Evidence of a watery origin for the solar system
Back in July 2005, NASA performed a spectacular maneuvre with a spacecraft, crashing it into the comet Tempel 1. The experiment aimed to understand the substances from which our solar system, our planet and ultimately life itself allegedly ‘evolved’.
NASA/JPL/UMD artwork by Pat Rawlings
Aside from sensationalist evolutionary overtones of the mission, it was a success. The spacecraft’s impactor, a 370kg (816lb) copper bullet, smashed into the comet’s surface, producing a spectacular plume of ejecta—the debris cloud thrown into space as a result of the impact. Astronomers on Earth observed the impact, but the best images came from Deep Impact’s mother craft, as it completed its flyby of the comet.
The impact was also observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope, an orbiting telescope that can detect light at wavelengths that humans can’t see. This allowed astronomers to analyse the light reflecting off the dust and debris thrown up by the impact, to try to determine the chemical and geological makeup of the comet.
While the data produced by the Deep Impact experiment will keep astronomers busy for years to come, early results have already produced surprises.
Experimental science has shown us that different types of chemical elements and compounds emit and absorb light in specific parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.1 Astronomers use a technique known as spectroscopy to analyse the light from stars and gas clouds in space, looking for the specific signatures of their chemical makeup. The chemical signatures show up as dark bands (absorption lines) or light bands (emission lines) in the spectra of the object being studied.
In the same way, scientists used the Spitzer Space telescope to record the chemical composition of the cloud of ejecta thrown up from Comet Tempel 1’s surface when the impactor hit.
Something out of the ordinary
At the time of writing, scientists had found the signatures of a number of the components of the comet’s interior. They include silica, the major component of sand, and ethane, a gas that is used on Earth as a fuel and a refrigerant. Two other chemical signatures were also found, pointing to the existence of chemical compounds scientists could not have predicted in their wildest dreams. The compounds in question are carbonates, found in the shells of sea creatures and limestone, and clays.2
The big problem surrounding these two compounds lies in the knowledge that carbonates and clays only ever form in liquid water, not in the icy outer reaches of the Solar system where Comet Tempel 1 is believed to have originated.
But the crystalline silicates found in conjunction with the carbonates and clays also pose a problem of their own.3 Astronomers have long believed comets to be abundant in silicates. However the silicates found in Tempel 1’s makeup are crystalline and require temperatures over 700°C (1,300°F) to form. This temperature is, in our solar system, found only very close to the Sun.
In conventional terms, comets such as Tempel 1, a short-period comet, are thought to form well beyond the orbit of the gas planet Neptune, where temperatures are consistently close to absolute zero (-273°C), not close to the Sun where temperatures soar. The existence of water-formed compounds, crystalline silicates and ethane gas in the same comet at the same time pose very hard questions for evolutionary scientists. It seems impossible to conceive of the very different conditions required all combining for their formation. The presence of liquid water requires a number of very specific conditions, not the least of which is a very narrow temperature and pressure range not found in interplanetary space.
For Christians however, the watery chemicals found in Tempel 1 are not unexpected at all. In fact, water in one form or another is found in abundance in the universe.4 We would expect this if we based our search for understanding on the accounts of creation found in the Bible, rather than on atheistic hypotheses that discount the biblical record.
In both the Old and New Testaments, we are told and reminded that water played an important role in the formation of our solar system, and quite possibly the universe as a whole.
Genesis 1:2–7 recounts the formation of the earth (and possibly the universe5) from water (referred to in Genesis 1:2 as the ‘deep’). And while it is speculative and not something that is explicit in the Genesis text, it is possible that God used the same processes to create the other planets in our solar system as well as planets that possibly exist in solar systems elsewhere in our galaxy and universe.
Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter uses the historical truth of the solar system’s watery beginnings in a prophetic sense (2 Peter 3:5–7). Indeed he rebukes those who wilfully oppose the Gospel and the historical record of the Scriptures.
The scenario of creation described in Genesis, and by Peter, while fitting the evidence we find in the universe, also paints a picture that is the opposite of that portrayed by the big bang model of origins. The big bang model says that far from starting with liquid water, the universe began in a superheated explosion. And right down to the naturalistic models of planet formation, extremely high temperatures play an important role in the origin and development of the universe.
Scientists continue to wonder about anomalous and seemingly paradoxical finds in our Universe. These include not only water-formed compounds in the nucleus of a comet, but also water ice clouds around distant stars, or the existence of complex galactic structures in the distant Universe.6,7
Christians can rest assured that such evidence supports the record of history God has given us in His holy Word. But these features are a major problem to those who deny the existence of the Creator or the historical accuracy of His Word.
References and notes
- Sir Isaac Newton, a biblical creationist, was the first to discover (1672) that a ray of white light could be split into the colours of the rainbow by shining it through a prism. In 1861, German scientists Kirchhoff and Bunsen discovered emission and absorption lines in light. Their wavelengths depended on the chemical composition of the object emitting or absorbing the light. Thus spectroscopy became a vital tool for chemical analysis. See also Williams, A. and Hartnett, J., Dismantling the big bang, Master Books, Arkansas, USA, pp. 38–49, 2005. Return to text.
- Calvin, W., NASA’s Spitzer and deep impact build recipe for comet soup,
, 7 September 2005. Return to text.
- Chang, K., Composition of a comet poses a puzzle for scientists, New York Times,
, 7 September 2005. Return to text.
- Cosmic water traced by Europe’s space telescope ISO, 8 November 2005. Return to text.
- Dr Russell Humphreys has set out a possible scenario for the creation of the Universe out of water in his book, Starlight and time: Solving the puzzle of distant starlight in a young universe. Return to text.
- Rigg, A., Galaxy games, Creation 27(1):18–21, 2004. Return to text.
- Rigg, A., Young galaxies too old for the big bang, Creation 26(3):15, 2004. Return to text.