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Creation 19(3):46–48, June 1997

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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles below.

Exploding stars point to a young universe

Where are all the supernova remnants?1


Supernovas. A mega-explosion in space. Some of these have been seen from the earth. The Crab Nebula here as it is today, is the remnant of a supernova which was seen in the year 1054 AD and remained visible to the naked eye for about a year. Credit: NASA

A supernova,2 or violently exploding star, is one of the most brilliant and powerful objects in God’s vast cosmos. On average, a galaxy like our own, the Milky Way, should produce one supernova every 25 years.

Click for 214k Supernova image, (courtesy NASA)

When a star has exploded in this way, the huge expanding cloud of debris is called a SuperNova Remnant (SNR). A well-known example is the Crab Nebula in the constellation of Taurus, produced by a supernova so bright that it could be seen during daytime for a few weeks in 1054. By applying physical laws (and using powerful computers), astronomers can predict what should happen to this cloud.

According to their model, the SNR should reach a diameter of about 300 light years3 after 120,000 years. So if our galaxy was billions of years old, we should be able to observe many SNRs this size. But if our galaxy is 6,000–10,000 years old, no SNRs would have had time to reach this size. So the number of observed SNRs of a particular size is an excellent test of whether the galaxy is old or young. In fact, the results are consistent with a universe thousands of years old, but are a puzzle if the universe has existed for billions of years. The conclusions can be seen from the simple table shown below:

Remnant Stage
Number of observable SNRs predicted if our galaxy were… Number of SNRs actually observed
… billions of years old … 7000 years old
First 2 2 5
Second 2260 125 200
Third 5000 0 0

As can be readily seen above, a young universe model fits the data of the low number of observed SNRs. If the universe was really billions of years old, there are 7000 missing SNRs in our galaxy.

Not only that, but the predictions for the Milky Way’s satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud are also consistent with a young universe. Theory predicts 340 observable SNRs if the LMC were billions of years old, and 24 if it were 7000 years old. The number of actually observed SNRs in the LMC is 29. [See Detailed discussion and calculations]

As the evolutionist astronomers Clark and Caswell say, ‘Why have the large number of expected remnants not been detected?’ and these authors refer to ‘The mystery of the missing remnants’.4

There should be no mystery—Psalm 19:1 says: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.’ Supernovas declare His mighty power, but are still only finite expressions. The low number of their remnants is a pointer to God’s recent creation of the heavens and earth.

How do supernovas happen?

An ordinary star is a gigantic ball of gas, about a million times more massive than the earth—our sun is a medium-sized star. It is potentially stable for a long time, because the energy produced by the core produces an enormous outward pressure, which balances the inward force of gravity on its huge mass.

However, when the nuclear fuel runs out, there is no longer any force to balance its gravity. If the star is very massive, most of it collapses very fast — in about two seconds. This releases a huge amount of energy—one supernova will out-shine all the billions of stars in its galaxy. The collapse is so violent that the electrons and nuclei are crushed together and produce a core of neutrons. This core is so dense that a teaspoonful would weigh 50 thousand million tons on earth. It cannot be compressed any further, so the incoming material from the rest of the star meets a solid wall. This material bounces off the core, rushes outward and shines very brightly. The remaining core, only about 20 km in diameter, is called a neutron star. Because it is spinning very fast, and has a strong magnetic field, we observe regular radio pulses, so the object is called a pulsar.

The energy produced by a supernova is mind-boggling: 1044 joules. It is the same as if each and every gram of the earth’s mass was converted to a nuclear bomb 200 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima. That amount of energy would fuel 80 million sun-like stars for 100 years!

Detailed discussion and calculations

A widely-accepted model of supernova expansion predicts three stages:

1) The first stage starts with debris hurtling outwards at 7000 kilometres per second. After the material has expanded for about 300 years, a blast wave forms, ending the first stage. By this time it reaches a diameter of about 7 light years.5 This is an immense object—about 25,000 times larger than our solar system, which is ‘only’ about eight light hours across (about 8600 million km or 5400 million miles).

The three predicted stages of supernova development

Since the first stage should last about 300 years and one SNR should occur every 25 years, there should now be 300/25 first stage SNRs in our galaxy, or about 12. We should not expect to see them all—astronomers calculate that only about 19% of SNRs should be visible,6 that is about two of the 12. It makes no difference whether the universe is thousands of years old as the Bible indicates, or billions of years old as evolutionary theory asserts. Actually we see five first stage SNRs (this is within the uncertainty range of the calculation).

