Stellar fireworks

Novae, Supernovae, and Related Cosmic Catastrophes

I’ve always been fascinated with fireworks. It seems to also be a general characteristic of people who study physics – physicists like to study things that blow up! There are some really powerful events that happen to stars from time to time that fascinate astronomers. These are of several types but are referred to under the terms “nova” and “supernovae.” The universe contains so many mysterious things and it is dynamic, not static. It seems to me that God also likes fireworks, but He makes his fireworks really big! There are a few other variations on these two terms, some of which are fairly recent discoveries, such as “micronovae,” “kilonovae,” and “macronovae.” This article will explain some on what these are. Note that to say “nova” or “supernova” is singular, but “novae” and “supernovae” are plural terms.

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” Psalm 147:4

In considering the Creator, we have an interesting statement in Psalm 147:4 above. In nova events a star temporarily brightens for some period of time and then goes back to normal. In supernovae, a star goes through a catastrophic permanent change where it becomes a different kind of object after some of it is blown out into space in the explosion. In some supernovae, the star can be completely destroyed. There are also events where stars can merge together into one object, causing a massive explosion. Scripture implies God is in control of the explosions of stars and of events that change the number of the stars. When there are supernovae, we should be very glad that they are so far away.

Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A, viewed by Tycho Brahe in 1572. Mosaic from NASA/CXC/SAO.

In 1572, astronomer Tycho Brahe coined the term “stella novae” when he saw what we now call supernova SN-1572. Novae and supernovae can look similar to the naked eye (if they are visible to the naked eye). A known star becomes much brighter and then fades or changes its appearance. In Tycho’s day, people were still influenced by the ideas from Aristotle. At that time people believed that anything in outer space beyond the Moon never changed. The universe outside of the Moon was supposed to be immutable and never change. But Tycho saw what seemed like a new star appear in the constellation Cassiopeia that hadn’t been visible before; and, it was brighter than Venus! He tried to estimate the distance to it (using parallax) but it was too far for him to measure. So, he concluded correctly that it was farther away than the Moon. So he had seen something change in space that wasn’t supposed to happen! This is why Tycho Brahe made the following statement: “I doubted no longer. … In truth, it was the greatest wonder that has ever shown itself in the whole of nature since the beginning of the world, or in any case as great as [when the] Sun was stopped by Joshua’s prayers.”

It took many years for astronomers to figure out what these “new stars” were. First, I will explain nova and supernova Type Ia because they are similar in some respects. A nova occurs when a white dwarf star is bound to a normal star (a binary star system). If the normal star gets close enough to the white dwarf matter may be pulled off the normal star onto the white dwarf. The white dwarf is a star that has compressed over time due to gravity and has used up its fuel, and it is very dense and hot. If a stream of gas falls onto the white dwarf but it is not enough to envelope the white dwarf completely, it is possible for nuclear fusion to trigger in a localized spot on the white dwarf’s surface. This gives off a powerful flare of light and energy that can make the star look much brighter. This is a nova. A Type Ia supernova is relatively rare but it also involves a white dwarf pulling matter off of another star. In a Type Ia supernova, the gas falling on the white dwarf is much more, enough to envelope and put pressure on the white dwarf. Type Ia supernova are not totally understood though. But for Ia events there will be a runaway nuclear fusion process that causes a massive explosion. This explosion can be great enough to completely destroy the white dwarf star. An explosion like this also sends out a powerful shockwave into space.

Supernovae that are of Type II, Type Ib and Ic are also similar to each other. An important fact about the Type I supernovae events is their light shows there’s no hydrogen in the explosion. Hydrogen is easily detected in the light spectrum, if present. However Type II supernovae do have evidence of hydrogen. A Type II supernova does not happen due to two stars interacting but is more related to a star reaching what you could call its “old age” where it is running out of hydrogen fuel. Running out of hydrogen sets off changes in the star that depend on how massive the star is. So, a Type II supernova is called a “core collapse” supernova because this is what happens inside the star. In just a few seconds the core of the star can collapse and this creates forces that cause it to explode. A Type II supernova happens in a star that is between 8 and 40 times the mass of our Sun. These explosions give off great energy and some of them, if seen from Earth could be visible in the daytime, even in bright sunlight. But scientists cannot actually predict when a supernova will happen. The star Betelgeuse (in the constellation Orion) is a red supergiant star and scientists suspect it is nearing the end of its hydrogen, which means it could explode. Some have said it could happen in 2022. But we really have no way of knowing. To a star, “soon” could mean a thousand years from now.

