Conclusive evidence that dust rings around some stars grow into planets?

by

Published: 11 September 2018 (GMT+10)

Introduction

Illustration taken from ref. 1newborn-planet
The star PDS 70. The black circle at the center of the image is where the blinding light from the central star has been blocked out with a mask called a coronograph. The exoplanet PDS 70b is the bright spot to the right of the blackened center. A luminous disk of gas and dust surrounds the system, with the planet being in the midst of a dark ring emptied of this gas and dust.

Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, are claiming to have captured a spectacular snapshot of planetary formation around a young dwarf star. They did this using the SPHERE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.1 They found evidence of a giant gas planet with a mass a few times that of Jupiter near the orange dwarf star PDS 70, some 370 light-years from Earth. This may come as a surprise to many of you, but telescope technology has made tremendous leaps over the past several years. No longer are stars ‘points’ of light. We now have the ability to capture images of some of the larger and closer stars, and whatever might be orbiting them.

The planetary companion to this star was found within an inner gap of what astronomers have termed a ‘protoplanetary disk’. Protoplanetary disks are believed to form from the leftovers of the molecular cloud that supposedly collapsed to form the star. But in this case, there is a gap between the dust and the star, making it look more like a donut than a disk. The doughnut-hole gap is called a transition disk because it is considered to be in transition from a formerly solid disk to a stellar planetary system, and large gaps have presumably begun to form.

It seems that the newly-detected planet, named PDS 70b, has vacuumed out this dust-free section as it orbits the star. It’s like a toddler of sorts, learning how to walk. It’s making the transition to a fully-fledged planetary system. At least, that’s how the story goes.

We have an example of this in our own solar system. Several of the gaps in Saturn’s rings are caused by small shepherd moons. As these moons orbit within the rings, they clear out a gap. Astronomers guessed that there would be small moons in those gaps centuries before we found them.

The exoplanet’s surface has a temperature of around 1000°C, making it much hotter than any planet in our own solar system. Analysis of its light spectrum indicates the atmosphere to be cloudy. PDS 70b is located roughly three billion kilometres from the central star, about the distance between Uranus and the Sun. Its orbital period is around 120 years.

NASASaturns-rings
An image of Saturn’s rings taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2007. The larger gap is caused by the presence of the small moon Pan, which is easily seen here. The smaller gap is caused by the moon Daphnis, which is almost invisible in this view, but look for the ripples it is leaving behind in the ring material.

Inner gaps within protoplanetary disks have been known for decades, but this is the first reported detection of a planet within a gap. Astronomers look for planets within these gaps because, according to naturalistic theories of planet formation, these disks are the “maternity wards” for new planets and an empty gap within the disk is where they expect to spot new planets.

Let’s analyze these claims from a creationist perspective.

The Age of the Star Is Based on Assumptions

PDS 70 is a T Tauri star (see below) in the constellation Centaurus, thought to be about 10 million years old—young compared to the sun’s naturalistic age of 4.6 billion years. How do they know how old the sun is? Scientists today use radioactive elements in what they consider ‘primordial’ meteorites to estimate the age of our sun. They reason that a meteorite cannot be older than the solar system.

However, we must realize that there are many reasons to question the accuracy of radiometric dating. Specifically, the results of the RATE Project discredit many of the conclusions drawn from this branch of science (RATE, which stands for Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, was a research project conducted by the Creation Research Society and the Institute for Creation Research to assess the validity of radiometric dating). Thus, the sun’s age (and the age of stars) as calculated by the evolutionary cosmological community cannot be accurate.2

The age of other stars are calibrated against this assumed solar age, according to their mass and temperature. A stable star ten times more massive than the sun should have a lifespan 1,000 times shorter, consuming its fuel 10,000 times faster, while a star five times more massive than the sun should have a lifespan 100 times shorter.

T Tauri stars are low-mass, compared to the sun. They are thought to be young because their cores have not yet ignited into hydrogen fusion. Until fusion begins (presumably after about 100 million years of development), a T Tauri is powered by gravitational energy, which is released as the star contracts. During contraction, the T Tauri star develops a strong solar wind which gradually blows away the gas and dust that envelopes it.3 T Tauri stars tend to occur in groups, which are generally associated with regions full of interstellar nebulosity (“space clouds” consisting mostly of hydrogen and dust) which could eventually form into planets, according to theory.4 In other words, if a star has a core that is too cool to undergo fusion, and if it is found with a nearby cloud of dust and gas, then it is assumed to be a young star about which exoplanets could be forming. Astronomers focus their telescopes in these regions in search of exoplanets.

