Design in the Solar System ,
Planetary Rings ,
Catastrophes in the Solar System,
Small Bodies in the Solar System
Origin of the Solar System
Our solar system is made up of many objects small and large, one of which is our own beautiful blue planet. As planetary science has advanced over the years, it has expanded to the study of extrasolar planets orbiting other stars as well as the planets in our own solar system. The extrasolar systems are different from our own and they show how special our own system is. This is my own Christian bias but this has become my conviction more and more over the years as I have delved into the technical details of planetary science. Today there is a great deal of data that we have on our own solar system as well as other star systems with planets. Having so much data and evidence raises questions that I have been interested in for a long time. How would a young-age creation view of planetary science be different from the usual accepted ideas from the scientific community? Accepted ideas from secular science remain based on the assumption of naturalism, which excludes the possibility of the supernatural. The Bible's account of creation is clearly supernaturalistic and it says the entire universe was created in a week. Does believing the Bible mean that everything science has discovered is completely wrong? No, I don't think so. But dealing with the evidence from a Biblical creation view means sorting out how assumptions have affected the thinking of both the naturalist (such as a secular scientist who relies only on known natural processes) and a supernaturalist (such as one who believes in supernatural creation). Each person makes their own choice in terms of what they choose to believe. So each person will decide what they consider plausible to believe from theories of origins. Though this is the case, this does not mean that one view is as good as another. The creation view of science has been in need to be further developed to deal with the details of the evidence. So this article is my attempt to summarize my perspective on how I balance faith in a Creator with scientific evidence. I do this after years of studying the technical details on planet formation, extrasolar planets, and some planetary geology topics.
Much has been written about the solar system by planetary scientists and astronomers who are evolutionists. In astronomy, believing "evolution" in the broad sense means accepting the idea that all the stars and galaxies ultimately came from the Big Bang, and our solar system formed long after that. Today, the Big Bang beginning of the universe is believed to have happened about 13.8 billion years ago. Our Sun and other objects in our solar system are said to have formed about 4.6 billion years ago. The Big Bang actually does not explain how galaxies or stars or planets form. It is really about the expansion of the universe and how time, space, and matter started. The Bible starts out with God existing apart from anything else, as in the first verse, "In the beginning God created ...." So in the Biblical view, God started time, space, and matter, not something describable about this universe. Then the Bible lays out a description of what God did over a week of supernaturally creating everything. The Bible doesn't answer all of our scientific questions or give scientific detail. But it gives a kind of outline of what happened in the beginning. So in a creation view, we should proceed by starting with the 'outline' we are given in Scripture and then fill in what details we can from science. Science has no need to deny the possibility of the supernatural, especially regarding a special time like the creation week described in the Bible. Science started in history out of a consensus of people who believed the Judeo-Christian worldview. So great scientists of the past like Johannes Kepler or Isaac Newton did not hold to the assumption of naturalism as modern science does. They would have believed that during the creation week of Genesis, supernatural activity by God was necessary. But the supernatural creation activity was completed by sometime on the sixth day. So the assumption of natural processes still has a place in science from a creation viewpoint when we do experimental science now. But in a creation viewpoint doing science is always with an acknowledgement that the human explanations of nature will have limits.
Evolution is accepted by most scientists and evolution-based scientific research is well funded. 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. I believe 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. 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 where a creation view has advantages. Also, the Solar System has not remained in the same condition since creation. As we take a kind of tour of the solar system, 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 most common approach of evolutionists in geology 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. Sometimes in both Earth's geology and in planetary geology, scientists have proposed a reliance on multiple catastrophes which occur over long periods of time. In the Solar System, this evolutionary catastrophic approach sometimes shows up in proposing events like large impacts, collisions or near collisions, or perhaps large episodes of volcanism. There is always a debate between a slower gradual approach and a catastrophic approach. The catastrophic approach can avoid certain problems, but it can become quite cumbersome and difficult to believe due its reliance on numerous very unlikely events. However, I have found that at times the old age assumptions made in secular science actually makes explaining the evidence more difficult. A young age interpretation that acknowledges God supernaturally creating in the beginning can actually explain the evidence better in some cases.
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) the beginning of the universe included supernatural action by God, 3) some features of our solar system are not due to natural processes but have been designed by a Creator-God, and 4) there are some processes (possibly catastrophic or chaotic) that may have changed things since the beginning. "Design" usually means God intelligently planned things to be a certain way, for a purpose. In our solar system this purpose normally means the safety of life on Earth. I usually assume that supernatural processes dominated when God was actually creating in the beginning, then the orderly natural processes He made "took over" after the creation week. 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. God, as the Creator, can supercede natural laws at any time.
