Posted on homepage: 15 June 2015 (GMT+10)
Stars have fascinated people from ancient times, as one of the most striking features of the night sky. Modern science has found many interesting facts about stars—in some cases, catching up with what God revealed in Scripture thousands of years ago.
Origin of stars
The Bible tells us that God made the stars on Day 4 of Creation Week:
“And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars (Genesis 1:16).”
This verse tells us about all the ‘luminaries’, the light-emitting objects in the sky. In previous issues of Creation magazine, we have discussed some amazing designs and youthful features of the sun1 and moon.2 So now we come to the stars.
What is a star?
The Hebrew word for ‘star’ is kôkāb (כוכב). When trying to understand the Bible, the goal is to work out how the original readers would have understood it. In this case, we should work out what the ancient Hebrews meant by kôkāb, which is not identical to the meaning that modern astronomers give to the word ‘star’.
The biblical meaning of kôkāb ‘star’ is any small bright heavenly object, so it would include meteors (‘shooting stars’). It would also include what the ancient Greek astronomers called an astēr planētēs (αστήρ πλανήτης), meaning ‘wandering star’, which of course we now call a ‘planet’. Logically, this would include planets around other stars, which have proved a headache for evolutionary theories of planetary origin.3
However, modern astronomers classify stars as gigantic luminous balls of plasma in hydrostatic equilibrium, where the outward radiation pressure balances inward gravity. Thus in the modern definition, but not the biblical one, our sun is a star. This means that we can use the sun as a point of comparison for the other stars.
A huge variety of stars
The sun is by far the most massive object in our solar system—it contains over 99% of the mass of the solar system. Its diameter of 1.4 million km is 109 times that of the earth, and it has 1.3 million times the earth’s volume and 330,000 times the mass. Its surface is about 5,500 °C (9,900 ºF) , while its core is 14,000,000 °C (25 million ºF).
The sun has a prodigious power output of 3.86 × 1026 watts, and is the ultimate source of most of the earth’s energy. The earth is 150 million km away so receives only a small fraction of the sun’s energy, but this is still about 1.73 × 1017W. The sun’s power source is probably nuclear fusion: four extremely fast-moving hydrogen nuclei join to form one helium nucleus4—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. The sun’s power output requires four million tonnes of matter to be converted every second into energy—this is huge, but negligible compared to the sun’s enormous total mass.
The sun is brighter than 90% of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy5—most stars are small red ones that we can’t see without a telescope. But despite the immense size and power of our sun, some stars dwarf it in size and power. The most massive and luminous star known, called R136a1, is in the galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. This is a very violent type of star called Wolf–Rayet,6 a subset of blue stars, the hottest colour of stars—R136a1 has a surface temperature of over 50,000 K, almost nine times hotter than the sun’s surface. It is 265 times more massive than the sun, and shines 8.7 million times brighter. But it’s ‘only’ about 35 times the sun’s diameter (about half the size of Rigel, fig. 1).
The largest star known may be the red supergiant UY Scuti (see fig. 1), which has 1,708±192 times the sun’s radius and 5 billion times its volume! If this were in the centre of our solar system, its surface would far surpass Jupiter’s orbit. But this star is ‘only’ about 10 times the sun’s mass and 340,000 times brighter.
So there is a huge variety of stars, with different colours, temperatures, and sizes. Paul commented on the amazing heavenly variety in his great Resurrection chapter, clearly alluding to Genesis 1:16:
“There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory (1 Corinthians 15:40–41).”
The stars “cannot be numbered”
The observable universe is so huge—46 billion light years radius—that it is estimated to contain about 10²² stars. This number is so vast that even using a computer that could count a trillion of these every second, it would take over 300 years to count this high. It’s notable that the Bible says that it is impossible for any man to number the stars:
God told Abraham,
“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
“As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.” (Jeremiah 33:22)
It took science millennia to catch up with the Bible on this. Before Galileo trained the telescope on the skies, astronomers could see only 3,000 stars in each hemisphere. And even Galileo could see only about 30,000 stars. But modern telescopes have affirmed that indeed we can’t count all the stars.7
Problems for evolution
First, creationists don’t deny that stars can change. This might be called ‘stellar evolution’, but it cannot viably account for the origin of stars, and is nothing like biological evolution, because it requires no naturalistic process to generate new information. But we would not agree with most of the theories of stellar origins, or the timescales.
Skeptical objection: the moon is a much lesser light than the stars
Many biblioskeptics and their churchian allies bring up supposedly unanswerable points about the biblical texts, with the implication that modern science has made the Bible obsolete. In reality, many of these objections rated a proverbial yawn even to the Christians of the Middle Ages. E.g. the leading systematic theologian and apologist of the period, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), had one section of his book Summa Theologica devoted to this, and this was citing an even earlier Christian scholar, John Chrysostom (AD c. 347–407):
“Objection 5. Further, as astronomers say, there are many stars larger than the moon. Therefore the sun and the moon alone are not correctly described as the ‘two great lights’. …
Reply to Objection 5. As Chrysostom says, the two lights are called great, not so much with regard to their dimensions as to their influence and power. For though the stars be of greater bulk than the moon, yet the influence of the moon is more perceptible to the senses in this lower world. Moreover, as far as the senses are concerned, its apparent size is greater.1
Furthermore, many of these biblioskeptics seem unaware that modern astronomers use exactly the same sort of language. Stars even today are classified in terms of their apparent brightness by their magnitude, from the Latin magnus meaning big or great. This is a logarithmic scale, where a magnitude 1 star is 2.512 times brighter than a magnitude 2 star. This number means that every five magnitude steps is a brightness factor of 100. So a magnitude 1 star is 100 times brighter than a magnitude 6 star, around the faintest stars we can see with the naked eye.
