Saturn’s rings in colour. The dark band is the main division, known as the Cassini division. Saturn’s rings show considerable evidence of being much younger than the assumed evolutionary age of the solar system.
Revelations in the solar system
In the last few decades, a number of exciting space ventures have provided scientists with a great deal of new information about our solar system.1 Unfortunately, such discoveries are usually interpreted in terms of an age for the solar system of billions of years and as having come about by natural processes, without input from the hand of God.
Yet it is not just the Earth which displays the power and divine nature of its Creator (Romans 1:20). The sheer scale and variety of the solar system demonstrate God’s power and creativity.
New and better data often challenge evolutionary origins theories and their old age assumptions. For instance, the Voyager missions in the 1970s and 80s revealed surprising features in the beautiful rings of Saturn, which were found to possess a very detailed structure, described as ‘rings within rings within rings.’ The sharp edges of the rings and other evidences imply that the rings must be quite young in age.2
Ganymede from about 240,000 kilometres (150,000 miles) away. This particular moon turned out to still have a strong magnetic field, contrary to original expectations.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Epimetheus (left) and Janus (right), the ‘dancing’ moons of Saturn
Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, taken from the Mariner 10 spacecraft. If our planet were as close to the sun, it would be far too hot for any life to exist.
Scientists expected the surface of the small moon of Uranus, called Miranda, to be undramatic and uninteresting, since if it were very old, such a small moon should have little heat left for driving geological processes. Actually, Miranda’s surface has very extreme topography and many strange geological features that are difficult to understand if indeed it is very old.
Neptune, being the eighth planet from the Sun, would not be expected to have enough heat energy left for driving high speed winds after more than four billion years, yet it does. Measurements in late 1995 by the Galileo probe indicate a similar situation at Jupiter. Heat for driving the surprising turbulence and strong winds in Jupiter’s atmosphere must be coming from inside the planet, not from the Sun or any other external influence.3 Since the planets and moons are actually young, it is not difficult to understand how heat could still be present from within them.
One of the most amazing findings of the Voyager spacecraft was the two small moons of Saturn called Janus and Epimetheus which orbit extremely close to each other. One moon very gradually catches up with the other until about every four years the two objects revolve around each other so that they actually trade orbits! This is extraordinary, and requires a very unlikely delicate relationship between mass, speed, and distance.
There are a number of such ‘surprises’ which show that the Creator God is not limited to the naturalistic patterns predicted by evolutionary theories. In recent years scientists have been struck by the diversity and variety of objects found in the solar system. Planetary physicist David Stevenson, from Caltech, said recently: ‘The most striking outcome of planetary exploration is the diversity of the planets.’4 Another scientist put it this way: ‘I’m surprised at the versatility of nature … you put together the same basic materials and get startlingly different results. No two are alike; it’s like a zoo.’5 Like a zoo! Of course, since the same God made the animal kingdom and the solar system! It is not nature, but God who is versatile and creative.
Scientists have long argued, on the basis of their belief in a common evolutionary origin for the solar system, that studying other planets should help us understand our own. However, it seems this is not so. One planetary geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey said,
’I wish it were not so, but I’m somewhat skeptical that we’re going to learn an awful lot about Earth by looking at other planetary bodies. The more that we look at the different planets, the more each one seems to be unique.’4
Many characteristics of the Earth are quite unique, and recent discoveries underscoring this are causing a turn toward viewing planetology as a study of contrasts with Earth, not similarities to it.
Creationists are making exciting progress in explaining the geology of Earth in terms of catastrophic processes. But what about the geologies of the nine planets and over sixty moons of the solar system? Cratering, volcanism, and other geological processes are evident throughout.
Since there has not been 4.6 billion years of time for the above processes to occur, then something catastrophic must have occurred to explain the many craters and the unusual surface features on planets and moons.
Plumes from three massive erupting volcanoes can be seen on this image of Jupiter’ moon Io: Tvashtar volcano at 11 o’clock, Prometheus volcano at 9 o’ and Masubi volcano (the bright patch towards 6 o’clock). This is a sign of heat remaining in Io’s interior. Small moons like this should have cooled off long ago if they really were billions of years old.