Astronomers are assuming that the dust disks surrounding some stars have played a role in the stars’ formation. That these stellar disks of gas and dust are the birthplaces of stars is yet to be proven, and star-formation models have many problems to overcome. For instance, we have seen examples of stars that are “old” according to accepted ideas of stellar evolution but they have extensive dust disks. Scientists have also found some “young” stars with no disks.5 Thus, the theory cannot explain what we are seeing. Nevertheless, since gas/dust disks dissipate over time, stars which have disks are assumed to be young.

The Age of the Exoplanet Is Based on Assumptions

Though models of planet formation abound, they all have one thing in common: they all involve dust dynamics in the protoplanetary disk.6 According to the various theories, planets grow from gravitational instability in the accretion disks. The dust particles clump into a rocky core, then this core attracts gas and dust to form the outer gaseous layers of a gas giant planet.6 If the dust were evenly distributed, gravity would be balanced and no accretion would occur. Self-collapse (supposedly) occurs because of a higher density of material in some regions of the disk than other regions. Planet formation must be largely complete before the star enters its T Tauri phase, because, according to the theory discussed above, the star would give off a very intense solar wind that would drive much of the excess gas and dust out of the system.7

But the idea that growth occurs via collisions has tremendous problems. Computer models cannot explain how dust particles stick together due to gravity. As grain size increases, so does the mean collision velocity, which would cause grains to break into smaller pieces.6 Simulations show that meter-sized particles have the highest drift speeds, about 100 m/s. This makes it quite challenging to grow to larger than meter sized objects, since collision speeds of this order will rather destroy the bodies via fragmentation or erosion.6,8

Theorist have been glossing over this problem for decades. The Swinburne University of Technology website is typical in this regard, saying, “While the mechanism is not yet fully understood, the grains will eventually become kilometre-sized planetesimals.”9 Once they reach that size, gravity can take over. But nobody can figure out how to go from dust to a small planetoid at least one kilometer in diameter.

Difficulties in the Physics of Naturalistic Star Formation

Physics does not seem to allow naturalistic star-formation without just-so storytelling to get past the rough spots. And since planets are presented as by-products of the star formation process,8 the success of planet formation theories ultimately depends on successful ideas of star formation.

We know from experience that the tendency of a cloud of gas is to expand rather than to contract. Think of what would happen if an astronaut took off her helmet and let out a breath of air into outer space. That gas would rapidly disperse. In a cloud of gas, there is always an outward radiation pressure that is proportional to the gas’s temperature: the hotter the gas, the more outward pressure it has for expansion. A cloud is said to be ‘virialized’ when the gravitational energy (the inward pull) is balanced by the internal kinetic energy (the outward push related to its temperature). Stable molecular gas clouds in outer space are in this type of equilibrium, so they will not spontaneously collapse to form stars. Some kind of shock wave, presumably caused by a supernova explosion in the vicinity, must push the gas cloud over the limit where self-gravity will overcome gas pressure. John Hartnett explains the situation concerning star-forming computer simulations, saying, “No simulation actually starts with just a gas cloud, but rather with either dark matter or a very dense already collapsing gas cloud. If they didn’t program in the necessary initial conditions, the simulations would not result in any stars or planets.”8

There are other big problems with getting a gas cloud to spontaneously collapse and form a star. Magnetic fields that oppose the collapse must be eliminated. Also to be explained is the reason why 99% of the angular momentum lies in the disk and planets of a system instead of in the central star, where it should be if the system actually came from the same collapsing cloud.8 For example, there is much more kinetic energy in the spinning of Jupiter than that of the sun.

Conclusion

We cannot explain the universe using purely naturalistic processes. Stars do not form from clouds of gas. Neither do planets. Life does not come from random chemicals, and complex life cannot rise from simple life. Human consciousness cannot be explained by molecules wiggling in our brains. Because of this, we are free to examine the universe from a creation standpoint. There are also no limits on the Creator. On Day 4 of the Creation Week, God may have created a variety of stars, even some that were in the process of collapsing from a gas cloud, with planetary systems at different stages of development. Also, we must keep in mind that, outside our own solar system, millions of years of astronomical processes could have occurred in the Humphries/Hartnett-type time dilation models, while 24-hour days were passing here on earth.10 Taking this into consideration, it may be too early to say conclusively whether or not we are actually seeing new planetary systems in formation. From experience, we can rest assured that correctly-interpreted observational data will corroborate the biblical narrative that God made the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4 of Creation Week about 6,000 years ago.