On this scale, Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, has a magnitude of –1.46, but the moon’s mean magnitude is –12.7 and the sun’s is –26.7. And remember, because of the logarithmic scale, a small magnitude difference can mean a very large ratio of brightness. So the moon is 11.24 magnitudes brighter than Sirius, but 31,000 times2 brighter.3
- Summa Theologica, Question 70. The work of adornment, as regards the fourth day, newadvent.org/summa/1070.htm.
- I.e. 2. 51211.24
- Astronomers do use a term absolute magnitude to reflect the intrinsic brightness of an astronomical object, sometimes in contrast with the apparent magnitude, the normal meaning of ‘magnitude’. The absolute magnitude is defined as the apparent magnitude if the object were 10 parsecs (32.6 light years) away. So the sun’s absolute magnitude is only 4.83—at 10 parsecs away, it would be only about a fifth-magnitude star.
Are stars forming today?
It is claimed that the ‘birth’ of new stars has been detected. Some creationists think it is possible that some stars can form in conditions today, after Creation Week, just like all creatures alive today were not created then.1 Creationist and former full professor of astronomy Dr Danny Faulkner explains the difference:
“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.”2
All the same, creationist astronomer Dr Ron Samec is skeptical that stars really have been seen forming:
“When dark nebulae collide with emission nebulae, features like those noted in the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image result. The dust pushes its way through the hot gas. Gas along the front edge of the collision compresses and glows hotter. This results in the whitish-appearing areas at the edges of the dark ‘fingers’ of dust.
“I presume that the temperatures of these areas are near 10,000 K so that they glow like the surfaces of stars of similar temperature, that is, white. Gas at such temperatures will quickly disperse and there is no chance of it forming stars. We should not be convinced that embedded stars exist within the ‘finger tips’ of these dust regions unless they are actually imaged.”3
- Wieland, C., The canyon and the panda (Editorial), Creation 23(2):4, 2001; creation.com/canyon.
- Wieland, C. and Sarfati, J., “He made the stars also …”: Interview with creationist astronomer Danny Faulkner, Creation 19(4):18–21, 1997; creation.com/faulkner2.
- Samec, R, Are stars forming? (Letter to the Editor), Creation 19(1):5, 1996.
Rapid star changes
Also, there is much observational evidence that stars can change very quickly, much faster than evolutionary theories would predict. For example, in 1994, Sakurai’s Object was most likely a white dwarf in the centre of a planetary nebula. With a diameter about the same as Earth’s, though enormously denser—about a tonne per cm³—it would have been invisible to the naked eye. But a team of astronomers, including Bengt Gustafsson at McDonald Observatory in Texas, and Martin Asplund of the Uppsala Observatory in Sweden, observed it change to a bright yellow giant, about 70 million km in diameter, 80 times wider than the sun. This means the diameter increased by a factor of 8,000, and the volume by a factor of over 500,000 million. The astronomers expressed great surprise at the rapidity at which this change had occurred.8 By 1998, it had expanded even further, to a red supergiant with a diameter of 210 million km, 150 times that of the sun. But as fast as it grew, it shrank, releasing much debris. By 2002 the star itself was invisible even to the most powerful optical telescopes, although it is detectable in the infrared spectrum, which shines through the dust.
Problem of first stars
The major problem for evolution is the formation of the first stars. Evolutionary astronomers believe that the first stars formed from a collapsing cloud of gas. But such clouds today are too hot and diffuse to collapse. Current theories involve compression by supernovae or cooling by heat radiation from dust granules, but this would require pre-existing stars. Abraham Loeb, of Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics, says,
More recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson, evolutionary astrophysicist and fanatical antitheist, admitted:
“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.”11
As we have seen, stars are awe-inspiring objects, such that the Psalmist could exclaim, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). However, despite the enormous power and number of the stars, Genesis 1:16 just says, “and the stars,” almost as an afterthought. That is, creating even these uncountably many enormous hot balls of gas was effortless for the Almighty God!
References and notes
- Sarfati, J., The sun: our special star, Creation 22(1):27–31, 1999; creation.com/sun. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The moon: the light that rules the night, Creation 20(4):36–39, 1998; creation.com/moon. Return to text.
- Spencer, W., Planets around other stars, Creation 33(1):45–47, 2011; creation.com/extrasolar2. Return to text.
- The net fusion reaction is 41H →4He + 2e+ + 2νe, where e+ is a positron or anti-electron, and νe is an electron-neutrino. Return to text.
- Chown, M., What a star! New Scientist 162(2192):17, 1999. Return to text.
- These are massive stars that rapidly lose mass via a very strong ‘stellar wind’, up to 2,000 km/h. Return to text.
- Gitt, W., Counting the stars, Creation 19(2):10–13, 1997; creation.com/star-count. Return to text.
- New Scientist 154(2085):17, 7 June 1997; referring to Astronomy & Astrophysics 321:L17, 1997. Return to text.
- Quoted by Marcus Chown, Let there be light, New Scientist 157(2120):26–30, 7 February 1998. Return to text.
- See also, Stars could not have come from the ‘big bang’, sidebar, Creation 20(3):42–43, June–August 1998; creation.com/starform. Return to text.
- Tyson, N. deG., Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, p. 187, W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. Return to text.