2012 in Review: Astronomy

An artist's impression of a planet orbiting a red dwarfAfter a hiatus to allow the showcasing of the January Acts & Facts (which I’m sure you’re all royally tired of by now), the ICR has returned to their 2012 retrospective series. The new article is called The Best Creation Science Updates of 2012: Space Sciences. I predict that the third and final of these articles will be posted on Friday, will be about the “life sciences,” and will include reference to the ENCODE project.

But back to here and now: Brian opens contending that,

This year brought its share of discoveries that confirm biblical creation’s contention that God made the heavens supernaturally and recently.

But before he gets to explaining these discoveries he cannot resist taking a swipe at Lawrence Krauss.

Early this year, atheistic physicist Lawrence Krauss released a new book in which he described theories of how the universe could have come “from nothing.” However, any attempt to do so redefines “nothing” to mean “something.” All of Krauss’ admittedly ingenious theories on this matter rest on this bait-and-switch fallacy. A news release about the book plainly admitted, “nothing doesn’t mean ‘nothing’ anymore.” One must redefine reality to avoid its Creator.

The press release – which is actually from 2011 – is quite interesting. It says:

As Krauss argues, the question of creating something from nothing is first and foremost a scientific one—as the very notions of ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ have been completely altered as a result of our current scientific understanding. As a pioneering theoretical physicist at the forefront of exploratory cosmology and particle physics, Krauss tackles the timeless enigma by showing how science has literally changed the playing field for this big question.

Thomas’ interpretation of his own quote above does not seem to be accurate. Instead of trying to “redefine reality,” Krauss is arguing that our definition of ‘nothing’ does not reflect reality. I don’t know why Thomas brings all this up here, but it’s true that the ICR spent a lot of time in 2012 trying to bash Krauss’ book.

The most common (or “garden”) variety of creationist astronomy claim involves an observation of an astronomical object that has features that go against the expected trend. Usually this will be a galaxy that is a little further away than it should be given its metal content or similar. The easiest counter to such an argument is to point out that there is still a trend here. “Secular” (sometimes, “evolutionary”) science predicts that there should be such a trend, and while we may have difficulty explaining certain specific observations right now that doesn’t mean that we never will have an answer. Creation “science,” meanwhile, doesn’t offer any explanation for the observed trends and would really rather that there were none at all. These stories are poor excuses for evidence in favour of creationism, but there are nevertheless several in Brian’s article. For example:

The Big Bang notion also took more hits this year. One report described a handful of galaxies that had huge central black holes. Secularists calculate ways that randomized matter might spontaneously organize into galaxies with black holes comprising the usual 0.1 percent of a galaxy’s mass. But new models must now try to explain black holes comprising 14 percent of the mass of these “oddball galaxies.”

This is a reference to a story from December, one which fits perfectly into the mould I described. By the way, lead author Remco van den Bosch said that Thomas’ original article “gave [him] a good laugh,” so Brian’s evidently doing some good in the world.

The next example is a little older, and a little different:

Similarly, according to the Big Bang, binary stars could not orbit one another any faster than once every five hours in a universe that is supposedly 13.7 billion years old. No wonder secular astronomers expressed “complete surprise” when they found “something previously thought to be impossible”—binary stars with half the orbital period than what the Big Bang theory requires. Giant black holes and tiny orbital periods add to a long list of observations that confound the Big Bang’s fictionalized history.

The logic beyond this apparently bizarre claim comes from the idea that binary (i.e. double) stars must form a certain distance away from each other. After this, forces acting between the stars cause a loss of angular momentum which leads to the stars slowly spiralling into each other. Given the age of the universe there is a cut-off below which binary stars should not have had time to drop to in their orbits. This discovery was of four systems with orbital periods that are below the expected cut-off, in one case around half of it.

As I explained at the time there are multiple potential explanations, of which the creationist one – which boils down to God screwing with us – is the least likely. Indeed the most obvious explanation (though the second-to-least likely after creationism) is simply that the universe is a little older than previously thought – unlikely, but still more so than ‘goddidit.’

The ‘distant galaxy’ claim I mentioned earlier is interesting in that it grows in the retelling – often without so much as a citation it will be asserted that astronomers have found galaxies of all levels of maturity at all distances and times, flatly denying the existence of any trend. This time Brian says:

The researchers who described those nearby big black hole galaxies also identified similar-looking galaxies in distant space. But according to the Big Bang, faraway (and long ago) galaxies are supposed to look less evolved, and nearby (and recent) ones are supposed to look more mature. Instead, these and other galaxies look similar throughout space. If the universe is 13.7 billion years old, then why is there no evolutionary progression of stars and galaxies, and why do binary stars that require twice the length of time still shine in the night sky?

So far as it is associated with the aforementioned black hole study, this particular claim seems to stem from a point in the paper that says:

Whereas the six compact galaxies presented in Table 1 are unusual and rare in the present-day universe, they are, interestingly enough, quantitatively similar to the typical red, passive, galaxies at much earlier times (at redshifts z ~ 2): those are also found, on average, to be smaller than similarly massive galaxies in the present-day universe, possibly possess high velocity dispersions, and generally have a disk-like structure.