Table 1 below 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!
|Name||Mass||Number of Moons||Diameter
(Compared to Earth)
|Semi-major Axis Distance from Sun (in A.U.)|
* Pluto is no longer considered a planet but is now known as a "Dwarf Planet." CLICK HERE to see an article I wrote about the official definition of planet which was adopted in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union.
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 planet orbits. We have a rather large spread-out solar system where the planets are not too close together.
Figure 1 Figure
The planets all follow orbital paths called ellipses. The degree of
elongation of the ellipse is measured by the eccentricity. See Figure 3
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. (Pluto, which is now considered a "dwarf planet" and not a planet, has an eccentricity
of 0.25.) When a planet follows an ellipse, it is closer to the Sun at some
times than 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
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 almost all 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. Also, if a pattern is the result of natural forces like gravity or magnetism, that just puts the intelligent design on a different level. After all, where did the natural laws themselves come from? From God, of course.
Two important patterns in the Solar System are that the planet 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 more frequently. 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 and the planets might slowly alter each other's orbits. 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 and they never come too close to each other. 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, days, and years. 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 fairly frequently, 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 (though not completely so). The inner planets are composed of elements with high melting points, making them different than the outer planets. The densities are shown in Table 2. The outer planets are less dense and are composed mainly of elements with low melting and boiling points--often gases like hydrogen, nitrogen, methane, 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 2 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. Notice that Uranus is more dense than Saturn and Neptune is more dense than Uranus. 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 the late 1980's astronomers found that its density was 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. In 2015, the New Horizons mission succeeded in making a spacecraft do a rapid fly-by of Pluto. New Horizons found that Pluto had many surprises for scientists that will keep scientists busy for years to come. The Creator-God is not limited to the naturalistic patterns predicted by evolutionists. He created order and beauty, but also created many surprises unlike what we tend to expect.
These are some of the patterns in the system as a whole, now let's look at some of the interesting features of the various planets and moons in the solar system. As we learn about these facts, we can consider a question. Are these features a result of known physical effects like gravity, are they due to how the solar system was created in the beginning, or have they become this way since the beginning?
The planets and over 180 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. So Io, Europa, and Ganymede are in a three way resonance that keeps their orbits stable.
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, maybe 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.
Catastrophes in the Solar System
Although God has created order in our Solar System, there have been processes which happened after the beginning that may 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! Earth seems to have been spared some of the giant impacts and other giant geological events that have happened on other planets and moons in our solar system. Collisions are one of 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. This happened for example in 1994 when the Schoemaker-Levy comet was captured by Jupiter and collided with it. The impactor "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 evolutionary 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.
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. We must be careful of the assumptions we make. Nothing in the Bible precludes there being major collisions in the Solar System. Some of them may have even affected Earth. Indeed, geologists have discovered about 190 craters on Earth--a few over 100 miles in diameter. 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. Sometimes it is difficult to be sure whether a certain fact is true because of divine creation or if it comes from some known physical effect like gravity.
Earth was obviously made very different from the other planets in our solar system. Genesis teaches us that the Earth was formed first, before the Sun or the Moon. The Sun and Moon were created on the fourth day of the creation week. This could seem hard to believe from a scientific perspective, but Biblically it makes sense because it shows God's priority was the Earth first. Accepted scientific ideas today would say the Sun formed first, and then the planets. But Isaiah 45:18 says He formed the Earth "to be inhabited." So in the creation account in Genesis God is preparing the Earth for human habitation over the course of six days. The objects in our solar system outside Earth were very likely made on the fourth day of creation week, when the Moon was created. Scripture doesn't describe the formation of the Moon or the Sun like certain other things in Genesis chapter 1. It doesn't state, "And God said, let there be a moon." Genesis 1:16-17 say God "made" the Sun and Moon and that He "set them in the expanse of the sky" (NIV 1984). We know it happened in less than a day, but we don't know what it would have looked like to see it happen. We should not be too surprised if God created in a way different than we would expect.