References and notes

  1. First confirmed image of newborn planet caught with ESO's VLT, Phys.org, 2 July 2018. Return to text.
  2. Samec, R.G., The apparent age of the time dilated universe: Explaining the missing intracluster media in globular clusters, Journal of Creation 27(2):5–6, August 2013. Return to text.
  3. Silberg, R.A., Stars, Jet Propulsion Laboratory Herschel Space Observatory; herschel.jpl.nasa.gov. Return to text.
  4. Star Clusters, T Associations and T Tauri Stars; universe-review.ca. Return to text.
  5. Spencer, W., Star Formation and Creation, Can We See Stars Forming? Answers in Depth, 19 November 2008; answersingenesis.org. Return to text.
  6. Küffmeier, M., What is the meter size barrier? Astrobites, 3 April 2015; astrobites.org. Return to text.
  7. Spencer, W.R., The existence and origin of extrasolar planets, Journal of Creation 15(1):17–25, April 2001. Return to text.
  8. Güttler, C., Kothe, S., and Blum, J., Growth below the meter-size barrier: Collisions in the bottleneck of planet formation, DFG Research Group FOR 759, Project B5, accessed 27 Aug. 2018. Return to text.
  9. Hartnett, J.G., Planetary system formation: exposing naturalistic storytelling, creation.com/naturalistic-planet-formation, 14 April 2016. Return to text.
  10. Samec, R.G., Explaining nearby objects that are old in time dilation cosmologies, Journal of Creation 28(3):9, 2014. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Stargazer's Guide to the Night Sky
by Dr Jason Lisle
From
US $35.00
Our Amazing Created Solar System
by Russell Grigg (editor)
US $16.00
Hard cover
Spacecraft Earth
by Dr Henry Richter with David F Coppedge
From
US $12.00
The Young Sun
From
US $6.50

Readers’ comments

Tommy S.
We need to get away from the notion that there was any kind of time dilation going on in order to accommodate millions or billions of years everywhere else except in our solar system. God said he created things within the boundaries of a normal 24 hour day. The text does not, in any way, open the door that things could have been created over longer time spans and then merely appear visible on a certain day. God did everything supernaturally and we do not have, nor will ever have, the comprehension to explain it scientifically.
Robert Carter
You have the cart before the horse. We are not accepting time dilation in order to fit millions of years into biblical history. Instead, knowing that time dilation is operational science, we seek to understand how it might fit into God's economy.

Also, the whole mission of CMI is to help people understand the world scientifically and biblically. Certainly there are limits and we understand that ultimate origins cannot be explained with operational science. But that does not mean that nothing can be. Saying that God did everything supernaturally does not actually solve the problem, because we know (using simple trigonometry) that there are stars more than 6,000 light years away. Are you going to claim that God made the light between us and that star 'in transit'? But we have also seen stars that are more than 6,000 light years way blow up (supernovae). God would have had to create light from a star that never existed part-way from here to the supernova in order to have the light from the supernova arrive some time after creation. This is a very uncomfortable proposition, for it might make God into a deceiver and means we cannot look and know what we are looking at.

