Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 27, 2017

Podcast Episode 168: Common (and False) Fine-Tuned Universe Beliefs, Discussed

Fine-tuned Universe:
Not just for creationists
Anymore. Let’s see …

Fine-tuning of the universe to allow us to exist has tended to be a focused argument by young-Earth creationists, but it’s also used by other folks to generally argue that we are special. In this episode, I discuss four categories of claims that fit into this broad argument.

An exploration into four groups of fine-tuning arguments used by some to say that we are special: Solar outbursts, habitable zone, lunar origin and effects, and giant planets and impacts on Earth.

Fine-Tuning Image

Fine-Tuning Image


December 30, 2014

My First Infographic: What Have Our Planetary Space Probes Photographed Since 1970?


This has been over two months in the making: I’m finally releasing my first infographic. It’s entitled, “Planets and Major Moons: Distribution of Non-Lander Spacecraft Photos Since 1970.” (Suitable for printing on A-size paper with a bit of top and bottom margin to spare.) The purpose is to show the number of images taken by different space probes of the planets (and major satellites), the percentage of the total images that were for each body, and for each body, the percentage taken by each different spacecraft.

PDF Version of Spacecraft Imagery Infographic (3.5 MB)
PNG Version of Spacecraft Imagery Infographic (4.7 MB)

Number of Images of Planets Taken by Spacecraft Infographic

Number of Images of Planets Taken by Spacecraft Infographic

Development Process

I’ve been wanting to create infographics for awhile. Really good ones are few and far between, especially for astronomy, but the good ones are often amazing works of art. I don’t pretend that this is an amazing work of art, but hopefully it’s not ugly.

To me, the key is to have a lot of information crammed into a small space in an easy-to-understand way that you don’t have to be an expert to interpret. In my work, I deal a lot with multi-dimensional datasets and so already I have to come up with ways of displaying a lot of information in as few figures as possible and yet still make them readable.

The Idea

An idea that I came up with is based on the claim that “NASA hides all its pictures!” (This is often, hypocritically, almost immediately followed up with NASA spacecraft imagery showing claimed UFOs and other pseudoscientific claims.)

And so, I wanted to investigate this: How many images really have been taken and are available publicly, for free, on the internet? After several days of research, I had the results, and I assembled them into the above infographic.

The Numbers

I was surprised by some of the numbers and I was not surprised by others. One thing that did not surprise me was that the outer planets have very few photographs (relatively speaking) of them, while most imagery has focused on Mars and the Moon (fully 86%).

But, I was not prepared for how very few photographs were taken by our early probes to the outer solar system. Pioneers 10 and 11 were the first craft to venture out, and yet, because of the (now) archaic method of imaging and slow bandwidth, they collectively took a mere 72 images of both Jupiter and Saturn. Compare that with the ongoing Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the moon, which has publicly released over 1.1 million images.

You can also see the marked effect of the Galileo high-gain antenna failure: Only 7.4% of the photos we have of Jupiter were taken by Galileo, despite it being an orbiter in the 1990s. Compare that with the Cassini orbiter of Saturn, which has returned nearly 50 times as many images, despite no dramatic change in technology between the two craft. This means that only 0.4% of our images of planets and moons are of Jupiter, while 1.9% are of Saturn.

You can also see the marked success of modern spacecraft and the huge volumes of images that (I repeat) are publicly available. The pie slices in the infographic are color-coded by approximate spacecraft operation era. Well over 90% of all images were taken after 1995, and the current suite of the latest NASA spacecraft (MESSENGER around Mercury, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the Moon, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter around Mars) account for a sizable fraction of the returned data for that body — especially MESSENGER, which accounts for 98.1% of all Mercury images.

What was I most surprised by? The Clementine mission to the moon. It returned and has publicly archived just shy of 1.5 million images of the lunar surface. I expected the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to have surpassed that. And, it still may, as it continues to operate and return data. We shall see.

Why the Conspiracy Theorists Are Wrong

As I said, one of the primary reasons I made this was to investigate the claim by conspiracy theorists that these space agencies hide photographs. The blame rests almost entirely on NASA by most conspiracists’ accounts. This infographic proves them wrong in two significant ways.

