The sun: our special star
The earth is seen (on the top left) dwarfed here in approximate relative size to the sun. The massive fiery plumes (known as coronal ejections) seen here would encompass the earth many times over (photo: NASA).
The sun—this hot, bright ball of plasma dominates the daytime sky, and is by far the most massive object in our solar system. It provides heat and light to earth, and as we will see, it is no ordinary star.
The sun’s origin
According to God’s Word, the Bible, the sun did not always light the earth. It wasn’t made till Day 4 of Creation Week, while the earth was created on Day 1. This refutes ideas like ‘God used evolution’ and ‘God created over billions of years’, because they all assert that the sun arose before the earth.1 For the first three days of existence, the earth was lit by the light created on Day 1 (Genesis 1:3), while the day/night cycle was caused by the earth’s rotation relative to this directional light source. Then according to Genesis 1:14–19:
‘And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to divide between the day and the night. And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth. And it was so. And God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night, and the stars also. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night; and to divide between the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.’
And in the New Jerusalem, there will also be no need for the sun, because God will provide the light once again (Revelation 21:23). But meanwhile, we can appreciate the wonder of the star God has provided for us.
How is the sun special?
Anti-theists are fond of dismissing the sun as a run-of-the-mill star in a not-too-special place in a galactic spiral arm. It is true that many stars are far bigger and brighter than the sun. However, saying that bigger stars are more important is as illogical as saying that a 7–foot man is more important than a 5–foot woman.
Recent research has called the sun ‘exceptional’.2 Our sun is among the top 10% (by mass) of stars in its neighbourhood.2 It is actually an ideal size to support life on earth. There would be little point in having a red supergiant star like Betelgeuse, because it is so huge that it would engulf all the inner planets! Nor would we want a star like the blue-white supergiant Rigel, 25,000 times as bright as the sun, and emitting too much high-frequency radiation. Conversely, a star much smaller than our sun would be too faint to support life, unless the planet were so close to the star that there would be dangerous gravitational tides.
The sun is in an ideal environment. It is a single star—most stars exist in multiple-star systems. A planet in such a system would suffer extreme temperature variations. The sun’s position in our spiral Milky Way Galaxy is also ideal. Its orbit is fairly circular, meaning that it won’t go too near the inner galaxy where supernovae, extremely energetic star explosions, are more common.2 It also orbits almost parallel to the galactic plane—otherwise, crossing this plane would be very disruptive.2 Furthermore, the sun is at an ideal distance from the galactic centre, called the co-rotation radius. Only here does a star’s orbital speed match that of the spiral arms—otherwise the sun would cross the arms too often and be exposed to supernovae.2
Our sun is a powerful object, often throwing out flares, and every few years (usually around sunspot maximum—Sunspots, Galileo and heliocentrism), more violent ejections called coronal mass ejections (see photo, left). They cause huge electric currents in earth’s upper atmosphere and disrupt power grids and satellites. In 1989, one disabled a power grid in northern Quebec. But the sun turns out to be an ‘exceptionally stable’3 star. Three astronomers recently studied single stars of the same size, brightness and composition of the sun. Almost all of them erupt about once a century in superflares 100 to 100 million times more powerful than the one that blacked out Quebec. If the sun were to erupt in such a superflare, it would destroy earth’s ozone layer, with catastrophic results for life.4
How does the sun shine?
In 1939, Hans Bethe proposed that the sun and other stars are powered by nuclear fusion—this theory earned him the 1967 Nobel Prize for Physics.5 In fusion, extremely fast-moving hydrogen nuclei join to form helium—this requires temperatures of millions of degrees. Some mass is lost and converted into a huge amount of energy as per Einstein’s famous formula E = mc2.6 Thus the sun would be essentially a gigantic hydrogen bomb.7 If fusion were totally responsible for the sun’s huge power output of 3.86 x 1026 watts, four million tonnes of matter would be converted every second into energy—this is huge, but negligible compared to the sun’s enormous total mass.
