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Creation 41(3):55, July 2019

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Comet conundrum



In July 2015, the New Horizons space probe hurtled past Pluto and sent sensational photographs back to Earth. Since then, more detailed images have been received as the data is slowly downloaded over the vast distance between us and the spacecraft. Recently, images of Pluto’s moon Charon have been released1 that have amazed astronomers.

One of the many mysteries of the solar system is the existence of short-period comets, which are comets that orbit the sun in less than about 200 years. With each orbit, some of the comet’s mass is lost as it passes close to the sun. So, after about 10,000 years or so, the comets should have disintegrated completely. If the solar system is billions of years old, why are there still short-period comets orbiting the sun?2

Evolutionists have proposed a solution to this problem by postulating a disc of objects called the Kuiper Belt3 beyond Neptune’s orbit. This is supposed to resupply the inner solar system with comets as old ones disintegrate.

(Long-period comets with orbital periods greater than 200 years are said to originate from a hypothetical spherical region called the Oort Cloud,4 much more distant than the Kuiper Belt. The Oort Cloud is not thought to be a source of short-period comets.)

Short-period comets have small nuclei, so if any small Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) were disturbed and fell into an elliptical orbit around the sun, they could become short-period comets. However, given the limits of current technology, so far only large KBOs have been observed—far too large to be comets. Even Pluto, now reclassified as a dwarf planet, is a KBO, and its largest moon Charon is also a KBO. So it was assumed the cratering on Pluto and Charon would reveal evidence for small KBOs—that is, until the images of Charon arrived.

There are large craters on Charon, consistent with large KBOs, but a dearth of small craters. There is no known mechanism by which only small craters might be obliterated but not large ones, since Charon is geologically inert and so should provide a stable record of impacts. This implies that there really are very few small KBOs—this absence is thus not merely an artefact of our detection ability.5

The lack of small KBOs removes the only current naturalistic explanation for the origin of short-period comets. But the existence of such comets is consistent with a recent creation of the solar system, just like Genesis says.

Posted on homepage: 15 June 2020

References and notes

  1. Southwest Research Institute, New Horizons research indicates small Kuiper Belt objects are surprisingly rare; phys.org, 28 Feb 2019. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., Comets—portents of doom or indicators of youth? Creation 25(3):36–40, 2003; creation.com/comets. Return to text.
  3. Newton, R., Kuiper Belt Objects: solution to short-period comets? J. Creation 16(2): 15–17, 2002; creation.com/kuiper. Return to text.
  4. Faulkner, D., More problems for the ‘Oort comet cloud’, J. Creation 15(2):11, 2001; creation.com/oort. Return to text.
  5. Singer, K.N. et al., Impact craters on Pluto and Charon indicate a deficit of small Kuiper belt objects, Science 363(6430):955–959, 2019. Return to text.