A star nearing its “old age,” running low on hydrogen starts using other elements for fuel. This causes the star to stratify into layers (like the layers of an onion) where the various layers are each more concentrated in a certain element. The highest pressures and temperatures near the center could form some of the higher atomic weight elements. The highest atomic number element able form inside a star is Iron, so it would be near the center. Then going from the center outward there can be Silicon, Magnesium, Neon, then Oxygen, then Carbon, then Helium, then hydrogen that is not as hot and cannot fuse into Helium. There may be other elements from the periodic table that form also if the temperatures are high enough. In a Type Ib supernova, the outer Hydrogen layers can be used up or thrown off before the explosion, leaving the Helium layer as the outermost layer, until the star collapses and then explodes. In a Type Ic supernova, the outer layers of Hydrogen and Helium are used up or thrown off making Carbon the outermost layer. Then if massive enough gravity causes the star to collapse and then it explodes.

Red Nova
NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of a Luminous Red Nova. These form from the collision of two normal stars.

Another type of event has a couple of names, Kilonova or Macronova. These are thought to come from when two dense objects collide and merge together (not normal stars but possibly one of them being a neutron star and another one maybe a white dwarf). They create a lot of light but the visible light is followed by infrared and other types of radiation. The collision of dense objects like this is one of the events that scientists use to search for gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space as Einstein described them. These Kilonova/Macronova events are thought to create a lot elements from the periodic table above Iron. Another kind collision and merger of two normal stars is a less powerful explosion but is called a luminous red nova. In a luminous red nova, normal stars merge into a red giant star. These create beautiful nebulas with a bright red star in the center. Thus, as man-made fireworks can make for great pictures if you can capture them, so can God’s fireworks out in space.

Crab Nebula SNR
Image of the Crab Nebula supernova remnant. This came from a supernova in 1054 A.D. From NASA, STScI, and ESA.

When have supernovae been actually seen in history? In 1054 a supernova happened that was witnessed by the Chinese, Japanese, and by American Indians. This one created the supernova remnant nebula we call the Crab Nebula (pictured above). Beautiful pictures have come from this massive explosion. Another famous one was not so long ago, in 1987. Now called SN-1987A (‘A’ because it was the first one of that year.) Astronomers studied 1987A a great deal. Some hours before it was seen neutrinos were detected. Then some months later we began to see rings of hot gas expanding away from it. It was eventually determined the star that exploded was called Sanduleak -69 202. Sanduleak was about 168,000 Light-Years away in the Large Magellenic Cloud, which is a small galaxy orbiting our galaxy, the Milky Way.

This image, from the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, shows the orange-red rings surrounding Supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The supernova explosion occurred in February 1987.

In observing supernovae over the years, astronomers have found an interesting way to detect that a supernova has happened sometime in the past. They can look for light emissions from a radioactive isotope of Aluminum. This was reported in a paper from the Royal Astronomical Society in July 2020, from a research project of the ESA. Aluminum-26 (Al-26) is found in the shockwaves from supernovae explosions. It seems to be a very good way to “look for” supernovae. But this has lead to a recent discovery that is a mystery about our own Galaxy, the Milky Way. There is evidence of Al-26 around our galaxy but it doesn’t fit what scientists would have expected. There is something called the scale height that is a measure of how a gas fades away with distance from an object. So if it fades away quicker it has a lower scale height, but if it fades away slower it has a bigger scale height. Or if the gas is more dense it has a bigger scale height. Alumnium-26 is observed to have a scale height of 800 for above the disk of our galaxy. If this Al-26 came from stars in our galaxy going supernova, scientists would expect the scale height to be only about 50. So it raises the question, where does all the Al-26 come from? Secondly, the Al-26 around the galaxy is moving faster than the galaxy disk. The spiral arms of the galaxy rotate around the center of the galaxy at a certain speed based on the distance from the center. But the Al-26 is essentially rotating about 100 to 200 km/second faster than the galaxy disk spins. This is puzzling to scientists because scientists tend to assume that all the Al-26 comes from supernova in the galaxy. But if that is the case, why is it moving faster than the galaxy? The researchers are suggesting the Al-26 comes from outside our galaxy.

God displays his greatness in the vastness and the mysteries of our universe. He creates beauty from explosions powerful beyond our understanding. There is no explosion too big for God to be in control over it. Yet, in his unlimited power, He wants a relationship with us and cares about each of us. In the work of Jesus Christ he has gone to great lengths to provide us a way to know him in a personal relationship. I want to finish this with some selections from Isaiah chapter 40 (NIV 1984 Bible).

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? . . .
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way? . . .
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they are fine dust. . . .

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in. . . .

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel,
My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases
the power of the weak.”

