganymede; it is 5260 kilometers in diameter, making it even larger than the planet Mercury! Ganymede has a very large dark spot called the Galileo Regio, which is 3200 kilometers in diameter. Ganymede is also famous for its strange grooved terrain, giving it the nickname the "groovy moon." At Neptune, the moon Triton was found to have a great deal of Nitrogen and Methane ice on its surface. It has to be extremely cold for these two materials to be solid.
There is evidence of volcanism on various moons, but with different materials than the molten rock we see on Earth from volcanoes. On Europa (Jupiter) water is probably the volcanic material but at Triton (Neptune) the volcanic material would be Nitrogen probably. Volcanic material on our Moon and Mars seem to be very similar to lava and basalt rock that comes from earth's volcanoes.
The strangest moon in the solar system is Miranda, one of Uranus' moons. Miranda is a small moon and scientists didn't really want to even study it with Voyager. They wanted to get the really detailed photos of some of Uranus' larger moons. Scientists assuming evolution and an old age for things expect more interesting geology, more volcanism, and more surface features on a large moon. Small moons give off heat more rapidly than large ones. This is why Miranda was such a surprise. If it were 4.6 billion years old and formed from a collapsing cloud, it should not be so interesting.
At Miranda Voyager photographed many types of strange surface features. One of the NASA scientists said "if you can imagine taking all the bizarre geologic forms in the solar system and putting them on one object, you've got it in front of you." Miranda has a cliff face, for instance, which is nearly 10 miles high. The most famous feature is something called "the chevron" which looks like a giant white check mark! Scientists apparently have no clue how to explain it. Two well-known planetary scientists (see reference 13) recently wrote the following about this mysterious check mark: "From a distance, it looked as though some celestial giant had painted a big white check mark on its surface, as if to say, 'Here's the answer!'" It has been suggested that Miranda (the Mangled Moon or the Quilted Moon) is an object that went through a collision. The idea is that it broke apart and pulled back together and rounded itself into a sphere again. To the author, believing in a "celestial giant" seems more reasonable. But the author would call him God. There is such a variety of strange and different "worlds" in our solar system it will give scientists much to learn for many years to come.
Perhaps the most direct evidence of catastrophe in the Solar System, however, is in the craters. Planets and moons in all regions of the Solar System bear the marks of being heavily bombarded by meteorites. Evolutionists all agree that there was a period of heavy cratering in the past, with much more frequent impacts than today. Evolutionists believe it was due to debris leftover from the formation of the planets, which would be swept up by the planets.
Before going on, the reader should understand the difference between
a meteor, a meteoroid, and a meteorite. A meteor is an object that
is falling through the atmosphere but which does not stay in tact long
enough to make it to the ground. A meteoroid is an object on its
way to hitting the earth (or other planet, etc.) before it reaches the
earth. So meteoroids are out in space. Meteorites are objects that
survive the trip through the atmosphere without completely "burning up,"
and reach the ground. Meteor showers occur at certain known times of the
year because there are small objects scattered along the orbits of some
asteroids and some comets. When the earth crosses one of these orbits,
it sweeps up some of these objects and we see them glow as they fall through
our atmosphere. What really happens when they "burn up" is that they become
so hot that the solid matter in them is vaporized (turned into a gas).
Then, the matter in the meteor would eventually fall to the surface as
microscopic dust particles, which look like tiny balls.
Much can be learned about a planet or moon by studying its craters. Three important observations are that 1) there are large craters nearly everywhere in the Solar System, 2) there are many of them, and 3) there are sometimes more craters on one part of the surface than on another.
Considering the large craters in the Solar System let us define "large" as large compared to the size of the planet or moon they are found on. Beginning at Mercury, there is a very large impact area called the Caloris Basin which is 839 miles in diameter. Impact areas are recognized mainly by looking for circular features coupled with other surface evidence of material somehow moved or altered by the explosion. On Venus, craters are not very numerous, apparently because there is much volcanic activity which has covered or destroyed craters. Venus does have a large crater called Mead, which is 171 miles across. Mercury and our own Moon are nearly saturated with craters. Our Moon has several large impact areas, the largest of which is the Orientale Basin which has three concentric rings and is 559 miles across.
