On December 7, 1995, the Galileo spacecraft entered orbit around the planet Jupiter. Thus began two years of exciting discovery as Galileo makes it possible to study the Jupiter system in unprecedented detail.1 Galileo will orbit Jupiter for approximately two years, gathering various types of data about Jupiter and its moons. Also last December, Galileo sent a robot probe into Jupiter's atmosphere. This directly
measures the composition and other properties of the gases of Jupiter, something never done before. While on its six-year trip to Jupiter, Galileo already obtained the first close-up images of two asteroids, Gaspra and Ida. Ida and its small satellite Dactyl are shown here. The Galileo spacecraft also provided very valuable information about the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet impacts with Jupiter in July of 1994.
(Asteroid Ida and its satellite Dactyl.)
The Galileo mission is only one of several astronomy related missions which in recent years have provided scientists with a great deal of new information. Unfortunately, such discoveries are usually interpreted in terms of an age for the solar system of billions of years and having come about by natural processes, without input from the hand of God. The creative hand of God is quite evident in the solar system.
Romans 1:20 says that "God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made (NIV)." Thus, nature shows what God is like. The complexity, beauty, and variety in nature display God's unlimited creativity. This is very evident in the living world. However, the nonliving world also displays "his eternal power and divine nature" as Romans 1 states. In the solar system, God's power and creativity are very evident. The varied characteristics, the extremes of environmental conditions, and shear scale of it all shows the Creator is not limited to the familiar environment we know here on Earth. God is greater than all the things he created. Jupiter possesses a mass over double that of all the other eight planets combined. Recent information on Jupiters atmosphere from the Galileo spacecraft has given scientists surprises. Jupiter's atmosphere was not found to possess certain layers which theories had predicted. Also, Helium and Neon amounts were surprisingly low. Planetary scientists have become accustomed to expecting surprises. The new information on the solar system is more than merely a revelation of new scientific facts. The new data reveals in tangible form the creative power of the invisible infinite Creator-God.
Some of the recent solar system exploration missions have not received much attention from the media. From 1990 to 1994 the spacecraft called Magellan took high resolution radar images of almost the entire surface of the planet Venus. "High resolution" means that the images obtained are able to show very small details on the surface. The Magellan mission led to the discovery that at Venus the entire surface has been covered in the past by massive lava flows.2 Thus, Venus' surface is all relatively young. It is not known what could cause so much volcanism as to completely resurface the planet.
Another recent mission was known as Clementine. This was a joint project between NASA and the Department of Defense. Clementine made high resolution images of the surface of our Moon which would have been impossible to obtain in the 1960's and 1970's when NASA's lunar exploration was very active. Clementine data enabled the discovery of many craters and surface features which were previously unknown. For instance, Clementine took the first high resolution photos of the south pole of the Moon, revealing a gigantic impact site close to the south pole that is the largest known crater in the entire solar system. The giant bowl shaped feature is 2,500 kilometers in diameter.3
The Hubble Space Telescope, or HST, though often used to study objects beyond our solar system, has also provided valuable information about the outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune. The HST enables scientists on Earth to detect changes in the winds and cloud features of these gaseous planets, though they are hundreds of millions of miles away. HST data obtained in 1991 and 1994 showed that an Earth-sized storm on Neptune, known as the Great Dark Spot, which had been photographed by the Voyager spacecraft in 1989, no longer exists. In addition, a new dark spot had appeared that did not exist in 1989.4 Very dramatic changes in the winds and cloud layers of Saturn and Neptune have been discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope. The high speed winds and rapid changes are a challenge for planetary scientists to explain if only present processes are allowed in origins theories. An alternative to this evolutionary approach is to assume the planets are young, such as less than 10,000 years, and perhaps catastrophic events have led to some of the turbulence and rapid changes we observe in these atmospheres.
Gaining new and better data often challenges evolutionary origins theories. This was very true in the 1970's and 80's for the Voyager missions. Surprising features were revealed in the solar system that were not expected due to old age evolutionary assumptions. One example would be the beautiful rings of Saturn, which were found to possess a very detailed structure, described as "rings within rings within rings." The many thousands of separate rings together with their sharp edges and other characteristics have not been fully explained. The motions of Saturn's moons explain some of the structure in the rings, but cannot explain thousands of separate rings. The sharp edges of the rings and other evidence imply that the rings must be quite young in age.5
(The Rings of Saturn up close.)
Other surprises from the Voyager missions included the small moon of Uranus called Miranda, and the extremely high speed winds of Neptune. Scientists expected the surface of Miranda to be undramatic and uninteresting since if it were very old, a small moon such as Miranda should have little heat left for driving geological processes. This is because a small object radiates heat faster than a large object. Actually, Miranda's surface has very extreme topography and many strange geological features that are unexplained to this day. The winds of Neptune present a similar problem since heat, in the usual way of thinking, is required to drive such high winds. Neptune, being the eighth planet from the Sun, would not be expected to have heat energy for driving high speed winds after more than four billion years. Recent measurements of Jupiter's atmosphere, in early December of 1995, by the probe from the Galileo spacecraft indicate a similar situation at Jupiter. Heat for driving the surprising turbulence and strong winds in Jupiter's atmosphere must be coming from inside the planet, not from the Sun or any other external influence.6 This was somewhat surprising to planetary scientists because of assumptions of the planet being very old. If the planets and moons are young, it is easier to understand how heat could still be present from within the body to drive geological and atmospheric processes.