A photomosaic of Callisto, the most heavily cratered object known in the Solar System. This is made up of 9 frames from 390,000 kilometres (245,000 miles). There is widespread evidence of massive catastrophism in the Solar System.
Not only do Neptune’s rings [not visible in this image, Ed.] show evidence of youth, its high level of atmospheric activity implies that it has not yet cooled off as much as ‘old-agers’ expected.
Close-up of Europa from 241,000 kilometres (150,600 miles away). This Jovian moon has an unusually smooth (though cracked like an eggshell) surface, which implies that it may be mostly covered in ice. Suggestions of a sub-surface ocean of liquid water haved fuelled speculation about life having evolved there.
Some of the moons have so many craters that present processes cannot explain them, even using evolutionary time scales. An authoritative book said about Saturn’s moon Iapetus: ‘At estimated current rates it would require one thousand billion years to produce the crater density observed.’6 This implies that there must have been much higher, (i.e. catastrophic) rates of cratering in the past, which would explain how our moon, for example, can be only thousands of years old, yet have the craters it does.
What could cause catastrophes in the solar system? First, a planet in the region between Mars and Jupiter is a possibility that has been suggested by many scientists, destroyed to produce the objects we now call the asteroids. A further possibility would be a cloud of solid debris from outside the solar system passing through the solar system.
A large collision in the region beyond Neptune would obviously produce many fragments that could take many different paths away from the impact. A few fragments could be ‘captured’ into orbit around a planet, for instance. Neptune’s moon Nereid seems to be a likely candidate for having been captured, because of its extremely elongated orbit.
Neptune’s rings have thick regions and thin regions. This unevenness means they cannot be billions of years old, since collisions of the ring objects would eventually make the ring very uniform. A collision near Neptune could lead to the destruction of one or more moons, as they were forced to pass too close to the planet. At a certain distance near a planet, known as the Roche limit, an object can be literally pulled apart by gravity. This could explain at least some of the rings of the planets, especially those of Neptune. One major collision event could cause a number of other collisions, capture, or breakup events.
The moons of Jupiter, studied by the Galileo mission, display a surprising mix of ‘old’ and ‘young’ features. Using the assumption of uniformity (i.e. that cratering rates have always been more or less the same) older objects should be more heavily cratered than young ones. Yet here we find the moon Callisto, which is the most heavily cratered object known in the solar system, and its sister moon Europa, with the smoothest surface of all.7 Although Europa’s craters may have been filled with ice, the heavier cratering on Callisto could be the result of regional catastrophic events, with both moons the same age.
Another Jovian moon, Io, surprised astronomers by indications of volcanic activity. Such a body, much smaller than the earth, should have long ago lost all its internal heat, if it was billions of years old. So in line with the ‘old ages’ idea, a complex model was developed in which Jupiter’s gravity rhythmically ‘squeezes’ Io to keep heating it by friction. However, this heat from Jupiter’s gravity cannot account for all the heat coming from Io and its volcanoes. This points to Io being young, not billions of years old.
More problems for evolution …
There is a particularly thorny problem for evolutionary solar system models. Everyone has watched accomplished skaters spin on ice. As skaters pull their arms in, their radius decreases and they spin faster. This effect is due to what physicists call the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum. In the formation of our Sun from a nebula in space, the same effect would occur as the gases contracted into the centre to form the Sun. This would cause the sun to spin very rapidly as a result of this law. Actually, our sun spins very slowly while the planets move very rapidly around the sun.13 This pattern is directly opposite to the pattern predicted for the Nebular Hypothesis. Many scientists today no doubt assume that modern theories have solved this problem. But a well-known solar system scientist Dr Stuart Ross Taylor, has said in a recent book, ‘The ultimate origin of the solar system’s angular momentum remains obscure’.14
The accepted evolutionary view of the origin of the solar system is usually called the Nebular Hypothesis. In this model, a giant cloud in space made up of mainly spinning, ionized gas with a magnetic field is believed to have pulled together by gravity into the sun, planets and other objects in our solar system. Computer simulations of this process do not start with initial conditions like those of real nebulas, and have other problems. One scientist summarized these by saying ‘The clouds are too hot, too magnetic, and they rotate too rapidly.’8 The contraction produces effects that tend to make the formation of planets impossible.9
One scientist described the Nebular Hypothesis as the theory with the ‘best fit’ to the observational evidence. However, he then stated that: ‘The argument is highly speculative and some of it borders on science fiction.’10
There is a competing evolutionary model for the origin of the solar system, called the Capture Theory.