This is to say that the galaxies found to have abnormally massive black holes (which are all comparatively nearby, as the measurement technique used cannot work with more distant and fainter galaxies) are of a kind that is rare today, but share properties in common with much older galaxies. That is to say, there really is a trend – but that these galaxies might be holdovers from an earlier time.

We move now to planetary science.

Other 2012 discoveries also confirm biblical creation’s expectation of a young universe. For example, the “faint young sun” paradox remains unsolved. Briefly, if the earth is 4.5 billion years old, then it should not contain life because the sun would have been too faint back then to support it. Researchers resorted to sheer speculation, suggesting that long ago the sun experienced an unexpected and unexplained episode of bright burning. What are the odds that it produced just the right amount of heat and light for just the right length of time to enable life to evolve on planet earth—as if it ever could? Since the earth and sun were created during the same week, the faint young sun paradox is only a problem for Big Bang’s time requirement.

To clarify Brain’s badly mangled explanations (it has nothing to do with the big bang), the sun appears to be a main sequence star – meaning that it is following the same progression over its lifetime as other stars of this “sequence” that we observe. The upshot of this is that early in Earth’s history the sun should have been too cold for liquid water, but the geological evidence does not support this idea. The explanation that B.T. calls “sheer speculation” – and I would call “special pleading” – is that the sun isn’t really on the main sequence, and in its past radiated more than a main sequence star should. What Brian forgets to mention this time, however, is that the researchers offered predictions of their model, in the form of “stretch marks” in the sun. If these are in fact found to exist then this explanation would no longer be special pleading, and nor would it be mere speculation either. But I doubt that the resolution to the paradox will lie down this road.

Moving on out to Titan:

Researchers also found methane lakes in the tropics of Saturn’s moon Titan this year. The problem is that “tropical lakes on Titan should evaporate over a period of just a few thousand years.” Of course, these are easy to explain in a solar system that is just a few thousand years old, but the lakes force those committed to billion-year-long histories to assert that Titan is somehow generating methane.

I’m sure that many lakes on Earth could also evaporate in a few thousand years – if it weren’t for the fact that they are being replenished from other sources. Thomas’ argument here falls completely flat when you realise that, just as Earth has its water cycle, Titan has an increasingly well-documented ethane/methane cycle. We’ve found rivers there now. Rivers.

Titan's Nile

Moving all the way out of the solar system for a moment we get to this strange claim:

Astronomers found a similarly sticky situation on the distant planet named GJ 1214b. Estimates of its density strongly suggest that it is largely water. The problem is that it closely orbits its red giant star every 38 hours, keeping it a toasty 450 degrees Farenheit. That star should have burned away this steamy planet long ago. So, both Titan’s lakes and GJ 1214b look very young.

Back in April, when we originally looked at the “distant” (it’s only around 42 light years away) planet Gliese 1214 b, this was not the argument used. Indeed, I don’t think that you even can boil away a water-world in the manner invoked by Brian’s description. Instead the issue was specifically that the stellar wind from the parent red dwarf star should have swept away the water vapour from the planets atmosphere, eroding it via that mechanism. However, the period that a red dwarf will be active in this way is only for the first 3 billion or so years, and a magnetic field with the strength of our own would be sufficient to resist the wind. however, if it were so close in, Earth would become tidally locked and the magnetic field would slow. The solution is for the planet to be a few times larger than our own – Gliese 1214 b has 7 times the mass of Earth, so that’s fine.

Here’s something that I didn’t cover myself:

But amidst all the astronomy news of this year, young-universe creation was most clearly confirmed by 2012 measurements of magnetic fields. Although scientists produced the most detailed map of the Milky Way galaxy, they still “have been puzzled over the origin of these galactic magnetic fields.” The new measurements confirm a prediction by creation physicist D. Russell Humphreys, who wrote in 2008 that if God created galaxies “standing out of the water and in the water” as 2 Peter 3:5 explains, then they should have the same magnetic field that scientists now describe.

I have no idea what makes this a ‘prediction’ of Humphreys – we already knew that the fields existed when he wrote the article cited, and so far as I can tell he doesn’t make any actual predictions that were confirmed with this research. Take a look at Stuart Robbins’ post on this subject for a little more information.

The final piece is also a Humphreys “prediction”:

Humphreys also predicted in 1984, based on his water-first creation model, that the planet Mercury’s crust should show remnant magnetism from when it solidified only thousands of years ago under the then-high strength of its planetary magnetic field. The strength of Mercury’s crustal magnetic field was finally published in 2012, confirming recent creation and refuting old-age planetary evolution.

It is very strange that Thomas should say that this refutes “old-age planetary evolution” – I should think that anyone could have told you that the crustal rocks of Mercury should have a remnant magnetic field. As I said at the time:

Humphreys’ “prediction” is a little like predicting that exoplanets will be discovered to be round, because God apparently likes round things (He could make them cubical, after all). There’s not likely to be much “evolutionist” consternation over this, and I’d bet that “Mercury’s magnetic crust confirms planetary evolution predication” would be an equally accurate headline.

But that’s all he has got – those were the “best creation science updates of 2012″ for the subject of astronomy. There were, of course, many more articles that Thomas didn’t mention. My personal favourite must of course be the Enceladus article that was pulled within 24 hours because of a fundamental mathematical error. It was a good year.

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