JUMBOs in Orion

Modern science, with today’s technology, has accomplished a lot in exploring the universe, but now and then something happens that reminds us we don’t know everything. In October 2023 the James Webb Space Telescope, which detects infrared light of faint objects, found some objects in Orion that were surprising. It found objects that seem to be planets but they are not orbiting stars. Actually 540 of these objects were found in Orion. But the amazing thing was that 40 of them are planet-planet binary pairs. Planets orbiting each other instead of orbiting a star. There are also two cases of trinary objects that were found in Orion, with three objects orbiting each other. They were found in a star cluster called Trapezium, which is within the Orion Nebula. The Orion Nebula is the subject of many beautiful pictures. But a nebula is a hot inhospitable place. Star clusters may be made up of hundreds to thousands of stars (such as the Pleiades for instance). In star clusters the stars are relatively close together, which means they can affect each other. So what if the stars in a star cluster have planets? This puts those planets in a kind of danger zone, a high traffic region of space.

A few definitions are in order to appreciate how unusual these objects are. There are many stars in our galaxy that have extra-solar planets orbiting them. It is generally accepted by most planetary scientists that planets form from a spinning disk of gas and dust that spins around a star that recently formed. But, it is generally accepted that when exoplanets form, they can sometimes get kicked out and escape the gravity of their star. This could happen perhaps if two planets got too close to each other. Or perhaps if an exoplanet were in a long orbit that puts it a long distance from its star and then another nearby star comes close to the planet, pulling it away. Planets that escape their stars like this are called rogue planets, or unbound planets, or sometimes FFP’s, for Free-Floating Planets. In fact the word “planet” came from a Greek word that meant “wanderer.” It can be a challenge to determine what a “free-floating” object in space is. If an object is not giving off energy like a star and it is about 14 Jupiter masses or more, it is generally called a Brown Dwarf star. It was generally believed that an object smaller than that cannot form by compression of gases and material from its own gravity. Scientists generally believed for years that it was only near a star that gas and dust could become dense enough to form planets. But today some scientists are questioning this.

The objects found in Orion have one of two new acronyms. If they are wandering alone and not orbiting any other object they are called Jupiter Mass Objects, or JMOs. If they are in pairs they are called JUMBOs, which means Jupiter Mass Binary Objects. The trinary objects don’t seem to have their own acronym. I would say to be consistent you could call them Jupiter Mass Trinary Objects, or JUMTOs. The ones found in Orion range in mass from 0.6 Jupiter mass to 14 Jupiter masses. Again, 40 of them are binary pairs. There are some amazing photos showing these planet pairs in Orion. There are a number of puzzling questions raised by these objects.

For pictures, see this article from Scientific American. Title: Stunning Images Reveal Rogue Planets of the Orion Nebula

  1. Why are there so many JMOs in Orion?
  2. Why are there so many JUMBOs in Orion?
  3. How did they get there?
  4. Did they once orbit stars, or not? If they did orbit stars, what happened to those stars?
  5. Could JMOs become JUMBOs? Or, could JUMBOs become JMOs?
  6. How stable are the JUMBOs?

The James Webb telescope detected these new objects from their heat given off in infrared energy. You might expect that if they are not orbiting a star they would be cold objects, but not usually. They are hot; they would not be detectable if they were not. Two scientists from Leiden University in the Netherlands published on the internet a technical paper describing simulations they did examining four possible scenarios that might explain the JUMBOs. The paper is not peer reviewed and is not yet published in any scientific journal as far as I can tell. The copy I found was dated March 12, 2024 (search for arXiv:2312.04645). So, this is very recent. Their last names are Zwart and Hochart. When such things are detected, if you know the distance to them you can estimate their size and mass from how bright they are. Then, for the binary ones the distance between the bound objects can be estimated. Since these objects are in a star cluster near known stars, their distances can be determined well. So Zwart and Hochart estimate that the separation distance between the binaries ranges from 25 to 380 A.U. Recall that 1 Astronomical Unit is the distance from Earth to our Sun, or about 93 million miles. Zwart and Hochart argue that these binary objects are likely to be in very elliptical orbits.