First, at least for the Moon, Mars, and Venus, sizable numbers of images have been taken by and publicly released by non-NASA sources. I specifically have data from the European Space Agency (SMART-1, Venus Express, and Mars Express), and Japanese Space Agency (SELENE / Kaguya). While both the Indian and Chinese space agencies have also sent spacecraft to the moon and Mars (Mars for the Indians with the recently-in-orbit “MOM” craft), and Russia has sent craft to Venus, Moon, and Mars, I could not find the public repositories – if they exist – for these missions. Therefore, I could not include them. But, a lack of those two does not affect the overall point, that non-NASA agencies have released photos of these bodies.

Second, as I’ve repeated throughout this post, these are the publicly released images. Not private. Public. To public archives. In the bottom-left corner, I have the sources for all of these numbers. (Please note that they were compiled in late October and may have increased a bit for ongoing missions — I’ll update periodically, as necessary.)

The total number of lunar images? About 3 million.

Mars? Around 1.6 million. Venus? Over 350,000. Mercury? Over 210,000.

It’s hard to claim that NASA hides lots of images when these numbers are staring you in the face.

What Conspiracists Could Still Claim

I think the only “out” at this point, given this information (and if they acknowledge this information), is for conspiracists to claim that NASA and other space agencies simply obfuscate the “interesting” stuff. I suppose that’s possible, though they’d need armies of people to do it on the millions of returned images. And they apparently do a pretty bad job considering all the images that conspiracists post, claiming that features within them are of alien-origin.

It’s amazing how the “powers that be” are so powerful, and yet so sloppy. Apparently.

What This Infographic Does Not Show

I had to decide to clip a lot of information. We’ve imaged a lot of asteroids and a lot of comets. Those are out. We have had landers on the three closest bodies (Moon, Mars, Venus). Those images were not included.

Also, I focused on visible-light images, mostly. There are some instruments that take more UV images, or far-IR images, or various other wavelengths, but this infographic focused on the visible or near-visible light camera data.

Pretty much the only exception to this is for the Magellan mission at Venus, which took radar swaths of the planet to “image” the surface. I included this because, in early test audiences, I did not have Venus at all, and they requested it. Then, I did not include Magellan, but the test audiences wondered what happened to it. Describing why that data was not present made things wordy and more cluttered, so I, in the end, simply included it and put a footnote explaining the Magellan data.

This also fails to show the volume of data as measured by or approximated by (for the older craft) pixel count. If I were doing this by amount of pixels returned, the Moon and Mars would be far larger in comparison, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would be much larger fractions of their respective bodies.

Final Thoughts

I’m releasing this under the Creative Commons license with attribution required, non-commercial distribution, and no derivative works (please see the CC stamp at the bottom of the infographic). This is so that I can at least have some semblance of version control (see release date at lower right).

I hope you find it useful and interesting. And at least somewhat purdy. If you like it, share it.

March 12, 2014

Podcast Episode 103: Does Jupiter Support Young-Earth Creationism?

Jupiter, gas giant:
Why do you oh-so confound
Evolution? Hmmmm?

Young-Earth creationism! Jupiter! What else do you need for a fun episode? (Other than an engaging host?) I had not planned on doing this episode, and I realize that it’s a day late. Why? Because I was going to do an episode entitled, “ε, Newton, Einstein, and Schrödinger.” And I had it mostly written. And then I looked back at episode 64 on quantum nonsense and realized that everything I was going to put in this new episode had already been done as the last section of the main segment in that episode. This was realized at about 6PM last night.

So, I quickly dug up an older blog post and converted it to an episode, had to go to sleep, woke up to the roofers (new roof due to flood damage), and got to record tonight). Here ’tis.

It has been requested (Hi Dori) that I post the current plan of upcoming episodes. This is highly subject to change (see above), but right now, they are:

  • Episode 104 – Pyramids on Mars – 2014/03/21
  • Episode 105 – Solar System Mysteries that were PseudoSolved, Part 3 – 2014/04/01
  • Episode 106 – James McCaney (General, Conspiracy, Electric Universe) – 2014/04/11
  • Episode 107 – The Fake Story of Planet X, Part 9 (Marshall Masters) – 2014/04/21
  • Episode 108 – The Norway Spiral – 2014/05/01
  • Episode 109 – Practical Application of Uncertainty – Orbits and Spacecraft Observations – 2014/05/11

October 21, 2013

Podcast Episode 90: Investigation into Billy Meier’s Alleged Foreknowledge About Stuff About Jupiter and Saturn

When people knew what about
Jup’ter and Saturn.