On Mars, there often seems to be very ancient large craters which were filled in by lava, followed by other craters which formed later. Mars has at least two very large impact areas, including Hellas and Argyre, which are 1,200 miles and 550 miles in diameter, respectively.(12) In some areas there seems to be five concentric rings of mountains. These large basins are usually quite flat in the center, with fresher craters on top of older craters. There are also craters volcanic in origin on Mars, which have different features than impact craters. Volcanism has formed a number of features on Mars that are enormous in size, such as especially the massive volcano Olympus Mons and the Valles Marineris canyon system. Valles Marineris is roughly 10 times the size of Arizona's Grand Canyon. Olympus Mons is about three times the height of Mt. Everest, the tallest mountaiin on earth. Almost the entire northern hemisphere of Mars has been covered with lava. The southern hemisphere, however, shows more craters than the northern hemisphere.
In the outer solar system, the moons also have lots of craters but have fewer large craters. Sometimes ice or volcanic flows have covered or destroyed them apparently. Jupiter's moon Callisto (which is nearly 3,000 miles in diameter) possesses a very large multi-ringed basin called Valhalla, which is over 1,800 miles in diameter. Valhalla is not actually a crater, but it is an impact site. At Saturn, Mimas (242 mile diameter) has the crater Herschel, which is 81 miles in diameter. Tethys at Saturn (650 miles diameter) has a large crater named Odysseus about 250 miles in diameter on one side and almost on the opposite side is a huge canyon, the Ithaca Chasma, which is 621 miles long and 62 miles wide! Clearly there have been many very powerful impacts throughout the Solar System.
Saturn's Moon Enceladus
Also at Saturn, Enceladus is one of several moons whose surface is almost completely water ice. Enceladus has the brightest surface known in the solar system; its surface is very white and clean looking water ice. Enceladus and some other moons were found to be much more active geologically than expected based on the assumption of an old Solar System. (This was especially true of Miranda at Uranus, which has many bizarre geologic features.(13)) Enceladus has many craters around its north pole but yet the remainder of its surface is largely quite smooth. This is awkward to explain from evolutionary assumptions. Normally scientists interpret a smooth surface to be young and a highly cratered surface to be old--but Enceladus has both. A simpler explanation would be that Enceladus is young and was struck by a large number of objects in a short time, which came from above its north pole, probably from outside the solar system.
Enceladus is one striking example of asymmetrical crater distribution--more numerous craters over certain parts of the surface. One would expect a 4.6 billion year old planet or moon to have a surface completely saturated with craters. Although volcanic activity can cover them, craters are often found to not be evenly distributed over the surface. The Mariner spacecraft found this true for Mercury, which has more craters in the southern hemisphere and for certain latitudes. In the outer solar system there seems to be more craters around the North poles of objects, but in the inner solar system, such as on our Moon, the Southern pole has more craters than the Northern pole, at least for the large impacts. (It should be noted that about 65 percent of Mercury's surface has never been seen to date.) Our Moon's near side has greater numbers of craters at the equator than near the poles.
This pattern could agree with the hypothesis that a large cloud of solid
debris passed through our Solar System in the past. A debris cloud approaching
from the northern polar direction in the outer solar system, for instance,
might also produce craters on the southern poles of bodies in the inner
solar system from objects being captured by planets into various unstable
orbits. This debris cloud model could explain how there could be a large
number of craters in a short time in a young solar system. A major collision
in the inner solar system could also scatter objects that could cause craters
across the solar system for years.
Origin of the Solar System-Two Evolutionist Views
Today, the accepted view of the origin of the Solar System is formally called the Modified Nebula Hypothesis. This evolutionary view begins with a cloud or nebula of gas and dust, including some elements believed to come from supernovae explosions of nearby stars. It is believed that as the material in the cloud cooled it would contract. Because of turbulence in the original nebula the portion which became our Solar System was spinning in the right-handed sense. The spinning cloud would naturally pull into a flat sheet and then into the Sun and planets. In this scenario, most of the mass and angular momentum (related to speed of rotation) would have to be in the Sun, which would then spin rapidly. But in fact, the Sun spins slowly, with a rotation period of 24 days, 16 hours. As a result, most of the angular momentum in the whole system is in the motion of the planets, exactly opposite the expected pattern. Also, the Sun itself is tilted 7 compared to the earth's orbit (the ecliptic). This tilt of the Sun does not fit the Nebula hypothesis well.
The Modified Nebula Hypothesis says that after the initial formation of the planets, there was a time of great heating that melted the planets enough to allow the matter to separate into layers inside planets. Also, there would be much volcanism at this time. Modern theories on the history of our Sun are also included in this view to avoid certain problems. Another problem is the fact that three planets spin in the backwards or retrograde sense, compared to the other planets--Venus, Uranus, and Pluto. Furthermore, six moons are known to orbit retrograde around the planet, disagreeing with the prediction of this view. The distribution of certain elements and radioactive elements across the System does not fit the pattern predicted by this model, and the moons were not found to be geologically inactive as this model implies. There are other problems with this view prompting some scientists to turn to a more catastrophic view.