2) The second stage SNR, known as the adiabatic7 or Sedov stage, is a very powerful emitter of radio waves. This is predicted to expand for about 120,000 years and reach a diameter of about 350 light years. After this, it starts to lose thermal (heat) energy and begin the third stage. Now, if the universe was billions of years old, we would predict (remember, one supernova every 25 years, and taking into account SNRs in the 300-year first stage) that in our galaxy there would be about (120,000–300)/25 second stage SNRs, or about 4800. But if the universe has only existed for about 7000 years, then there would be only enough time for (7000–300)/25, or about 270. Astronomers calculate that 47% should be visible, so evolutionary/uniformitarian theory predicts about 2260 second stage SNRs, while the Biblical Creation theory predicts about 125. The actual observed number of second stage SNRs is a good test of which theory best fits the facts.

There are actually only 200 second stage SNRs observed in our galaxy! This is in the right ball park for Biblical creation, but is totally different from evolutionary predictions. Evolutionists at present have no answer to the problem of the missing supernova remnants.

3) The third, or isothermal,8 stage is theorised to emit mainly heat energy. This stage would theoretically only start after 120,000 years, and would last about one million to six million years. The SNR would end its career when it either collided with similar SNRs at a diameter of about 1400 light years, or became so dispersed that it would be indistinguishable from the ֹvacuum’ of space at a diameter of about 1800 light years.

One calculation makes the generous (to evolutionary theory) assumption that the third stage starts at about 120,000 years and a diameter of about 340 light years, and lasts to an age of one million years and 650 light years. Thus if the universe was billions of years old, there should be (1,000,000–120,000)/25 third stage SNRs in our galaxy, or about 35,000. Of these, about 14% should be observable, or about 5000. However, if the universe is only about 7000 years old, no SNR should be old enough to have reached the third stage, so there should be absolutely none, under currently accepted models. This is another test of the two theories, an old vs. a young universe.

There are actually no third stage SNRs observed in our galaxy!

References and notes

  1. This article is based on a paper by Keith Davies, Distribution of Supernova Remnants in the Galaxy, Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, ed. E. Walsh, pp. 175–184, 1994. Return to text.
  2. See the article ‘supernova’, Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th Ed., 11:401, 1992. Return to text.
  3. A light year is a measure of distance, not time. It is the distance that light nowadays travels for one year in a vacuum—9.46 million million kilometres (5.87 million million miles). Return to text.
  4. Clark and Caswell, 1976. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 174:267; cited in Ref. 1. Return to text.
  5. Mr Davies’ original draft of Ref. 1 had 1.28 parsecs, which is 7 light years. Somehow in the final version, a typo occurred and 7 ly became 7 pcs, which would be 23 ly. Return to text.
  6. Keith Davies, Distribution of Supernova Remnants in the Galaxy, Ref. 1, has detailed observational limitation formulæ. Return to text.
  7. Adiabatic means ‘not transferring heat to or from its surroundings’. During the second stage, the SNR loses very little thermal energy. Return to text.
  8. Isothermal means ‘staying at the same temperature’. During the third stage, the SNR should stay at about the same temperature and radiate excess thermal (heat) energy. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Michael F.
I read a new article about a star known as the Methuselah Star aka HD 140283, which scientist just dated to 13 billion years old by best estimates, and it’s still shinning. Just thought you might want to write an article about how that age is wrong.
Jonathan Sarfati
Hi again Michael [a persistent critic of various articles],

The ‘dating’ of the star this relies on assumptions about its initial composition, in turn based on theories of stellar evolution. My response on the age of the sun might help when it comes to relating helium content to age. About stellar evolutionary theories in general, creationist astronomer Dr Danny Faulkner says:

Stars are not very complex, and so-called ‘stellar evolution’ (though I don’t necessarily accept all of it) is a different critter from biological evolution. So I don’t have a problem with the idea that a cloud of gas, created initially by God in a special unstable condition, or compressed by a shock wave from a nearby exploding star, might collapse under its own gravity and start to heat up to form a new star.

But the problem has always been the formation of the first stars, because gas clouds are too hot and diffuse to collapse, due to repulsion from gas pressure and magnetic fields, and the slow speed of the star contrary to conservation of angular momentum (see Solar system origin: Nebular hypothesis and this off-site article by a Ph.D. astrophysicist, Blue Stars Confirm Recent Creation). Current theories involve compression by supernovae or cooling by heat radiation from dust granules, but according to evolutionary theories, they require pre-existing stars (see Refuting Evolution, ch. 7). Neil deGrasse Tyson, evolutionary astrophysicist and fanatical antitheist, admits:

Not all gas clouds in the Milky Way can form stars at all times. More often than not, the cloud is confused about what to do next. Actually, astrophysicists are the confused ones here. We know the cloud wants to collapse under its own weight to make one or more stars. But rotation as well as turbulent motion within the cloud work against that fate. So, too, does the ordinary gas pressure you learned about in high-school chemistry class. Galactic magnetic fields also fight collapse: they penetrate the cloud and latch onto any free-roaming charged particles contained therein,restricting the ways in which the cloud will respond to its self-gravity. The scary part is that if none of us knew in advance that stars exist, front line research would offer plenty of convincing reasons for why stars could never form. (Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, p. 187, W. W. Norton & Company, 2007).