|Sun facts23, 24|
|Mean distance from earth||149,600,000 km or 92,937,000 miles (1 astronomical unit (AU))|
|Diameter||1,392,000 km or 864,950 miles (109 x earth)|
|Mass||1.99 x 1030 kg (330,000 x earth)|
|Volume||1.412 x 1018 (1,300,000 Earths)|
|Mean density||1.41 g/cm3 (1/4 earth)|
|Temperature||5,470 °C (9,880 °F) surface, 14,000,000 °C (25,000,000 °F) core|
|Power output||3.86 x 1026 watts|
|Escape velocity at surface||618 km/sec or 384 miles/sec (55 x earth)|
|Rotational period (days)||26.9 (equator), 27.3 (sunspot zone, 16°N), 31.1 (pole), all synodical25|
That fusion is responsible for at least part of the sun’s energy output is supported by the sun’s huge flux of neutrinos, ghostly particles that can usually pass through light-years thicknesses of matter untouched.8
However, if nuclear fusion were the sole source of power, then we would expect to observe three times more neutrinos than we do.9 This shortfall has been tentatively explained by the idea that neutrinos alternate between three types. This would require that they have mass, although previously they were universally regarded as massless.
Alternatively, two-thirds of the sun’s energy could be provided by gravitational collapse, through conversion of gravitational potential energy to heat and light as the sun’s gases collapse inwards. This theory was proposed by the great physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894). It was the chief theory until the prominence of Darwinism, which could not tolerate that it would put an upper limit on the sun’s age at 22 million years—far too short for evolution. Observations suggesting the sun is shrinking at a rate of at least 0.02 seconds of arc per century, give some support to the notion.10 This would be ample for collapse to be a significant energy source. But the shrinkage is controversial, even among creationists. In any case, since nuclear fusion is at least a partial source of energy, Helmholtz’s age limit cannot be strictly applied.
[Note added 30 May 2002: A paper by by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon in The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News 586, 24 April 2002, seems to provide conclusive evidence for neutrino oscillation. Previously, detectors were able to pick up only electron neutrinos. But this new experiment at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) were able to detect the missing neutrino flavours, the mu and tau neutrinos that undergo ‘neutral current’ reactions. This is consistent with other lines of evidence that fusion is the primary source of energy, e.g. standard physical models indicate that the core temperature is high enough for fusion. This means that neutrinos must have a very tiny rest mass after all—experimental data must take precedence over the theories of particle physicists that neutrinos have zero rest mass. Therefore creationists should no longer invoke the missing neutrino problem to deny that fusion is the primary source of energy for the sun. So it cannot be used as a young-age indicator—nor an old-age indicator for that matter.26]
However, the solar astronomer John Eddy commented:
‘I suspect … that the sun is 4.5 billion years old. However, given some new and unexpected results to the contrary, and some time for some frantic recalculations and theoretical readjustment, I suspect that we could live with Bishop Ussher’s value for the age of the earth and sun [about 6,000 years]. I don’t think there is much in the way of observational evidence to conflict with that.’11
Problems with evolutionary theories of the sun
Evolutionists believe that the solar system formed from a cloud of dust and gas 4.5 billion years ago. This nebular hypothesis has many problems. One authority summarized: ‘The clouds are too hot, too magnetic, and they rotate too rapidly.’12
One major problem can be shown by accomplished skaters spinning on ice. As skaters pull their arms in, they spin faster. This effect is due to what physicists call the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum. Angular momentum = mass x velocity x distance from the centre of mass, and always stays constant in an isolated system. When the skaters pull their arms in, the distance from the centre decreases, so they spin faster or else angular momentum would not stay constant. In the formation of our sun from a nebula in space, the same effect would have occurred as the gases allegedly contracted into the centre to form the sun. This would have caused the sun to spin very rapidly. Actually, our sun spins very slowly, while the planets move very rapidly around the sun. In fact, although the sun has over 99% of the mass of the solar system, it has only 2% of the angular momentum. This pattern is directly opposite to the pattern predicted for the nebular hypothesis. Evolutionists have tried to solve 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.’13
