MESSENGER Is Back

Due perhaps to the fact that the spacecraft MESSENGER – which Mr Thomas refuses to capitalise – is currently orbiting the planet, something that has never happened before, the folk at the, ah,  Icr, are very keen on Mercury. They – mostly the ICR’s “science writer,” Brian Thomas – seem to believe that the MESSENGER data shows that Mercury is not billions of years old, and is in fact merely thousands as the bible tells them. I last posted on this subject in Creationist Misinformation: Mercury, so this post is effectively Mercury II.

Images of features on Mars analogous to the 'hollows' found, from the Supporting Online Material (linked)

The ICR article is called Messenger Probe Finds Mercury’s Surface Looks Young, and alleges that “fresh looking” hollows – for which “[t]he most likely formation mechanisms…involve recent loss of volatiles through some combination of sublimation, space weathering, outgassing, or pyroclastic volcanism,” according to the actual paper, which I will get to in a moment – must be young, because the features, again, look fresh, and also the following questions:

How did Mercury obtain volatile chemicals in the first place, especially since its proximity to the sun should have burned them all off when the planet was supposedly forming? And, assuming they somehow did form, why would any such materials stay put for billions of years? After all, they’re volatile. And how, after billions of years, does the planet still have the energy to expel the volatile-containing material through the planet’s crust?

With regards to the last one, I would say that the volatiles are probably perfectly capable expelling themselves. The other questions require the reading of the small part of the Science paper that is readable to those who don’t have a subscription and don’t want to fork out $15, namely the abstract.

The paper is called Hollows on Mercury: MESSENGER Evidence for Geologically Recent Volatile-Related Activity. This tells you something already: namely that when we talk about ‘recent’ here, we mean geologically recent. Not only does that mean that the ‘activity’ could easily have happened millions upon millions of years ago – far longer ago than Mr Thomas believes Mercury was created – but that it is highly unlikely that they are making the case that it happened within, say, the last 10,000 years, which would give it a hope of sidling in to their chronology.

Whatever Mr Thomas may say, Mercury is clearly older than ten thousand years. What this means is that the ICR has two choices. On the one hand, they can admit that at very least Mercury looks older than the time since the Creation would allow, which would mean that God created the universe with this aspect of it looking old, Omphalos/last Thursday style. This does, however, have the disadvantage that they can’t use this article to support their position: it would not matter to them precisely how much older the planet looked. The other option is that they reject that it looks older, in which case they still can’t use this to help their position.

The article, then, is clearly an attack on the science – as if there was any suspicion that it could be otherwise. He is claiming that the explanation given for the hollows contradicts the idea that Mercury could be old. He is in no hurry to take the first option and admit that Mercury looks older than x thousand years, as that would confuse his readers.

The trouble is that the abstract merely says that “[t]hese features support the inference that Mercury’s interior contains higher abundances of volatile materials than predicted by most scenarios for the formation of the solar system’s innermost planet.” So what? Brain Thomas manages to quote the following from the interior of the article – “Mercury is a small rocky-metal world whose internal geological activity was generally thought to have ended long ago. The presence of potentially recent surface modification implies that Mercury’s nonimpact geological evolution may still be ongoing.” – but that doesn’t seem to even suggest that they have evidence for that beyond the “well, why not?”

Mr Thomas is fond of claiming that this or that ongoing process is evidence that the astronomic body in question can’t be old, as the process could not still be happening after such a time. I’ve never found this to stand up to scrutiny – and in this case all he has is his own ideas, which look even less likely to. For goodness sake, the abstract said that the inferred amounts of volatile materials is greater than the predictions of most models, which should really put the matter at rest. Thus, I move that the closing paragraph of the article be amended to the following:

Mercury’s active geology is the exact opposite of long-age young-earth-creationist predictions—but it is just what one would expect if Mercury is only thousands billions of years old.

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2 thoughts on “MESSENGER Is Back

  1. Um, you realize that the image you chose is of Mars, right? I recognize that terrain fairly well, plus we don’t have a camera at Mercury that can image at such high resolution. Anyway, I can get you a copy of the article if you’d like. You should have my e-mail address by now – I think it has it recorded since I’m signed in when commenting.

  2. The ‘supporting online material’ alleges that they are ‘analogous,’ which make them the best pictures I could get – see the alt-text of the image (I really should be using captions…). I wouldn’t mind a copy of that article, in the circumstances.

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