I’ve been doing some research on and off for this episode for quite awhile and finally had enough to post it: Episode 90: “Investigation into Billy Meier’s Alleged Foreknowledge About Stuff About Jupiter and Saturn.” The shownotes for this episode are extensive with lots of references. It’s been scheduled as Episode 90 for about two months. I decided to do it because I found it an interesting scavenger hunt, despite the fact that UFO-related posts are among my least-read blog posts.

The blog entry I reference towards the end of the episode is from January: “How Astronomers Are, According to Popular Press, Constantly Discovering the Same Thing.” I recommend looking through it because it’s a good example that has nothing to do with the Meier case where even peer-reviewed, professional science papers will sometimes ignore work that has shown the same “new” thing before, and it’s a good example of how press releases can play up various “discoveries” … even if they’ve been made before.

The podcast episode also has a few notes at the end, and there’s some feedback clarifying the discussion about why oxygen isotopes are important for understanding where objects formed in the solar system.


Given what’s happened in the past when I’ve talked about Meier’s material, I’m going to reiterate my comments policy: Comments need to be on-topic, and I make the final decision of what comes through; I do not owe you an explanation if your comment is not posted, my comments policy is pretty clear. Any comment to this post needs to be specifically about this podcast episode.

If you’re going to dispute material in it, you need to provide specific references and be specific about what you are disputing. You need to be succinct. That means no lengthy essays. That means no posts with numerous links to random stuff. That means no links to videos about trees — no embedded videos period, I will remove them and I will remove posts that are simply a bunch of random links to Meier material, especially if they do not support the specific thing you are refuting / referencing. That means not debating whether trees in a video are real or models.

This episode is specifically about certain claims about Jupiter and Saturn, whether those claims/statements were true, and whether it was known or openly speculated before Meier’s writing that they were true or existed, which is what the claim is for Meier’s prophecy: “… with literally dozens of other such documented examples of Meier’s having published specific, accurate information years, and even decades, before terrestrial scientists, the case must be recognized as being authentic based on these irrefutable facts alone.” It is not the claim that this stuff was known on Earth but Meier didn’t have access to that information so he still got it from ETs — and if that’s what is going to be claimed now, then that is an unfalsifiable and unverifiable claim and is moving the goalpost.

April 11, 2010

What Happens When All the Planets Line Up Against Us?


This is a claim that has persisted for a long time, and though people who believe in the 2012 stuff have propagated it, it is not specifically a Planet X / 2012 claim: If all the planets (plus our moon) lined up opposite the sun, they would pull us out of orbit. As the “lolcatz” say, “Oh noez!”


The force felt by an object due to gravity is a very simple mathematical function, codified by Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity:

In this equation, F is the force felt, G is the Gravitational Constant, M m are masses of the two objects in question, and r is the distance that separates them.

To figure out how much more or less two different objects will pull on the same object, we can simply remove one of the two masses, so the equation simplifies to F = G * m / r2.

The Math

To determine the relative forces, one simply needs to know the mass of the planets and sun, and the distances between Earth and those objects. This can be found in any basic astronomy textbook or online source. One then can simply plug in the numbers and figure out the forces.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the sun is on one side of this tug-of-war, and the moon, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and even Pluto are all on the other (Venus and the sun don’t count ’cause they would have to be on the sun’s side). Let’s calculate the force first due to the sun:

Mass (1024 kg)
Distance from Sun (106 km)
Distance from Earth (106 km)
Relative Force
Sun 1,989,100 149.6 0.0059

Alright, now let’s do all the rest, remembering that for the planets, we’ll need to subtract out the distance between Earth and the sun from what are commonly quoted as the planets’ distances:

Mass (1024 kg)
Distance from Sun (106 km)
Distance from Earth (106 km)
Relative Force
Moon 0.07349 0.3844 3.32·10-5
Mars 0.6419 227.9 78.32 6.98·10-9
Jupiter 1,899 778.6 629.0 3.20·10-7
Saturn 568.5 1434 1284 2.30·10-8
Uranus 86.83 2872 2723 7.82·10-10
Neptune 102.4 4495 4345 3.62·10-10
Pluto 0.00125 5906 5756 2.52·10-14
Ceres 0.00095 415 265.4 9.00·10-13

Final Thoughts

This is a really short post because it doesn’t need to be long. To be perfectly honest, I was actually surprised at how small the force of Jupiter actually is on Earth relative to the sun. If we add up the force from all of the other objects, we only get a force that is 0.566% as strong as the sun’s. And then if we take the moon out of the equation because that would be the first to move out of the alignment, then we have a force of only 0.000592% as strong as the sun’s.