Another problem with the nebular hypothesis is the formation of the gaseous planets. According to this theory, as the gas pulled together into the planets, the young sun would have passed through what is called the T-Tauri phase. In this phase, the sun would have given off an intense solar wind, far more intense than at present. This solar wind would have driven excess gas and dust out of the still-forming solar system and thus there would no longer have been enough of the light gases left to form Jupiter and the other three giant gas planets. This would have left these four gas planets smaller than we find them today.14
Sunspots, Galileo and heliocentrism
Sunspots look like dark patches on the sun. They can be seen to move, and analyzing them shows that different parts of the sun rotate at different rates, unlike a solid body. Sunspots come and go in cycles of about 11.2 years. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) systematically studied sunspots in 1611 and realised that they upset the prevailing Aristotelian/Ptolemaic view that the heavenly bodies were ‘perfect spheres’.15
Today we realize that sunspots are vortices of gas on the sun’s surface, and appear dark because they are several thousand degrees cooler. Analysis of their light spectra shows that the sun’s magnetic field is especially strong in sunspots.16
Galileo supported the theory of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) that the earth and other planets move around the sun. Anti-Christian propagandists make much of the conflict between Galileo and the Church, or religion vs science. But Galileo thought that the much simpler mathematics of the Copernican system compared to the unwieldy Ptolemaic system would best reflect God’s mathematical simplicity (i.e. God is not composed of parts but is Triune). The New Encyclopædia Britannica identifies Galileo’s main opponents as the scientific establishment:
‘The Aristotelian professors, seeing their vested interests threatened, united against him. They strove to cast suspicion on him in the eyes of the ecclesiastical authorities because of [alleged] contradictions between the Copernican theory and Scriptures.’17
Both sides should have realised that all movement must be described in relation to something else—a reference frame—and from a descriptive point of view, all reference frames are equally valid. The Bible writers used the earth as a convenient reference frame, as do modern astronomers talking about ‘sunset’; speed limit signs also depend on the earth as a reference frame. Using the sun (or the centre of mass of the solar system) is the most convenient for discussing planetary motions.18,19 Return to text.
On 11 August 1999, large numbers of people from England to India were fortunate to behold the awesome sight of a total eclipse of the sun. This is possible because the moon is almost exactly the same angular size (half a degree) in the sky as the sun—it is both 400 times smaller and 400 times closer than the sun. This looks like design. The moon is gradually receding from the earth at 4 cm (1½ inches) per year. If this had really been going on for billions of years, and mankind had been around for a tiny fraction of that time, the chance of mankind living at a time so they could observe this precise size match-up would be remote. (Actually, this recession puts an upper limit on the age of the earth/moon system at far less than the assumed 4.5 billion years20).
During a total eclipse, the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, is visible. This comprises extremely thin ionised gas, which is extremely hot. At 2 million °C (3.6 million °F), it is about 350 times as hot as the sun’s surface. This has been a mystery, because heat normally flows from hot objects to cooler ones. A promising theory (which still needs work) involves the sun’s strong magnetic field—reconnection of magnetic flux lines could release large amounts of energy into the corona.21,22 This could have applications in fusion power research.21 [Note added 15 Nov 2000: recent photographs show that the coronal loops comprise several finer loops, and that they are heated strongly at the base. A new model has the gas, mainly ionized iron, travelling upwards for 400,000 km at 100 km/sec then cooling as it crashes back down on the sun’s surface.27]
References and notes
- Many Christians who compromise with billions of years assert that the sun and other heavenly bodies were not really ‘made’ on the fourth ‘day’ (millions of years long). Rather, they ‘appeared’ to a hypothetical observer on earth when a dense cloud layer dissipated after millions of years. But this (mis)interpretation is not allowed by the Hebrew words used. The word ‘asah means ‘make’ throughout Genesis 1, and is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘create’ (bara’), e.g. in Gen. 1:26–27. It is pure desperation to apply a different meaning to the same word in the same grammatical construction in the same passage, just to fit in with atheistic evolutionary ideas like the big bang. If God had meant ‘appeared’, then He presumably would have used the Hebrew word for appear (ra’ah), as when the dry land ‘appeared’ as the waters gathered in one place on Day 3 (Gen. 1:9). This is supported by Hebrew scholars who have translated the Bible into English. Over 20 major translations were checked, and all clearly teach that the sun, moon and stars were made on the fourth day. Return to text.