Did He not use any scientific processes, like gravity, to do any of that work? You jettison too much too quickly. If there is a scientific answer you will not be able to find it until you try. So we try.
Tommy S.
No, Robert, I don't propose that God is a deceiver nor that he created light in transit. What I'm saying is that God and his ways are so far beyond you and I that whatever the correct explanation is, we cannot, nor will ever, be able to comprehend it. Just because we can't explain how we can see stars further than 6,000 light years away does not mean there were more than 6,000 years. It simply means we are incapable of understanding the mechanisms which God used to do what he did. If we could understand them then we'd be God.
Robert Carter
It was not my intention to put words in your mouth. I was merely pointing out that none of the answers are simple. Thus, we search and we learn. And, just because we find it difficult to explain something today does not mean that we will not have a ready answer tomorrow, so I am not giving up on Einsteinian relativity just yet. Again, time dilation is operational science. It is testable and it is repeatable. What to do with it is the question. It was not until recent centuries that the true size of the local universe was appreciated (the ancients knew it was vast and that the earth was a mere point compared to the stars) and that there was this thing called 'light speed'. But right on heels of those discoveries came relativity, which threw a monkey wrench into the works, meaning science still has a lot to learn and we do not have to throw the baby out with the bath water.
GUY G.
I guess I'm always amazed at the imagination of astronomers. I am not a believer in any sort of planetary formation, if only because of my reference point as a practicing dentist. I consider explanations like this similar to me trying to explain dental disease processes studied with a telescope looking at a patient from a mile away. You'd probably get a few things right, but you wouldn't begin to get a full understanding of a given process. Observation is a critical part of the scientific method. Even when you're right on top of things--in a laboratory--you can get things wrong based on "what you see". Observation at a distance, especially the distances involved with astronomy, is even more limiting.
Robert Carter
True, but it is not a question of what we are seeing. There really is a star in a specific position in the sky that has a doughnut-shaped dust ring, within which is a large mass that is not a star. That much is not up for debate because we are talking about fairly straightforward observational data collection (granted, with the most sophisticated telescopes ever made by man). What that star and planet are doing is also not very debatable. The planet orbits the star and the dust ring must be dispersing due to known forces (gravity, stellar gas pressure ['solar wind'], etc.). How the system formed is, however, an open question. How long that system has been there is also debatable. Either God created it in a situation much like it is in today, or gravitational time distortion has allowed for millions of years of time to pass out there while only a few thousand have happened here on earth. Both options are within the range of acceptable biblical models.
Michael T.
Any evidence the asteroids are accreting? The nebular theory seems so irrational. I happened to see a few demonstrations of the solar system to scale. I don't understand how the nebular theory is hardly seriously considered plausible..
Robert Carter
Chondritic meteorites appear to have been created by accretion. They are composed of small, dissimilar particles that have been fused together. However, nobody known how they could have formed, as spelled out in the article. Today, there is evidence of continuing erosion of these solar system objects through collision with other objects. However, this does not mean that the largest asteroids or planetesimals have never captured any particles or small asteroids. In fact, we would expect it to be the case.
TODD P.
I'm thinking about how this statement in the conclusion . . .

"On Day 4 of the Creation Week, God may have created a variety of stars, even some that were in the process of collapsing from a gas cloud, with planetary systems at different stages of development."

could possibly comport with this statement in Gen. 2:1 , , ,

"Thus the heavens and the earth were FINISHED, and all the host of them." [AKJV, emphasis added.]

Perhaps, we should think more in terms of completed DYNAMIC systems, as with soil formation, for example. In the finished creation, we had all at once, rich soils for lush plant support and growth, but yet also in other places, solid rocks, large rock chunks, gravel, dust, accumulating organic matter, all immediately being modified and processed by physical erosion, then biological activity from arthropod and annelid detritus feeders, bacteria, and fungi, etc. In other words, all of the different maintenance, or cycle stages coexisting from the start.

It's easy to see the necessity for front-loaded, dynamic systems in something like soil formation (or the rock, water and carbon cycles, etc.). But it's harder to comprehend in astronomy. Possibly, but not necessarily, there may be some mechanisms for not only star and planet deterioration/destruction, but also mechanisms for their replacement. If this is the case, astronomically (even though planets forming from dust clouds is certainly not very convincing), it does NOT follow that these potentially formative, or cyclic processes engineered stars and planets in the first place.

One cannot get carried away, the history in Scripture, and good science, clearly indicate that there are limits to what can be accomplished by created processes. And we should expect as much, but where do we draw the line?
Robert Carter
"Where do we draw the line" is a question we must often ask ourselves. But there is nothing preventing God from creating things in many different states, so finding collapsing gas clouds or small planets accreting ring dust is not a challenge to the creation model. Think of the rings of Saturn: they are decaying. This means they cannot be millions of years old, but it also means they were not designed to last forever. They were created in the process of their own destruction.
TODD P.
One other thing, in addition to time dilation mentioned in this article, i.e., tapping into relativity theory (even though electric universe theorists trash it altogether as anything but certain), we might also consider other possibilities rarely discussed. For example, light with purposefully functional short-term detectability over vast distances, by way of travel through 5th dimensional, Reimannian hyperspace, or something of the sort. I think this idea needs further investigation and development, too.
Robert Carter
Dr. Russell Humphreys is working on very similar ideas and presented such at the 2018 International Conference on Creationism.

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