I strongly recommend our new DVD Our Created Stars and Galaxies.

This star is only 186 light-years from earth. In case you have an issue with starlight from further away, chapter 5 of the Creation Answers Book should help. It covers:

  • How can we see distant stars in a young universe?

  • If the universe is young and it takes millions of years for light to get to us from many stars, how can we see them?

  • Did God create light in transit?

  • Was the speed of light faster in the past?

  • Does this have anything to do with the ‘big bang’?

And even has a study guide ;)
Mat H.
I would be very interested in how the creationists actually derive the time scales that are mentioned in this article.

Dr Jonathan Sarfati replies: The original paper by Davies (Ref. 1) should explain that. Mine was a layman’s summary of that.

MH: Being a physicist myself, I think that it is important to be able to derive things like time scales from the governing equations.

JS: As a physical chemist myself, I agree. But there is a time for that, just not here; this was an article for our family magazine. We have other articles that provide those things, e.g. many of the articles linked in 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe.

MH: Another thing that you could possibly do is given the time scales that you propose what it would mean for the actual physics inside the star itself. That would be another way to test your timescales.

JS: A different issue though. We can’t cover everything in one article ;) But check out Age of the Sun.

MH: Another problem you have is the formation of stars to begin with, I have a feeling that this process will take a tad longer than the life of the universe as you propose it does.

JS: Ah, but this presupposes an evolutionary origin of stars in the first place. This has enormous problems: e.g. the proposed gas clouds are too hot, diffuse, and magnetic to collapse into a star. The problems are so great that many evolutionary theories need to rely on pre-existing stars to explain star formation. For example, a supernova (massive exploding star) to provide a shock wave, or molecules to radiate heat which under the faulty theory of stellar nucleosynthesis require stars to make the heavier elements. But this of course doesn’t explain the formation of the first stars. Further, we are missing any evidence of these hypothetical first metal-poor “population III” stars—see Stellar evolution and the problem of the ‘first’ stars. Abraham Loeb, of Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics, says:

The truth is that we don’t understand star formation at a fundamental level. (cited in Stars could not have come from the ‘big bang’).

MH: To J. Sarfati—the comments that the gentleman made were of a definition only, so technically there was no assumptions within his statement. The horizon problem has a solution within inflatory theory and I also believe that the varible speed of light model has its own solution to the horizon problem.

JS: More likely, inflation is a fudge factor to try to explain away the horizon problem for the big bang. But as the cited article documents, there is no known physical way either to start it or to stop it. A large number of secular critics of the big bang have pointed out:

But the big bang theory can’t survive without these fudge factors. Without the hypothetical inflation field, the big bang does not predict the smooth, isotropic cosmic background radiation that is observed, because there would be no way for parts of the universe that are now more than a few degrees away in the sky to come to the same temperature and thus emit the same amount of microwave radiation. … Inflation requires a density 20 times larger than that implied by big bang nucleosynthesis, the theory’s explanation of the origin of the light elements.

Jason L.
Please do not add references that redirect to your own article. A light year is yes a measurement of distance not time but it is the distance light travels in a year. Therefore light from a nova lets say 100,000 light years away took 100,000 years to reach us.
Jonathan Sarfati
A lot of assumptions there, but false ones. No matter what cosmogony you hold, there are more light years than years. Under the big bang view, the cosmic microwave background radiation is almost uniform. This would require enough time for the different regions of space to equilibrate by energy flowing from hot regions to cool ones. The fastest this could happen is the speed of light (radiative heat transfer). But the big bang allows only about 14 billion years, while the distances are about 10 times that. If we take your assumption of one light year per year at all times, 14 billion light years would be the maximum distance over which electromagnetic radiation could have equilibrated the temperature, a ‘horizon’. But as this is about 10 times too small, which constitutes the well known horizon problem—a light-travel problem for the big bang.

Yes, that is a link to our own site. But if you care to make just one or two more mouse clicks, you would find that the article was written by a Ph.D. astronomer/astrophysicist, and provides primary sources.

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