A new model called the Capture Theory has been proposed to deal with some of these difficulties.(14) In this view, our Sun formed much as above but with no planets. Then a passing "protostar," while still a loose ball of gas, passed close to our Sun and a filament of matter was pulled off the protostar. A cloud of matter then surrounded our Sun which came from the protostar. It is believed that such a filament would pull together into perhaps six segments. These segments would further condense into six planets, which would initially all be in highly elliptical orbits. The two innermost planets are referred to as "A" and "B." These two planets later collided and three of the fragments became Mercury, Venus, and Earth. Our Moon and Mars are believed, by this view, to have been former moons of planets A and B, which no longer exist.
The Capture model relies on a long sequence of very unlikely events,
which do not explain the predictable orderly patterns of our Solar System.
Some of the problems of this view relate to the matter of how the shapes
of large collision fragments would become rounded into spheres and how
elliptical orbits would round into circles. Calculations of the time required
for the rounding of orbits in a resisting cloud (resisting motion) give
figures of 100,000 to 6 million years, depending on various factors.(15)
If the Solar System is less than 10,000 years in age there would probably
not be enough time for the rounding of orbits or of shapes. Also, computer
calculations have shown that a filament of material drawn off a protostar
could not coalesce into planets, but would disperse into space.(16)
Creationists are working on developing a different view of the history of the System than evolutionary planetary scientists. Creationists believe the solar system to be young. The varied features found on planets and moons, the large craters, and the motions of the assorted objects give us two characteristics to look for--design and catastrophe. A major catastrophe affecting most of the Solar System is a necessity in the author's opinion, if one insists on the Solar System being less than 10,000 years in age. The break up of a planet in the asteroid region and the suggestion that a debris cloud passed through our System in the past are both worth serious consideration. There may be other possible catastrophes not discussed in this paper.
As creationists work on the catastrophe question, the age of the Solar System is an important question not discussed in this paper. The author and others are currently studying evidence for a young solar system. In many cases planets and moons were found to have more energy geologically, or in gas temperatures, or in wind speeds than was expected. These could imply a young age, since in a young system that has had less time to "run down," higher energy is not too surprising. Creationists have frequently written about the influx of cosmic dust as an evidence for youth.
Regardless of how successful scientists may be in explaining the origin
of the Solar System, the relevance of it is in considering the greatness
of the God who made it all. He is worthy of our worship.
1. Tiner, John Hudson, Isaac Newton, Milford, Michigan, Mott Media, 1975,p 123.
2. Soltner, Bryan, quoting Soderblom in "Saturn's Secrets: the Week that Stunned the Scientists," Popular Science, Vol. 218:3, March 1981
3. For numerical density values for some of the moons, see Moore, Patrick and Hunt, Garry, The Atlas of the Solar System, p 355.
4. In 1987 astronomers were able to measure precisely for the first time the sizes of Pluto and its moon Charon. This implies the density of Pluto is "slightly more than" 2 grams per cubic cm. This was reported by MIT professor Richard P. Binzel in "Pluto," in Scientific American,Vol. 262:6, June 1990, page 54.
5. Moore, Patrick, and Hunt, Garry, The Atlas of the Solar System, New York, Crescent Books, 1990, (Many articles and books mention the coorbital moons.)
6. Esposito, Larry W., "The Changing Shape of Planetary Rings," Astronomy, Vol. 15:9, September 1987, p 15.
7. ibid., p 13.
8. Elliot, James and Kerr, Richard, Rings: Discoveries from Galileo to Voyager, Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press, 1984, p 137.
9. Esposito, Larry, op. cit., p 14.
10. Parks, William S., "The Role of Meteorites in a Creationist Cosmology," Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 26:4, March 1990, pp 144-146.
11. Morrison, David and Owen, Tobias, The Planetary System, Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1987, p 412.
12. Baugher, Joseph F., op. cit., pp 151-154.
13. Chapman, Clark R. and Morrison, David, "Cosmic Catastrophes," New York and London, Plenum Press, 1989, pp 138-140.
14. Dormand, John R. and Woolfson, Michael M., "The Origin of the Solar System: The Capture Theory," Chichester, England, Ellis Horwood Ltd., 1989.
15. Ibid., p 156.
16. Baugher, Joseph F., op. cit., pp 377-378.