In this, a passing protostar, loosely held together, passes close to our Sun whose gravity pulls off a filament of the star’s material, which breaks up into segments that become six planets (not the current nine). Then two of these six collide and the asteroids, Venus, Earth, Mars, and our Moon represent either fragments of the collision or moons of the two planets that collided.11 The Capture Theory is considered unlikely by most astronomers and has unique problems of its own. Interestingly, today some catastrophes are being invoked to explain the solar system.
Dr Jonathan Henry, who teaches science at Clearwater Christian College, believes the solar system evidence to be consistent with a universal catastrophe, which he associates with God’s curse on all creation (Genesis 3). Dr Henry postulates that this was when (initially rapid) radioactive and other decay processes (including of planetary magnetic fields) began. This led to enormous interior heating and volcanism. By this approach, the asteroids would be the remnants of the disintegration of a planet from such internal overheating.12 This heating could have been a trigger of some processes in the Flood of Noah. It is also possible that some asteroids were created as they are and some are the result of collisions. A solar-system-wide bombardment event of some kind would explain widespread cratering within a young universe.
Christians should welcome the flow of new discoveries in space which, stripped of their evolutionary assumptions, continually highlight the incredible greatness and creativity of our God.
References and notes
- Paul Weissman and Marcia Segura, ‘Galileo Arrives at Jupiter’, Astronomy 24(1):36–45, January 1996. Return to text.
- Wayne R. Spencer, ‘Design and Catastrophism in the Solar System’, Proceedings of the 1992 Twin-Cities Creation Conference, pp. 164–5. Return to text.
- Douglas Isbell and David Morse, ‘Galileo Probe Suggests Planetary Reappraisal’, NASA Press Release Number 96–10, January 22, 1996. Available on World Wide Web at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo. Because the sun is so distant, it provides little energy to Jupiter. Return to text.
- Kerr, R.A., ‘The Solar System’s New Diversity’, Science 265(5177):1360, 2 September 1994. Return to text.
- Ref.4, p. 1361. Return to text.
- Morrison, D., et al., ‘Satellite Geology’, Saturn, Tom Gehrels and Mildred Shapley Matthews, Editors; 1984, University of Arizona Press, p. 634. Return to text.
- The evidence for some cratering on Europa having been plugged up by water seems substantial. This is proposed to have come from a subsurface ocean. See also New Scientist, 5 April 1997, pp 42–45. Return to text.
- Reeves, H., ‘The Origin of the Solar System’, The Origin of the Solar System, S.F. Dermott, editor, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1978, p. 9. Return to text.
- Another problem with the general Nebular model is in the formation of the gaseous planets. As the gas would pull together into the planets, the young Sun would pass through what is called the T-Tauri phase. In this phase the Sun would give off an intense solar wind, far more intense than the present. This solar wind would have an effect of driving excess gas and dust out of the still forming solar system and thus there would no longer be enough of the light gases left to form Jupiter and the other three giant gas planets. This would leave the four gas planets smaller than we find them today. Return to text.
- Ref. 8, pp. 1–3. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 167. Return to text.
- Personal communication with Creation magazine, March 13, 1996. Return to text.
- In fact, although the sun has over 99% of the mass of the solar system, it only has 2% of the angular momentum. Return to text.
- Taylor, S.R., Solar System Evolution: A New Perspective, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 53. Return to text.