- Chown, M., What a star! New Scientist 162(2192):17, 1999. Return to text.
- Seife, C., Thank our lucky star, New Scientist 161(2168):15, 1999. Return to text.
- The researchers later theorised that such flares are triggered by the large magnetic field of a closely orbiting gas giant planet (Schaefer, B., reported in Discover 20(4):19, 1999). But they have not been seen, and the standard evolutionary accretion model forbids gas giants from forming that close to the star: they can grow large enough to attract gas only if they are cool enough to incorporate ice into the accreting body. Return to text.
- ‘Bethe, Hans Albrecht’, The New Encyclopædia Britannica 2:173, 15th Ed. 1992. Return to text.
- Four hydrogen atoms (mass = 1.008) convert to helium (mass 4.0039) losing 0.0281 atomic mass units (1 AMU = 1.66 x 10–27 kg), releasing 4.2 x 10–12 joules of energy. Return to text.
- Man-made hydrogen bombs use the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, plus some lithium. The sun uses ordinary hydrogen—a reaction that requires higher temperatures. But Bethe calculated that carbon-12 nuclei in stars could catalyse the reaction, where nitrogen and oxygen also have a role, hence the CNO cycle. But the sun’s core is not thought to be hot enough for the CNO cycle, and is thought to use the proton-proton (PP) chain instead. Return to text.
- The nett fusion reaction is 41H → 4He + 2e+ + 2νe, where e+ is a positron or anti-electron, and νe is an electron-neutrino. If the sun were powered by nuclear fission (instead of fusion) or by radioactive decay of heavy elements, antineutrinos would be produced instead. Return to text.
- Snelling, A.A., Solar neutrinos—the critical shortfall still elusive, Journal of Creation 11(3):253–254, 1997. Return to text.
- See Dr Snelling’s four-part study, Creation 11(1–4), 1989, including That Matter of the Shrinking Sun. Uniform shrinkage at this rate would mean that 100 million years ago the sun would have been too large for life on earth. Return to text.
- Eddy, J.A., quoted by Kazmann, R.G., It’s about time: 4.5 billion years, Geotimes 23:18–20, 1978. Return to text.
- Reeves, H., The Origin of the Solar System, in: The Origin of the Solar System, Dermott, S.F., Ed., John Wiley & Sons, New York, p. 9, 1978. Return to text.
- Taylor, S.R., Solar System Evolution: A New Perspective, Cambridge University Press, p. 53, 1992. Return to text.
- See Spencer, W., Revelations in the Solar System, Creation 19(3):26–29, 1997. Return to text.
- ‘Galileo’, The New Encyclopædia Britannica 19:638–640, 15th Ed. 1992. Return to text.
- Magnetic fields often split spectral lines—the Zeeman Effect—and this is detectable in sunspots. Return to text.
- Ref. 15, p. 638. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., The Galileo Twist, Creation 19(4):30–32, 1997. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution 5th ed., ch. 7: Astronomy, Creation Book Publishers, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 2012. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Moon: The light that rules the night, Creation 20(4):36–39, 1998. Return to text.
- Weiss, P., The sun also writhes, Science News 153(13):200–202, 1999. Return to text.
- Irion, R. The great eclipse: Crown of fire, New Scientist 162(2188):30–33, 1999, discusses rapidly oscillating magnetic waves as a possible energy source. Return to text.
- ‘Sun’, The New Encyclopædia Britannica 11:387–388, 15th Ed. 1992. Return to text.
- ‘Solar System, The’, The New Encyclopædia Britannica 27:504–603, 15th Ed. 1992. Return to text.
- Synodic period is the time for the sun to return to the same orientation towards the earth. Return to text.
- Newton, R., ‘Missing’ neutrinos found! No longer an ‘age’ indicator, Journal of Creation 16(3):123–125, 2002. Return to text.
- A Trace of the Corona, scientificamerican.com/article/a-trace-of-the-corona, 1 Dec 2000. Return to text.