What Ifs

Zwart and Hochart look into four scenarios for where the JUMBOs came from. Note that their models do not actually handle the formation of the objects. They seem to assume they formed either around a star as conventional secular theories say, or they formed in the star cluster with the stars. For them to form around a star is the conventional notion of naturalistic formation by gravity. The second option of forming in the nebula as the stars are believed to have formed is unconventional but still naturalistic. So the computer simulations of Zwart and Hochart only look at if you start with one arrangement of stars and planets and let it run, what happens? Then if you start with a different arrangement of stars and planets and let it run again, what happens?

The four scenarios modeled in the simulations were referred to with acronyms SPP, SPM, FFC, and ISF. SPP represents Star Planet-Planet. This assumes that in the star cluster some of the stars originally form with two planets orbiting them. Then something happens causing both planets to escape the gravity of their star. Of course, this would have to have happened for at least 20 different systems to explain 40 binaries. Then there is SPM, which means Star Planet-Moon. In this case stars in the cluster form with a planet that has at least one moon. Then the planet with its moon is ejected away from the star somehow. So, in this scenario, the moon continues to orbit the planet, though the planet moves away from the star and the orbit of the moon around the planet would change. The authors pointed out that in their simulations, for this to explain the number of Jupiter Mass Objects and JUMBOs, the planet would have to start a long distance from its star as it formed (such as up to 200 A.U.), so that it would be relatively easy for the planet to be pulled away from the star. Thus, this scenario is unrealistic for explaining so many JUMBOs.

The third scenario examined by the authors was FFC, for Free-Floating Capture. In this scenario, the planets initially form from in a disk surrounding a star by the conventional concept. But, then the planets become separate from their stars later. Then the separated planets come near enough to each other to capture each other and start orbiting together. This requires two mysterious events, first something making the planets escape their star and then another chance interaction where two planets come near enough to capture each other. In this scenario, the planets start conventionally, become JMOs, then become JUMBOs. Note that this is all happening within a nebula and within a star cluster, not in empty space. The authors made the following comment about the SPP and FFC scenarios: “The SPP and FFC models systematically fail to reproduce the observed population of JuMBOs by a factor of 50 to 400.

This leaves the ISF scenario, which represents “In situ” formation. This is where the planets are assumed to form in the star cluster in the same manner as the stars. However, in this scenario, many JUMBOs exist at the start. So many of the planets initially form as planet-planet pairs in the star cluster. How this would happen is left a mystery and not addressed by the authors of the paper. The authors also looked at what happens to the JUMBOs over time. They tend to break up and do not last long. They made the following statement about this: “Overall, the JuMBO survival rate decreases rapidly with a half-life < 1 Myr.” So after the star cluster formed, there would be many JUMBOs and the number of JUMBOs would decrease over time. Presumably some JUMBOs that separate and become JMOs could reform into binary pairs again. But the authors conclude that the ISF scenario best explains the large number of JMOs and JUMBOs. I was surprised the authors came to this conclusion.

It will be interesting to see how this is received by the scientific community. I suspect that planetary scientists will react against the authors ISF scenario because it raises difficult questions of how could planets form as binaries without a star? There is not a accepted scientific model for formation of planets like this. However, a variation on the ISF idea could be what you might call In situ Creation, or ISC. This would be to assume the binary planets were supernaturally created in the beginning with the star cluster (along with some JMOs). Then the number of JUMBOs decreases over time to the present. This would work in a young universe approach. Another possibility might involve some catastrophic scenario for the nebula or the star cluster that could explain how many planets could be pulled away from their star in a relatively short time. NASA has indicated the age of the Orion Nebula is only 2 million years. What effect would a supernova have if it were near a star cluster containing planets?

There will undoubtedly be more investigation of the possibilities to explain these surprising objects. There have been rogue planets found in other nebulas. What will the James Webb Space Telescope find in other nebulas? What other models will be put forward to explain objects like this? The density of stars in the cluster could be important in these models as well as the kind of matter in the nebula. I believe in not jumping to conclusions too quickly, as Treebeard said in Lord of the Rings, “Now now, don’t be hasty.” But I think belief in God is not undermined by new discoveries. Fortunately for us, our dear planet Earth was not placed in a star cluster like Trapezium. As we learn how to interpret the scientific evidence, new discoveries can actually validate a Biblical viewpoint.