How do we know what "perfect order" would be at creation? We really don't know what God would have done at creation unless Scripture tells us. This is why we should be careful not to make too many assumptions. It is also why we can explore scientific answers, so far as we can. At one time I emphasized catastrophic processes after creation to explain things in the solar system. But I have changed my thinking. I think the key is to realize the formation of objects outside Earth can be different than Earth formation because there is no life to protect on other planets and moons of our solar system. This makes an assumption regarding life on other planets but that is a question best handled separately. Click here to go to a blog post about aliens. So, we should not assume that God would always create planets with their magnetic fields always lined up with the planet's spin axis, for example. We don't have to have a catastrophy to cause an offset in a magnetic field or to tilt over a planet after creation. Why couldn't God just create it with the offset and magnetic tilt from the beginning? God did not follow a formula from human expectations. He was creative. On the other hand, a catastrophe that could change the tilt of a planet's magnetic field is not ruled out either, if there is a scientific explanation that could work within a young-age time scale. In explaining the solar system, we must start with the framework of creation in six days from Scripture, a young age for the Earth and the universe, and apply whatever science that is relevant. There are sometimes geological formations on other objects in the solar system that can look like evidence of catastrophe. So catastrophic geology can apply to objects in our solar system outside Earth. But we aren't told in the Bible what happened on Mars for example in the creation week and what happened after the creation week. Mars has the largest known volcano in the solar system, called Olympus Mons. It also has the largest canyon, called Vallis Marinaris, much larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Small Bodies in the Solar System
In the orbits of moons, comets, and other small objects in the solar system, there are sometimes strange and surprising orbits. Sometimes small objects collect in and around the orbit of another larger object. For example there are dozens of small objects near the orbit of Pluto, called Plutinos. Jupiter also has asteroids around its orbit. Even Earth has a few small objects that are near Earth's orbit. If an object is captured by a planet, it must be in a highly elliptical orbit right after its capture. There are certain processes that can round off an orbit in certain situations but scientists tend to assume these conditions exist when we may not have real evidence. So here is what could happen to round off a moon's orbit. If a moon were captured by a planet, and something caused its orbit to change, like if there were a thick cloud of dust and gas around the planet, then it may spiral in because of the cloud resisting its motion. As it spirals in, the planet has tidal forces on the moon that speed it up when it's nearest the planet and slow it down when it is farther away (due to the spin of the planet). This can round the moons orbit but only if something is happening to change the orbit. Other strange things can happen to orbits if one object breaks apart. The fragments of a breakup may orbit each other or they may end up in orbits very close to each other. There are moons that seem to be like this but no one saw how they got into their current orbits. Small objects orbits are sometimes easily modified by other moons or by the planet. Comets have their orbits changed some essentially every time they pass near the Sun. In fact, sometimes comets don't survive their passing near the Sun. Jupiter also tends to modify the orbits of comets and asteroids a lot. This is usually good for us because it steers comets and other objects away from Earth.
Let us consider 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 is a mystery. The asteroids are in a variety of orbits. 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.
Sometimes scientists have proposed catastrophic events to explain the asteroids. Both creationists and non-creationists have proposed catastrophes to explain how the asteroids formed and the varied nature of their orbits. Scientists who believe in an old solar system may propose different processes than creationists, who believe the solar system is young. Today some new models of the origin of the solar system propose that the outer planets formed closer to the Sun and then migrated out to their present positions. Thus in this scenario, Jupiter would mix up small objects from the inner solar system and the outer solar system. This is the latest theory for the origin of the asteroid belt. But this requires that the planets migrated. There isn't really evidence that the planets did migrate like this. It has also been proposed by creationists, as well as others, that there was once a planet which resided in the region of the asteroids,(10) but it exploded or collided with something. I once proposed that a cloud of debri passed through the solar system to explain craters. These kind of events would scatter small objects in the solar system. But some catastrophic events like this would have effects that we would still be able to see to the present, when we don't. The mass of all the asteroids is not enough to be a planet. If a planet once existed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, it's destruction would generate so much dust that we would still see much of it today. The age of the solar system enters into these kind of questions. If the solar system is young, this rules out some processes that would require very long times to work. I would say many problems with the evolutionary views of the solar system stem from the assumption of it being billions of years old. A young age view often simplifies explaining what we learn about the solar system.
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 a very elliptical orbit
similar to some 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
its 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)
Neptune has other moons in odd orbits as well. There are small objects beyond Neptune's orbit and it likely captures or deflects these small objects from time to time.
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 would be 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, red, or black, depending on their temperature. The red or black areas are hot zones. This is why the surface of Io looks as it does. Io could be easier to explain if it is only thousands of years old. If it is young, the heat would still be dissipating and driving its volcanic activity.
Another moon with a heat problem is a small one called Enceladus. Enceladus is located within Saturn's E-Ring, not far from Saturn. It is only about 500 Km in diameter. The smaller an object is the faster it cools. But the interesting thing is that Enceladus sometimes has eruptions that give off liquid, silica and salt particles, and sometimes gases such as methane and ammonia. The eruptions come from a region around the South Pole of Enceladus called the "Tiger Stripes." The puzzle is why hasn't Enceladus frozen solid if it is billions of years old? Scientists have tried to explain what might be generating heat inside Enceladus to keep it from totally freezing, but they have not succeeded. One scientific paper explained the problem this way:
“Despite its small size, Enceladus emits considerable heat at its south pole, even long after simple thermal
models predict that Enceladus should be frozen. The latest estimates of energy release range from 4.7 GW to
15.8 GW, depending on wavelength.” (12)
Note that "GW" above means gigawatt, which is a lot of heat. The most scientists have been able to account for is about 1.5 GW, but even that would not last to the present. So, this is a good indication that Enceladus is young. If it is only thousands of years old and not billions, heat from creation could still be dissipating and causing the eruptions. There has been some debate over whether Enceladus has a global subsurface ocean or whether the liquid under the surface only exists near the South Pole. The answer to this question doesn't change the problem of why it hasn't frozen if it is over four billion years old.