Science and the Age of the Solar System

From the 1960’s creationists in the sciences who believed God created in six literal days began doing research into Earth’s geology and also started to challenge the accepted old age views in geology. Creationists have had some ideas that have needed to be abandoned along the way, but I would say they accomplished a lot in showing evidence from geology and geophysics that affirms the Biblical view of Earth history. There aren’t many issues geologists can bring up anymore that young-age creationists don’t have an answer to, in geology. There are controversies where creationists may not be of one consensus view, but I would say much has been accomplished that makes a case for a young Earth and the truth of the book of Genesis. When I was a teacher at a Christian school in the early 1990’s there wasn’t much published by creationists on topics about the solar system or planetary science. I wanted to give a creationist view of the solar system in my middle school science classes but I found that there wasn’t much available to help me as a teacher. Also, what was available on solar system topics was very out of date. So this led me to start researching solar system topics. In the early 1990’s there was also much new information and new images of the outer planets from the Voyager 1 and 2 missions. My efforts in looking into planetary science continued beyond what I needed as a teacher. I started rethinking topics in planetary science from a young-age creation viewpoint.

In much of my published articles in planetary science my efforts have been to point the way or “start the ball rolling” in hopes that more research will be done by others after me. Christians always have to paddle against the stream of the world, as we look for a better set of answers and a better direction than those from the unbelieving world we live in. This is true in many issues, including how to approach counseling in dealing with personal problems, in medical ethics, in politics, and it is true in science. The young-age creationist view is built on a strong view of the inerrancy of Scripture and a high view of the authority of Scripture. God’s word doesn’t tell us everything about history or about the universe but it speaks with authority in everything it does say. This view is in line with the teachings of Jesus, and Apostles Paul and Peter in the New Testament. The young-age creation view has been attacked and treated with disrespect for many years now. Creationists were being “cancelled” long before anyone had heard of the term “cancel culture.” Creationists were also bringing up the issue of intelligent design long before the so-called “Intelligent Design Movement.”

Sometimes geology learned on Earth can be applied on other planets in our solar system. It’s fascinating to me to consider that God created all the planets, not just Earth. And, they are all different, very different from Earth. But applying science is challenging on other planets. Often things are in a very different context on another planet. For example there are certain types of sedimentary rocks found on Mars that are also present on Earth, but on Mars they are of limited thickness and scale compared to the Earth. Also they are not normally muds that hardened to rock, they are more often of the type called evaporites. So whereas Earth has massive layers of sedimentary rock deposited by water, Mars has relatively little of this and much more volcanic rock. There is evidence of water erosion on Mars but it has always been a mystery how this happened. So, although rock is rock, the history of other planets (and moons) are different from Earth. Also, other planets and moons in our solar system exist in various temperature regimes. So for example on Neptune’s moon Triton and on Pluto you can have Nitrogen geysers and Nitrogen gases condensing onto the surface because it is so cold. Water is common across the solar system except for Mercury and our Moon mainly. Even Venus has water in a certain sense in the acid that is prevalent in its atmosphere. But you won’t find a drop of liquid water or ice on Venus’ surface. Instead, you could melt lead on the surface. In the outer solar system water is normally in the form of ice. Mars has significant water also but it is often ice just below the surface or at the poles.

How Old is Our Solar System?

Is there evidence in our solar system that confirms or supports a young-age view? Some of the technical or non-technical articles I’ve published have addressed issues of age. I would say there are some good confirming evidences of a young age in the solar system. I will briefly mention some that are not my research then mention some that relate to my articles. First, in dealing with the age issue the topic of radioactive dating techniques is important. Creationists have shown there are many examples where different radioactive dating methods contradict each other or contradict geological observations. In the solar system the main problem with radioactive dates (such as of Moon rocks and meteorites collected on Earth) is probably the daughter isotope being present in the beginning. In radioactive dating, one radioactive isotope of an element (the parent) decays into a different isotope of a different element (the daughter). If some of the daughter were present at the start, it makes the sample appear older than it really is. Other effects in could interfere with getting correct radioactive dates as well. So the research creationists have done on radioactive dating on Earth does give some insight for the solar system. But generally, I would not trust radioactive dates, except for some Carbon-14 dates on Earth less than about 3,000 years. Below is a link to an article on radioactive dating and one of the best evidences for a young solar system, Earth’s magnetic field.