God and Suffering

Why does God allow suffering in the world?

This is a common question. How should this question be answered? There are many ways to approach this question. I do not speak as someone with theological or seminary training. But I have been a Christian for over 40 years and I have always worked at understanding the Bible and have tried to have an intelligent faith. I have not always been satisfied with some of the answers from Christian writers to this question. Dealing with this from an individual point of view is a very different thing than if you are dealing with this as a philosophical question. If you are going through some sort of suffering yourself, or someone you care about is suffering in a particular way, then your question may be “Why is this particular kind of suffering happening to me?” Asking this way it has more immediacy and is a more personal issue. I have faced this question such as when I unexpectedly lost my job and was unemployed for a significant time or after deaths of family. On a personal level we normally don’t really know the why. But I do believe that searching out God’s will in those situations helps cope with it.

I hope to try and avoid some points of confusion in my response to this. Sometimes the question gets sort of reinterpreted, so that the nonchristian is thinking one thing and the Christian responds to it actually thinking of a different question. If you’re asking “Why is there suffering in the world?” this is different from asking “Why is there evil in the world?” But sometimes Christians don’t actually distinguish between these two questions. But I would say they are two different questions, but the Biblical answers to them are related.

Perhaps I should start with “Why is there evil in the world?” This is spelled out in Genesis, which I accept. Other belief systems don’t deal well with explaining the origin of evil. There are some important things to note in understanding how Christianity answers this question. God created angels and humans, humans being material creatures made in His image, angels not being fundamentally material but made to serve Him. Humans are redeemable, but angels are not, according to Scripture. God wants to relate to us as human beings, but we are born with a sinful nature that separates us from Him. So God has a plan for redemption of human beings that evil cannot stop. Humans can learn but learning is not adequate for restoring our relationship with God. God must act into His creation to redeem and restore fallen human beings and to restore the rest of the material creation. Causing evil is not the same as allowing evil. God does not cause evil as I understand Scripture, but he may allow it. If you follow through the entire story from the Bible, Satan rebels very early on and even though he does great evil, his evil does not stop God from carrying out His plan. Since evil cannot prevent or undo God’s plan from coming about, even evil can indirectly bring some glory to God. Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, but Adam and Eve were responsible for their own sin. In Genesis 3, God’s responses to Satan, and the Woman, and the Man were very personal, directed to each of them in particular. Satan did not make them sin, but he presented them with the situation that tempted them. Satan is responsible for his sin also, and God will deal with that in time. Evil presents human beings with choices to be made since God has made us as moral beings. God does not intend to turn human beings into robots that always follow a script. We make our own creative choices.

Then comes the question, “Why is there suffering in the world?” God has self-existence, so He is not like us. He had no beginning since He is outside of time and space. He existed when there was no time, space, or matter. When humans sinned, this made human beings deserve to die, to forfeit their life. As Scripture says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” But God did not just wipe out Adam and Eve as soon as they sinned, he made them live out a long life so they had to live with the consequences of sin in themselves and in the world. But He promised hope of redemption even back then to Adam and Eve (see Genesis 3:15). The sin of Adam and Eve meant that all of humanity from then forward had to live in a material creation that was corrupted by human sin. It also meant that human relationships and human thinking were corrupted. Thus, the whole array of human problems came about, selfishness, unbelief, distrust, dishonesty, violence, and on and on. Much suffering is because of human sin. I see no reason God should be considered “obligated” to “fix” things caused by us as human beings. But there is a need for hope and we do need God’s love. If the Earth were a perfect environment, would that make everything good? No.

The Earth itself was created initially as a perfect environment for humans and other life (Genesis 1:31). There were seasons but seasons would not have had such extremes of temperature as what happens today. Then as human evil worsened in the world, God judged the world in the Flood of Noah, which changed the entire planet. The original beautiful Earth was downgraded in this judgement. The changes brought about in the Noahic Flood led to harsher climates, land that could not support plants, and destructive weather phenomena. These harsh aspects of life on Earth were not the norm in the beginning, they were a price mankind paid for human evil. In a world as it was first created, with a perfect environment, human beings still became more and more evil. After the Noahic Flood, humanity started over with a man who was a righteous man who believed in God (Noah). Natural disasters are sometimes referred to by Christians as “natural evil.” But I don’t agree with describing natural disasters this way. Natural disasters are a judgment, a consequence of human evil, they are not acts of evil really.