If we look at Venus if it were also lined up, helping the sun, its force is 1.90·10-7, or about half as much as all the other planets (again, leaving out the moon), so it would cancel 54% of the effect of all those other objects (again leaving out the moon). The force from Mercury is only about 1/3 that of Mars.

So really, if anyone who makes this claim were to bother to spend about 10 minutes looking up the numbers and plugging them into an Excel equation (what I did), they would quickly see that this claim is simply and utterly nonsense. And this is besides the fact that the planets aren’t lining up any time soon on the other side of Earth to try to pull us out of orbit.

February 15, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 1


While I was supposed to be working today, I was looking at the upcoming Coast to Coast AM late-night George Noory -hosted radio show. Tonight, February 15, 2010, they’re having what has been termed an “Astrology Special” with three astrologers coming in. I went to each of their websites just to nose around, and I found a page on Terry Nazon’s site dedicated to “The Mayan Prophecy of 2012.”

I’m an astronomer. Astrology is to astronomy what alchemy is to chemistry (or, for those about to take the SATs: astrology:astronomy::alchemy:chemistry). And, I’ve written many, many posts on the non-event of Planet X and 2012 (Planet X, 2012, and Planet X and 2012 — yes, those are different). So, this particular woman has combined two things that I just couldn’t help myself to post a break-down.

To do this, I’m going to examine both her numbered claims (part 1 – long!) and then claims she makes in the expository text (part 2).

Note: Several times I link to a NASA website on eclipses in this post. Unfortunately, that server seems to be down as of the time I’m posting this. You can do a search on Google for it and find the cached version of the page in most cases, however.

Other Note: It appears as though Ms. Nazon was cancelled from the show before it went live on Feb. 15. I am not sure when this change happened, but it was no more than 2-3 days before the episode.

Numbered Claim 1

“On December 21, 2012 The Winter Solstice, the Earth and the Galactic Center align. The Galactic Center is also called the Milky Way. The Mayans called the Milky Way, The Sacred Tree, or the Great Mother. This alignment of the Earth and the Galactic Center only happens once every 26,000 years! The Galactic Center is at approximately 26°-27° Sagittarius.”

I’ve addressed this claim directly, twice, on my blog before both in my post “ Planet X and 2012: What The Sky Looks Like On December 21, 2012” and “ Planet X and 2012: The PseudoAstronomy (or Just Plain Wrong Astronomy) About a Galactic Alignment.”

In sum and substance, no, there is no alignment between Earth, the sun, and/or the galactic center in 2012, let alone on December 21, 2012. Now, there was an “alignment” between the sun and galactic equator on December 21, 1998. I personally don’t recall anything special then except maybe taking my last semester exam in 9th grade. For references on this, see the two posts above and/or any astronomy planetarium software.

As for where the galactic center is located on the sky, it is true that it is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. It is located at the celestial coordinates 17 h 45m 40s RA, -29° 00′ 28.00″ DEC. So while she’s right about Sagittarius, she’s wrong about the galactic center’s location, off in declination (latitude on the sky) by the width of at least four sun / full moon diameters.

Numbered Claim 2

“Uranus squares Pluto at 7° – 8° of cardinal signs. This is the waxing square of the cycle that started in the mid 1960s, with the conjunction of these two planets in mid Virgo. December 21st, 2012 A.D., represents an extremely close conjunction of the Winter Solstice Sun with the crossing point of the Galactic Equator (Equator of the Milky Way) and the Ecliptic (path of the Sun), what that ancient Maya recognized as the Sacred Tree, or the Great Mother. This is an event that has been coming to resonance very slowly over thousands and thousands of years. It will come to resolution at exactly 11:11 am GMT.”