One area where there are strong confirmations of a young age view in the solar system is in regard to magnetic fields, for Earth and other objects in our solar system. The best work on this comes from a physicist named Humphreys who developed a creation model starting from the biblical idea of God creating in the beginning using water, like it describes in Genesis 1 and in 2 Peter 3. Then after creation the magnetic field decreases in strength, especially at the time of Noah’s Flood. Humphreys’ model not only explains Earth’s changing magnetic field well but it allowed him to predict the magnetic field strengths of Uranus and Neptune before the Voyager spacecrafts measured them! He had the numbers more correct than evolutionary scientists. He has extended his model to explain the planet Mercury and the Sun also. The magnetic field evidence supports Earth being less than about 9,000 years old.


One issue I have published a number of articles on is the issue of craters in our solar system. There are so many craters on the Moon, Mercury, Mars, and other objects in our solar system! It made me ask myself “what happened?” In a biblical timeline for history, there’s no way to fit millions or billions of years. The Bible says that all things were created within six days, so you can’t say that things in space are much older than the Earth (see Exodus 20:11). For some years I operated on the assumption that we should treat the Earth as any other planet regarding cratering but put almost all the impacts at the time of the Noahic Flood. I later changed my view on this and decided to accept the Fourth Day Impacts idea from Dr. Danny Faulkner (Astronomer at Answers in Genesis). In this approach, impacts from space are seen as part of the formation process for most objects in our solar system, however Earth was an exception. You have to understand the creation week as full of great miraculous events and Earth was formed in a different manner than other objects. Earth was not subjected to impacts until after the creation week, or perhaps not until the global Flood judgment. This explains how many impacts could happen across the solar system but Earth only has a relatively small number of impact craters. This fits a young age time scale of several thousand years. There is evidence on Earth for approximately 180-190 known remnants of crater structures. These would have happened surrounding the Noahic Flood.


Creationists have long used the lifetime of short-period comets as a young age argument. I wrote a technical paper to try and update this issue in the light of modern scientific ideas on comets (see my technical paper on comets). Comets are generally objects that are a mix of dust, rock, and ice often described as dirty snowballs. A few of them are more rocky but comets always have “volatile” materials in them that boil away as they come near the Sun. Some comets break apart and fall into the Sun as they pass through their perihelion (the nearest point to the Sun). There are also some comets that have broken up or collided with Jupiter. Jupiter has a great tendency to capture comets and alter comet orbits. Since comets are somewhat fragile and they lose material as they come near the Sun, they do not last forever. Many comets (long-period ones) are in very long narrow orbits and have never come near the Sun because they’ve never made it in to their perihelion.

The term “lifetime” should be explained to understand how comets point to a young age. As a comet passes near the Sun, it loses material. This will either make the comet fade so it can no longer be seen, it may break up and the pieces scatter, or it may fall into a planet or into the Sun. How long does this take for short-period comets? This needs to be answered by breaking the short-period comets into two groups, the Jupiter Family Comets (JFCs) and the Halley Type Comets (HTCs). The JFC comet orbits are near the same ecliptic plane that is like the planet orbits. But the HTC objects have more inclined orbits and some are retrograde (like comet Halley). This means they orbit the Sun in the opposite direction compared to the motion of the planets in their orbits. One estimate made by scientists in 1997 said that JFC comets would have a lifetime of from 3,000 to 30,000 years, with 12,000 years being the most likely lifetime on the average. The HTC comets take longer to complete an orbit and they may not come as close to the Sun, so they could last a bit longer. An estimate of the “lifetime” of the HTC comets from 2006 was 69,000 years on the average. These lifetime estimates are not my calculations, they come from scientists (not likely to be creationists) known in planetary science and comet research. These lifetime figures are consistent with the Biblical timescale. However, scientists believing in an old solar system would argue the short-period comets are replaced by other comets over time. However, there has always been difficulty in showing how the orbit changes could take place to replace the short-period comets frequently enough. So, I find that the young age argument from short-period comets is still very valid.

Heat Problems for Moons

Other age issues have to do with energy being available to be the driving mechanism for various geological or atmospheric processes. For example, Neptune is now considered the most distant planet since Pluto is now considered a “Dwarf Planet” and not a “Planet” (Click to see my article on this). In 2003, I wrote a paper for the International Conference on Creationism about Jupiter’s moon Io. Io is very interesting in being the most volcanically active body in the solar system. There are some volcanoes on Io that literally never stop erupting. On Io it’s like volcanism has gone wild. The volcanoes generate a great deal of heat that is given off in the form of infrared light waves. At the time of my 2003 paper, the observed amount of heat from infrared measurements was about ten times as much as what scientific models of Io’s interior could explain. Since 2003 there has been more research by scientists on Io. Today there are new ideas that come much closer to accounting for the observed infrared energy given off by Io. The new ideas have proposed that there is a partially molten layer under the crust of Io. This would mean that there is a lot of molten material in or under Io’s crust.

