Exposing PseudoAstronomy

October 19, 2008

The Solar Neutrino Problem – Why Something that Was Solved Years Ago Is NOT Evidence for Recent Creation


This post is in regards to the Institute for Creation Research’s February 9, 2002 program entitled, “The Young Sun.” You can listen to the audio here.

This particular episode of ICR radio is, to be quite blunt, fairly ignorant.  Its purpose is in discussing what was known as the “solar neutrino problem,” which was solved in 2001, the year before this episode came out.  In other words, it banks on an argument that was already resolved.

The broadcast starts out with a biblical reading and then gets to one of the regular members of their astronomy panel, Dr. Donald DeYoung.  He spends about 90 seconds giving a brief overview of our closest star, discussing how large it is, how quickly it produces energy, and hints a little at the “Goldilocks” situation where Earth is at the “just right” distance from the Sun to not be too hot (like Venus) nor too cold (like Mars).

About 4 minutes in, Dr. Danny Falkner comes on to discuss some of the specifics of the nuclear fusion processes that occur in the Sun’s core that produce its energy.  A discussion of this process can be found on my own website for it is not the purpose of this blog entry.

Finally, 5 minutes in, they introduce their argument:  The Solar Neutrino Problem.  In sum and substance, the theories of nuclear fusion that occur in the Sun’s core really haven’t changed much in over 50 years since it’s fairly straight-forward nuclear physics.  We thought we knew exactly what goes in and what comes out of the nuclear proceses in the Sun’s core, and some of what comes out are elementary particles known as “neutrinos.”  Neutrinos come in three different types, sometimes referred to as “flavors:”  The electron neutrino, muon neutrino, and tau neutrino (also, each of these has an antimatter partner, and antineutrino).  Part of the difference between these three flavors is their energy level (or, because matter and energy are interchangeable via E = m · c2, we refer to them as having different “masses”).

One of the properties of neutrinos is that they are very difficult to detect because they very rarely interact with what detectors can be made of (protons, neutrons, and electrons).  In fact, over 50,000,000,000,000 (50 trillion) neutrinos are passing through you every second.  Because of this difficulty, it was only in the 1960s that the first solar neutrino detector came online that would detect the electron neutrino rate from the Sun, and they found a deficit from what was predicted.  Subsequent experiments verified this deficit … either the Sun was not creating the right number of neutrinos, or something was happening to them on their way to the detectors.

Various solutions were proposed to this problem, such as the Sun doesn’t produce energy quite at the rate that was thought.  However, every observation that was made of different solar properties only confirmed previous solar models, and so there was still a problem.  The problem was resolved, however, by 2002, when this broadcast was made.

The solution involves tweaking the Standard Model of particle physics, which assumed that neutrinos were massless.  This meant that they couldn’t oscillate, or change flavors from one type to another.  However, if they actually did have a mass, then they could change from one type to another; hence the solution was that they have a miniscule amount of mass, and that a certain percentage of the electron neutrinos just changed flavor en route to the detectors here on Earth.  In 1998, a Japanese experiment showed that muon neutrinos could change into tau neutrinos, confirming the flavor change.

Direct evidence came in 2001 from a Canadian experiment which was built to detect all three types of neutrinos, and it found that about 35% of the arriving solar neutrinos were still electron neutrinos, the rest having either changed to tau or muon neutrinos.  BUT, the total number of neutrinos detected was what was expected to be produced from the Sun.  Pretty much every reputable astronomer agrees that this is the solution to the Solar Neutrino “Problem,” that neutrinos can change from one type to another.

Now that you have a background to neutrinos, on with the broadcast …

So starting just after 5 minutes into the broadcast, they start to discuss neutrinos, detectors, and the solar neutrinos.  About 7 minutes into the program, they begin to discuss their alternative idea:  Rather than accept every other independent indication of the Sun’s age, they propose that it’s really very young … you guessed it, about 6,000 years old.  This “solution” would work because, as they state, the rate of neutrino production would change depending upon the age of the star due to various factors like its temperature or composition.

The problem with this is two-fold.  First, as I stated, there are many other independent observations that indicate the Sun is 4.5 billion years old, and I’m not referring to radiometric dating of rocks in the solar system.  Second, they use the predictions from the Standard Model as it was in the 1960s and 70s as if it were gospel, ignoring its revision in the mid-2000s to now easily account for what’s observed.  It’s like using an astronomy textbook from 1800 and asking your teacher why you got the question wrong on the test when you said there were only 6 planets in the solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, since the rest hadn’t been discovered yet).

However, they continue this line of reasoning and at about 8 min 15 sec into the program they discuss that, under our “evolutionary” model of the 4.5-billion-year-old Sun, it would have been about 30% fainter 4 billion years ago than it is today (which IS what solar models show).  They then say that Earth, as a result, would have been 15-20 °C cooler than it is today.  What makes this comment so … disingenuous (to be kind) … is that in the sentence just before it he states that “we’re wringing our hands over global warming and so-forth …”

And that’s the solution:  Earth’s atmosphere is not a constant composition through time, nor Earth’s reflectivity (the amount of light it absorbs vs. reflects back to space) is not a constant through time due in part to changing ice caps.  Earth’s original atmosphere was likely mostly hydrogen and helium, just like the gas giants of the solar system.  It was mostly removed by a stronger solar wind and a very hot crust, and likely nearly completely stripped away by the impact that formed the moon.  Earth’s second atmosphere was mostly volcanic in origin, made of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ammonia — the first two being very efficient greenhouse gases, and estimates are that it was up to 100 times more massive than our current atmosphere.  These gases along with methane-producing bacteria that formed early on could easily have raised Earth’s temperature enough to keep the surface water from freezing.  (To complete the story, bacteria spent about 1 billion years converting a large amount of carbon dioxide into oxygen, bringing our atmosphere closer to what we would recognize today.)

So yet again, the apparent problems that are raised by the guests on this show are easily explained by us “evolutionary” scientists.  They are NOT problems that we cannot work out, and, as the guest even states, “[no one] suggests the Earth was ever that cold.”  But, he simply states, “You can argue about greenhouse gasses being greater in the past … that’s an issue I don’t want to address right now.”  Fair enough, it’s a short radio broadcast, but one must ask the question of why he wouldn’t address that when it’s the entire explanation for the problem he’s proposing!

The rest of the broadcast re-states what I mentioned 3 paragraphs ago – their young-Sun model, and then does the sign-off, reassuring listeners that the Bible can be taken literally.

However, as I hope to have demonstrated with this post, this is yet another line of evidence that does NOT lead to the conclusion that the Sun was created 6000 years ago.

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