Figure 7 Enceladus (Saturn) showing the Tiger Stripes near its South Pole
Figure 8 Eruption at Enceladus in false color
Another special moon is Titan, the large moon of Saturn. Saturn has over 60 known moons. All of Saturn's moons are small except for Titan, which is 5,140 kilometers in diameter. Titan is unique in the solar system because it is the only moon known to have a thick atmosphere more dense than Earth's. Titan's atmosphere is about 1.5 times as 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. Titan's atmosphere has many chemical processes that continue all the time which use up methane and ethane. Though methane and ethane can come off the surface, it's been estimated that methane would be used up in some tens of millions of years. Thus, it raises the question, if it is billions of years old, why does it still have methane?
Saturn has several other unique moons such as Iapetus, 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 a very unusual case because it spins one way and travels the other in its orbit. 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.
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 14) 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 (which I have called 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.
Figure 10 - Miranda (Uranus)
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, at least for certain crater sizes.
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, called Hellas and Argyre, which are 1,200 miles and 550 miles in diameter, respectively.(13) In some areas there may 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 mountain 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.
Figure 11 - 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.(14))
Enceladus has many craters around its north pole but yet the remainder
of its surface is largely quite smooth.
Origin of the Solar System
Today, the accepted view of the origin of the Solar System is formally called the 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 into a spinning disk. Because of turbulence in the original nebula the portion which became our Solar System was spinning in the right-handed sense. 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 about 7 degrees compared to the earth's orbit (the ecliptic). This tilt of the Sun does not fit the Nebula hypothesis well. Another problem is the fact that three planets spin in the backwards or retrograde sense, compared to the other planets--Venus, Uranus, and Pluto. Some have argued that collisions in the early solar system can explain these backward spins. This is not a likely explanation at all. The reason is due to what happens when an object collides with a spinning body in space. The spin rate may change some due to the collision but not the spin axis. A collision to a spinning body is likely to make the orbit change more than change the spin axis. This is because a spinning planet in space does NOT act like a top spinning on a table, since it is free to move at both ends of its spin axis. Changing the spin axis dramatically is not so easy to explain by a collision. This is especially true for a planet when the planet is impacted by objects that are much smaller. Moons moving retrograde is a more complicated question. There are ways that moons can have their orbits modified multiple times due to collisions and other effects, so it is perhaps possible for moons to be put into retrograde capture orbits in some cases. But this by itself is not an adequate explaination of all cases of retrograde moons.
Today new theories on the origin of our solar system are proposing that the planets in our system formed in a different orbital distance from the Sun than where they are now, and they migrated to their current positions. This is a long complex scenario that cannot be proven from any observations today. Scientists have had some success in using new computer models of this to explain certain things about our solar system. But these planet migration models require a very dense massive disk for the planets to form from, which is different from real disks we see around real stars. It also requires special timing so that multiple planets can migrate together in the right way or else the solar system would be very different. Our solar system is remarkably well suited to be our home neighborhood in space. Not only is the Earth not too hot or too cold, but the outer planets protect Earth from impacts, the Sun's energy is well suited to life on Earth, and I think I have to agree with Isaac Newton that it must have come about from supernatural creation by a good Creator-God.
Creationists are working on developing a different view of the history of our solar system than evolutionary planetary scientists. Creationists believe the solar system to be young, such as less than 10,000 years. Many characteristics of the solar system, outside Earth, would be determined by events that took place in the creation week. Some of these creation week processes may have been miraculously rapid. But other processes tend to work in a kind of random or chaotic way over time, as mutiple small objects affect each other's motion. Heat from creation could have slow or delayed effects that could be seen in the present also. Geological formations may not always come from the creation week. There are many possibilities for creation scientists to research about the solar system.
As creationists work on the catastrophe question, the age of the Solar System is an important question not discussed much in this paper. The author and others have found 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. Magnetic fields in the solar system are a very strong evidence for a number of planets and even moons being only thousands of years old. In a young system that has had less time to "run down," higher energy is not too surprising and geological processes could be more active than scientists expect.
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. Travis, B.J., Schubert, G., Keeping Enceladus warm, Icarus 250:32–42, 2015, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2014.11.017.
13. Baugher, Joseph F., op. cit., pp 151-154.
14. Chapman, Clark R. and Morrison, David, "Cosmic Catastrophes," New York and London, Plenum Press, 1989, pp 138-140.
Article renamed from "Our Amazing Solar System" to "Our Special Solar System", October 2018.
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