But, there is a fundamental question about these new models of Io — how could this be sustained for billions of years? On Io, if you sum up the total volume of all the lava erupting over time, it would be approximately 550 cubic kilometers every year! There is so much lava erupting from Io that at current rates it would require the entire mantle and crust of the whole moon to be recycled 140 or 150 times in 4.5 billion years. This is hard to accept. There is no plate tectonics on Io so it isn’t clear how material that made it to the surface would be remixed into the interior again to recycle it. Also the variety of lavas that erupt today do not really fit the recycling concept. In the recycling approach, the lavas would become always of the same composition over time, but that is not what they are. The lavas on Io vary in composition and vary hundreds of degrees in temperature. Calculating an age for Io can’t be done exactly but the problem is in explaining how it is feasible for such extreme volumes of lava to keep erupting for over four billion years.

Volcanism can take different forms with different moons in the solar system. There are a couple of moons in our solar system that have geysers that erupt salty water and other material. These are what I call the “warm icy moons.” One of these is Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons that is totally covered with water ice. Another one is called Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn. The basic problem is that a small spherical body cools off faster than a large spherical object. Thus, a small moon, particularly like Enceladus, should freeze solid in millions or billions of years. Yet, Enceladus still erupts material near its South Pole from certain ridges called the “Tiger Stripes.” Thus the problem is in explaining what could be a source of heat to keep water liquid for billions of years. Granted that salty briny water has a lower freezing temperature and Enceladus does have some heat from tidal forces from Saturn. But even so scientists have found it difficult to explain. A group of scientists wrote about the problem with Enceladus in the Journal Science in 2000, “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.” Thus, a young age view can actually be an easier simpler explanation than believing in billions of years. In several thousand years, it’s more plausible that Enceladus is still cooling down from creation.


These are just a few examples of things in our own solar system that point to a young age. I once wrote an article called “Our Young Solar System” for Creation magazine (see ). Some young age indicators allow actually calculating an age figure. I call these “Category 1″ arguments. The age estimate of 9,000 years mentioned above for Earth’s magnetic field is a Category 1 argument, but the 9,000 would be an upper limit. The actual age could be a bit less. Another example is about Saturn’s moon called Titan (see the creation magazine article above). In 2007 scientists wrote that the methane in Titan’s atmosphere should be used up by chemical reactions in about 10 million years. This is an upper limit and only a rough estimate. But an age of just thousands of years is possible for Titan; it just requires looking at the data a different way than most scientists are willing to do.

Other age arguments are what I call “Category 2″ evidences. These are more about showing the problems with an old age view and showing that there is another legitimate way to interpret the same facts. Category 2 arguments are often related to Geology but not always. I did articles explaining examples of both categories for Earth which are on my website below. One of the best Category 2 arguments for Earth are the cases of soft tissue and sometimes blood found present in dinosaur fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old (see the ‘youngearth2.htm’ article below).

The solar system issues I’ve mentioned are usually Category 2 arguments. The lifetime of short-period comets could be considered Category 1 but they are not my original calculation. On comets, I’m really reinterpreting the research of others. There are always other ways to interpret the same facts, when it comes to events of the past. It is appropriate to deal with the age issue for our solar system because from all the exploration that has been done from NASA missions and the missions from other nations, we have significant information to go on. Where we have the most data and the best data is on Earth, because this is where we live and we can gather more kinds of relevant data easier. But we don’t have all the same data for other bodies in the solar system. I would say that where we have the best data, for Earth, we have better evidence for a young age. For the solar system, the information we have has grown a lot and I don’t find anything about our solar system that requires us to believe in millions or billions of years. To us Earthlings, billions of years are required for believing biological evolution but not needed in a Biblical view of history. People tend to prefer believing in millions or billions of years because of what it implies about the authority of the Bible if you accept 6,000 years.

Wayne’s articles related to the above:

2006, Nov 10, Planet Definitions and the Creator,
2009, June 16, Answers in Genesis website, “Why Recent Creation?” (
2011, v33(4) October, “Our young solar system,” Creation magazine, pp 38-41 (
2014, (Sept.), “Evaluating the Day Four Cratering Hypothesis“, Answers Research Journal (
2014, v50(3) “Critique of Modern Oort Comet Theory,” CRS Quarterly, pp 146-153. (Creation Research Society)
2015, v29(3) “Warm Icy Moons” Journal of Creation, pp 97-103 (
2016, v30(3) “The Manx comet and naturalistic assumptions” Journal Of Creation, pp 12-14.
2020, v34(2) “The volcanism and age of Io” Journal of Creation, (August 2020) pp 117-123.

Christianity and Reasons for Faith – by Wayne R. Spencer