But God is in sovereign control of natural disasters. Isaiah 45:6 ends with the statement, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” Then verse 7 continues, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” We could debate whether God does disaster directly or indirectly and what that means. But God clearly takes responsibility for disaster here in Isaiah 45. This is the kind of statement that can make theologians uncomfortable. But I have never really had a problem with this. The God of the Bible is our Creator. He can use whatever means He chooses to accomplish His ends. He does act in a way consistent with his holy character, but we often struggle to completely understand Him. Some people have a difficult time accepting that God essentially owns us and has the right to be our judge. God can decide who lives, when they live, and who dies because He is our Creator. He gave us life so he holds our life in his hands, whether we acknowledge it or not (see Daniel 5:23 and John 15:5). This does not take away human choice. This is what the Bible teaches about who God is. So, how we react to suffering is connected to our view of God and our view of ourselves. God is also not a judge who is indifferent or uncaring about our lives or the difficult things we go through. He is willing to allow some difficulties so we will seek answers from Him and possibly learn from the experience.

In a fallen world, I think suffering is something that makes us fallen human beings able to learn important lessons about life. If we had everything our own way, we wouldn’t seek God in and of ourselves. God does not take pleasure in human suffering, but He wants willing followers, not robots. Suffering is uncomfortable but it can motivate us to seek God and find answers. I started college as a very good student but after my first two years (as an agnostic), I began to have problems and eventually had to drop out of college. I became very depressed and even had some thoughts of suicide. But I started rethinking God’s existence and this led to me becoming a Christian. If I hadn’t had these emotional problems while I was not a Christian, I may not have ever sought God. Many people find this to be true. If some suffering will help someone come to a redeemed relationship with God (through faith in Christ) then God may orchestrate that suffering to bring someone back to Him.

I know this does not answer everything. There are many questions about suffering these short comments won’t answer. Sometimes parents experience the death of a child. This is a very painful thing for a parent. But God doesn’t see our lives in isolation. We each have a place in time and our lives influence others. Even the death of a child can influence others in surprising ways, in time. The suffering we go through in this life also gives occasions for us to learn to help each other. We also experience suffering sometimes from our own sin and sometimes from the sin of others. God allows all sorts of short-term suffering or even some long-term suffering to happen to all kinds of people. But our attitude toward God matters a lot in facing suffering. Suffering makes us reexamine ourselves. We are not in control, but we are God’s creatures and are responsible to Him.

This was the key in the case of Job in the Old Testament. He apparently lived about the time of Jacob or Jacob’s children (from Genesis). His case is very unusual in that Scripture clearly spells out that Satan instigated the suffering of Job. Satan is not frequently doing this in our lives, this would be very rare I think. Job was a rare individual. Satan challenged God regarding Job and God accepted the challenge. God knows us better than Satan. Job lost all his ten children and much of what he owned. Then he lost his health and his suffering was great for some unknown period of time. But when God spoke to Job God’s “lecture” in Job chapters 38 to 41 was not about all that Satan did. God did not tell Job why it all happened as it unfolded. But Job learned about how great God is and how small and limited we are as his children. Suffering can help us understand our place in the broader scheme of God’s purpose.

God will deal justly with both those who suffer and those who cause suffering. The Bible gives examples. God also identified with us in our suffering by taking human form and living life in our fallen world, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed that, as God, he can end suffering. But it’s mankind’s sin problem and separation from God that had to be dealt with first, not eliminating all suffering. Not only did God come down in our form, but Jesus took all evil onto himself and suffered a Roman crucifixion, to make a way of redemption for us, so we can have a relationship with God. God’s plan will undo the effects of sin and end suffering in the future for those who believe (Revelation 21:4). But He will not just ignore evil. When I say this I’m not referring only to evil in the world. God does not ignore evil in the world, or evil in each of us either. He made a way through faith in Jesus Christ, for us to return to Him. We wouldn’t want God’s justice to apply to us. We need God’s mercy and grace to apply to us. Jesus suffered so we can experience that, if we accept it.

Christianity and Reasons for Faith – by Wayne R. Spencer