(Miranda, with "Chevron feature")
An evolutionary approach to the solar system relies on natural processes only for explaining the origin of the many different objects. The accepted view of the origin of the solar system is usually called the Nebula Hypothesis. In this model, a giant cloud in space made up of mainly gas is believed to have pulled together by gravity into the planets and other objects in our solar system. This nebula is assumed to have been spinning in space initially and much of its gas would have been ionized, causing the cloud to possess a magnetic field. Many computer calculations have been done to attempt to simulate the process of how such a nebula could contract into planets. However, computer models are not able to show the entire process from start to finish. Also, the computer simulations do not start with initial conditions like those of real nebulas. There are various problems with the Nebula Hypothesis due to processes that tend to stop or limit the contraction of material into coherent bodies. One scientist summarized the problems by saying "The clouds are too hot, too magnetic, and they rotate too rapidly."7 The contraction produces effects that tend to make the formation of planets impossible.
Another problem with the general Nebula model is in the formation of the gaseous planets. As the gas would pull together into the planets, the young Sun would
pass through what is called the T-Tauri phase. In this phase the Sun would give off an intense solar wind far more intense than the present. This solar wind would have an effect of driving excess gas and dust out of the still forming solar system and thus there would no longer be enough of the light gases left to form Jupiter and the other three giant gas planets. This would leave the four gas planets smaller than we find them today.
The rates of rotation and the speeds of the planets in their orbits have been a particularly thorny problem for evolutionary models of the origin of the solar system. Everyone has watched accomplished ice skaters spin on ice. As a skater pulls their arms in, their radius decreases, and they accelerate in their spin. This effect is due to what physicists call the Conservation of Angular Momentum. In the formation of our Sun from a nebula in space, the same effect would occur as the gases contracted into the center to form the Sun. This would cause the Sun to spin very rapidly as a result of this process. Actually, our Sun is observed to spin very slowly today while the planets move very rapidly around the Sun. The observed pattern of the slowly rotating Sun surrounded by rapidly moving and rapidly rotating planets is directly against the pattern expected for the Nebula Hypothesis. Many scientists today would assume that modern theories have solved this problem. But, a well known solar system scientist, Dr. Stuart Ross Taylor has said in a recent book that "The ultimate origin of the angular momentum of the solar system remains obscure."8
(Angular Momentum in the Planets versus in the Sun. The Sun should spin faster by the Nebula model.)
These are just a selection of some of the scientific difficulties with
the current accepted model of the origin of the solar system. Scientists
will occasionally write comments about the inadequacy of the accepted nebula
theories. One scientist described the Nebula Model as the theory with the
"best fit" to the observational evidence. However, he then stated the following:
I will reconstruct the sequence of events leading to the formation of the solar system, choosing the chronological stages which seem to me to be the most likely. Even so the argument is highly speculative and some of it borders on science fiction.9
To date, a number of catastrophic capture and collision events have been proposed to attempt to explain some of the surprising features of the solar system that would not come about from the basic process just described. A "capture" refers to one object passing close enough to a planet, for instance, for it to be trapped by gravity into orbiting the planet. Also, there is a competing evolutionary model for the origin of the solar system, called the Capture Theory. The Capture Theory is a catastrophic evolutionary model for the origin of the solar system.
In the Capture Theory, a passing protostar, loosely held together, passes close to our Sun. Our Sun then pulls a filament of material off of the passing protostar by gravity. The filament breaks up into segments which become six planets (not the current nine planets). Then two of these six planets collide and the asteroids, Venus, Earth, Mars, and our Moon then represent either fragments of the collision or moons of the two planets that collided.10 The Capture Theory is considered unlikely by most astronomers and it has unique problems of its own. The point is that some catastrophes are being invoked today to explain the solar system. However, too many unrelated captures or major collisions become unlikely. Furthermore, there are certain orderly patterns in the solar system that cannot be explained by catastrophes, since catastrophic collisions tend to produce disorder, not order.
Part two of this article will outline a creationist approach for understanding
the solar system. A creation approach acknowledges evidence for intelligent
design and for catastrophic events that have altered God's original creation.
Rather than proposing multiple unrelated collision and capture events occurring
over billions of years, it is possible there were perhaps one or two major
catastrophic events which caused many effects in a relatively short time.
Could such a catastrophic solar system event be related to the Noahic Flood?
Earth rocks do sometimes record evidence of impacts from space. Impacts,
collisions, orbit changes, and other solar system phenomena may hold answers
to how the solar system could be very young, such as less than ten thousand
years in age. The solar system is worthy of study since it displays God's
power and creativity.
1. Paul Weissman and Marcia Segura, 'Galileo Arrives at Jupiter', Astronomy, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 1996, pp 36-45.
2. Cordula Robinson, 'Magellan Reveals Venus', Astronomy, Vol. 23, No. 2, February 1995, p 34.
3. Stewart Nozette, et. al. (35 authors), 'The Clementine Mission to the Moon: Scientific Overview', Science, Vol. 266, December 16, 1994, p 1837.
4. Lawrence A. Sromovsky, Sanjay S. Limaye, and Patrick M. Fry, 'Clouds and
Circulation on Neptune: Implications of 1991 HST Observations', Icarus, Vol. 118, pp 25, 37.
5. Wayne R. Spencer, 'Design and Catastrophism in the Solar System', Proceedings of the 1992 Twin-Cities Creation Conference, pp 164-5.
6. Douglas Isbell and David Morse, 'Galileo Probe Suggests Planetary Reappraisal', NASA Press Release Number 96-10, January 22, 1996.
Available on World Wide Web at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo.
7. H. Reeves, 'The Origin of the Solar System', The Origin of the Solar System, S. F. Dermott, editor, 1978, John Wiley & Sons, New York, p 9.
8. S. R. Taylor, Solar System Evolution: A New Perspective, 1992, Cambridge University Press, p 53.
9. H. Reeves, p 1-3.
10. Wayne R. Spencer, p 167.
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