Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 24, 2012

Podcast Episode 45: The Moon’s Changing Recession Rate


A discussion of this young-Earth creationist claim, dating back about 3-4 decades, has been posted. The main segment is reasonably short, around 13ish minutes.

No new news segment, but all the others are there excepting a new puzzler: Q&A, Feedback, Puzzler solutions for episodes 43 and 44, and some announcements.

The main announcement is that I’ve re-released my Richard Hoagland lunar ziggurat debunking. If you downloaded it on Monday, that’s the old version. I released this new one at around 6AM GMT on Wednesday, July 25. It’s 5 minutes 29 seconds long — not the 4 minutes 25 seconds one. There’s a minor correction about shadows, and I also show the latest lunar imagery that shows no ziggurat. Plus Mike Bara complaining that Hoagland took the image from him without credit.

If you do nothing else, I would appreciate feedback on the video (post here, send e-mail, whatever). As I mentioned in my last post, these suckers take A LONG TIME, and I don’t want to do them if you don’t think they’re worth it. What you liked, what you didn’t like, what you think I should do differently or make sure to do next time, file size, etc. … all fair game.

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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.

October 18, 2008

Solar System Characteristics that Do Not Point Towards Creationism (Though Claimed To)


This post is in regards to the Institute for Creation Research’s January 13, 2001 program entitled, “Sun, Moon, & Stars.” You can listen to the audio here.

The basic premise behind this episode of ICR radio is to talk about the sun, moon, and stars, and to raise enough questions as to lead a listener to think that these “three” celestial items prove the Universe was created.

The first train of thought has to do with one of the first real scientific ideas of how the solar system formed:  The “Nebular Collapse” theory that was thought of by a fairly famous mathematician named Laplace.  The Nebular Collapse theory’s basic premise is that a large cloud of dust and gas would collapse, the main center of collapse being where the star would form, and other points that started out as higher density eventually forming planets.  The ICR episode goes on to say that this is still the basis for how we think solar systems form today, which is true – it is the basis for it.

However, the program then goes on to discuss the debate that came to a head in the 1920:  Were “spiral nebulae” actually nebulae in our own galaxy that were in the process of collapsing into solar systems, or were they actually outside of our galaxy, being their own “island universes.”  The answer turned out to be the latter, when Edwin Hubble (you may recognize that name, there’s a fairly famous space telescope named after him) discovered individual stars in the “Andromeda Nebula,” thus proving that it was not a collapsing solar system.

As far as I can tell, the only purpose of bringing this up is an ad hominem attack on Laplace’s Nebular Collapse theory:  Because Laplace was wrong about these galaxies being nebulae, his whole theory of solar system formation must be wrong, which means that since it forms the basis of our current theories, they must also be wrong and so we have no idea how solar systems form.

If you listen just a little further (starting at 3 min 50 sec), you’ll find that my supposition (which I made before listening to the rest of the episode) is correct:  They use it to cast doubt upon our current theories.

They have Tom Henderson who used to work at NASA’s Johnson center (getting a former NASA employee to say this for them really helps their Argument from Authority fallacy) to talk about how the “Evolutionary Theory that the solar system formed by some solar nebula …”  can’t explain what we see today.  (Yet again, as seems to be the theme for these Creationism posts, I have NEVER introduced myself – nor thought of myself – as an “evolutionary” astronomer.)

For example, he points to Venus’ spin.  He correctly states that Venus revolves “backwards” on its axis, which “shouldn’t” happen according to the Nebular Collapse theory.  Well yes, that’s true, everything should be orbiting and spinning the same way.  But we can fairly easily explain it by a giant asteroid impact early on in the solar system’s history.  In addition, there are other possible mechanisms for flipping Venus over, none of which involve God.  The alternative that they imply but don’t explicitly state, of course, is that they want the listener to think that God must have created Venus just as it is.  But there’s no way to test that, no way to model it in a computer, and no way to make predictions based upon it.  In other words, it’s not science.

Next up, around 5 minutes into the program, they have Wayne Spencer talking about Saturn’s “Dancing Moons,” Janus and Epimetheus.  What’s intriguing about these two moons is that they are separated by only about 50 km from each other in their orbital distance from Saturn, which is smaller than many large cities.  And, every 4 years, they swap orbits.  Wikipedia actually has a decent section on this.  Wayne says the fact that they don’t collide must be evidence that God Did It.  However, computer modeling of the break-up of a large object and then what would happen to the fragments show that this kind of thing really can happen under the normal laws of physics and can remain fairly stable, again, not needing the Hand of God.

He then makes a side-note about how there are lots of surprises out there that we wouldn’t predict based upon a naturalistic worldview. This is correct. And that’s what makes science interesting: We’re always finding things that we can’t explain at that time, and then we work to try to understand why it is the way it is.

The broadcast then introduces Donald DeYoung (about 6.5 min. in) to discuss that ocean circulation is largely due to the moon creating tides, this being essential for the ocean’s health and that we require the ocean to be healthy for life, and without the circulation there would be no oxygen which he then equates with air for us to breathe. This goes from true to possibly to wrong. Yes, the oceans get stirred up quite a bit through the tidal effects the moon has on Earth. Maybe this is a requirement for life, but it’s unlikely because there are other mechanisms for circulating the water, such as winds as well as the simple rotation of the planet. There could still be plenty of biota in the oceans without the moon, it just may not flourish as much. And as to oxygen for us to breathe, this is not correct, for land-based plants also make free oxygen, not just ocean plants, and if there weren’t oxygen in the atmosphere for us to breathe, we may just as well have evolved to take advantage of some other gas that was plentiful in the atmosphere.

They then go on to discuss the moon’s stabilizing effect on our axial tilt, also known as obliquity (presently at the oft-quoted number of 23.5°). This is true – Earth’s tilt changes only by about ±1° because we have the moon helping to stabilize us. Mars, without a large moon, wobbles chaotically ±5-10° on the “short” timescales of millions of years, and between 0° to nearly 90° on much longer timescales. This ensures that our seasons are fairly steady and we don’t have the kinds of temperature extremes over various sections of the planet that we may otherwise have. It is entirely possible that life at our complexity could not have evolved on a planet with the kind of obliquity that Mars has. But this does not mean the moon was created — in fact, one could just as legitimately ask why (a) g/God didn’t create us on a planet WITHOUT a large moon for stabilization, just to show that s/he could?

The broadcast then (about 8.5 min.) starts to talk about Earth being unique and designed for life. This is actually a fairly straight-forward logical fallacy, the Argument from Final Consequences. In other words, they argue God must have created Earth because Earth is suited for life. This is not how science operates: They should be saying, “Earth seems to be suited for life as we know it, let’s try to find out why.”

After this, the program reverts to standard creationist arguments that don’t really have to do with astronomy, so I will end this post here.

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