I find this claim interesting. I really can’t say anything about “Uranus squaring Pluto” as that has nothing to do with astronomy, but I find it interesting in that this claim directly backtracks from the previous! She’s changed “Galactic Center” to “Galactic Equator,” which is actually finally correct (almost). The problem with this is that which I pointed out above, and I invite you to go to the links to my previous posts on the alleged alignment.

Numbered Claim 3

“March 16th 2012, A lunar occultation of Pluto occurs today. This is the first anywhere on Earth since January 19th 1935. They will occur every month now from today upto [sic] August 17th 2013.”

Now is as good a time as any to point out that I’m just copying and pasting from Ms. Nazon’s website. If there are spelling mistakes, I am indicating that with the [sic] as is standard practice to indicate it is not a transcription error on my part.

Anyway, I looked into this. I’m not sure what software she’s using, but I was using Starry Night Pro. I started out in my default location of Boulder, CO (USA) and didn’t see any occultation. I then went to France, Iran, a few places in Russia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the UK, Benin, Egypt, Venezuela, China, Australia, Chile … the closest I saw any approach was about 15′ of Pluto to the moon. That means it misses it about a quarter of a lunar diameter, and that was from the Falkland Islands. Finally I tried the south pole, and pluto gets within 6′ of the moon (0.1°). Close, but no cigar.

As far as I can tell, this claim is simply false, unless someone can give me a different location where this happens. (Again, I did this via simulation in Starry Night Pro.)

Now, what’s cool is that after March, the occultations do actually start to take place as seen from Earth, about every 27 days or so after that. Those of us at my latitude in Boulder, CO won’t be able to see this until January 10, 2013, at about 6:30 PM, though at that time they’ll be about 11° away from the sun. And, the occultations will stop around the August 2013 timeframe for those of us in the higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere.

And then this did occur back in January 19, 1935, again from the South Pole, and it just missed occulting Pluto on February 15, 1935.

So while this claim is partly/mostly correct, I’m not sure what the significance is supposed to be. It’s not like it happens on December 21, 2012.

Numbered Claim 4

“May 11th 2012 Saturn conjunct Spica (2nd time) [sic]”

I’d like to see her work on this claim. I checked several locations around the globe for this date, and the closest Saturn gets to the star Spica is several degrees (around 4). With the full moon being 0.5° across, that’s 8 full moons away.

However, I spoke with a friend of mine who practices astrology (yes, I do have friends, and yes, some of them have beliefs outside of my own). According to her, astrologers consider anything within about 5° to be a “conjunction” which is “considered to be mutually enhancing.” So, under that definition, yes, this will be a conjunction.

However, even if it is true … so what? (a) This isn’t December 21, 2012, and (b) what does a conjunction between Saturn and a star as seen from Earth have to do with anything?

Numbered Claim 5

“May 20th 2012 Annular Solar Eclipse at zero degrees Gemini. Central eclipse 23:53 GMT. Eclipse visible from southern USA, central America, central equatorial south America and Africa.”

A solar eclipse is a “rare” and beautiful thing that I hope to observe in August 2017, when totality will be centered pretty much directly over my parents’ house. It’ll be a partial eclipse from Boulder, but it will be occurring right around sunset so I’m not actually sure if I’ll be able to see it (or if I’ll still be in Boulder at that time).

The only thing un-rare about an eclipse is that they generally happen twice a year. And an annular eclipse – where the moon doesn’t quite cover the entire solar disk so you have an “annulus” of sun around it – isn’t the neat kind where you actually get totality. You can go to NASA’s eclipse website to view the eclipses for many decades into the past and future, both solar and lunar.

So, yes, there will be an annular solar eclipse on May 20, 2012. This is not rare. And the time of greatest eclipse will occur at 23:53:53 GMT (so she’s a minute off, rounding, though that’s really nit-picking). And it will be visible from China, Japan, the Pacific, and western United States.

Otherwise, the where on the sky part of this eclipse is completely wrong. The sun and moon will lie within the constellation Taurus (the bull), with the sun at about 20° declination and about 4 hrs right ascension (see the diagram below from Starry Night Pro, location set to Boulder, CO). Far, far away from Gemini. In fact, it’s much closer to Aries than it is to Gemini. 0 RA is in the constellation Pisces … even farther from Gemini. I’m actually surprised that Ms. Nazon made a mistake this large unless she was using the wrong dates or just was making it up – about it being in Gemini. As for Gemini being at 0 RA, well, that just simply doesn’t happen and won’t for several thousand years.

Skychart on May 20, 2012 Showing Solar Eclipse

Skychart on May 20, 2012 Showing Solar Eclipse

Note on reading these images: First, you can click on any of the star chart images in this post for a much larger version. Second, a guide to reading these — Constellation names are in blue. Star names are in yellow. Solar system object names are in pale red. White outlines are constellation boundaries as defined by the International Astronomical Union nearly a century ago. Red grids are effectively the latitude/longitude system that we use in astronomy (declination (DEC) and right ascention (RA)). A green line is the line of the ecliptic – what the sun appears to trace out in the sky over the course of a year.

Numbered Claim 6

“June 4th 2012 Partial lunar eclipse at 15 degrees Sagittarius. Central eclipse 12:03 GMT [sic]”

We experience what are called “eclipse seasons” on Earth. This is when the nodes of when the moon crosses the celestial equator when it’s a new or full moon recur 1-2 times before they move away. In simpler terms, we only get an eclipse when the moon, Earth, and sun directly line up. Since the moon is on an inclined orbit, this only happens twice per orbit. And those locations (“nodes”) move around Earth. If we have a full moon when the moon is on a node, we get a lunar eclipse. If it’s a new moon, it’s a solar eclipse. And because it happens twice per orbit, then if you have one kind of eclipse, chances are very good that 2 weeks later, you’ll get the other kind.

That’s the case here, for June 4, 2012. And it will be a partial lunar eclipse – again, not the most interesting kind, and the time of greatest eclipse will be approximately 11:04:20 GMT (she was an hour off). But I’ll take this opportunity again to ask, “So what?”

The only thing wrong with this claim is that Ms. Nazon again gets the constellation wrong – the moon will be in the constellation Ophiuchus (which I think is the bane of astrologers since, because of precession, there are now 13 “sun signs,” but Western astrologers only recognize the original 12). The moon will be about 13° away from the edge of the constellation Sagittarius for this eclipse … that’s nearly 8% of the way across the visible sky at the time. Again, a fairly big miss for someone who studies the sky.

Skychart on June 04, 2012 Showing Lunar Eclipse

Skychart on June 04, 2012 Showing Lunar Eclipse

Numbered Claim 7

“June 6th 2012 Transit of Venus across the disc of the Sun.”

Now this is cool. Once every 122 years and then again 8 years later, the planet Venus transits across the disk of the sun as seen from Earth. Historically, this has been very important for astronomy because it was the only way to directly measure the size of the solar system and the distance between us and the sun. I invite you to read a bit more about it on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

Anyway, yes, this does happen, and will happen, though unfortunately it won’t be visible from most of the US as it happens from 22:09 June 5 through 4:49 June 6 (GMT). About the best place for this one will be Indonesia or Japan.

While this has historic significance for astronomy, though, I again fail to see the significance of it in foretelling, well, anything that is supposed to happen on December 21, 2012.

Numbered Claim 8

“June 11th 2012 Jupiter enters Gemini.”

If she’s right … So?

But yet again, Ms. Nizan is wrong. I’ll again direct you to any number of for-free or commercial planetarium sky programs and tell you to go to that date and look at where Gemini is and look at where Jupiter is. On June 11, 2012, Jupiter is clearly on the ARES side of Taurus, not anywhere near Gemini. Maybe she got her year wrong — Jupiter enters Gemini on June 27, 2013.

Skychart on June 11, 2012 Showing Jupiter's Location

Skychart on June 11, 2012 Showing Jupiter's Location

Also, Jupiter orbits the sun once every ~12 years or so. That means that about once a year, it moves into a new constellation. About once every 12 years, it repeats the cycle! Gasp!

Numbered Claim 9

“July 15th 2012 Lunar grazing occultation of Jupiter (visible from the UK with a clear horizon ) 02-00 [sic] GMT.”

This claim is true and pretty cool. The moon will occult Jupiter for several minutes at this time as seen from the UK. But it’s just as significant – and even more common – as the lunar occultation of the planet Saturn that was visible from the US and other parts of the world in 1997.

While in analyzing these claims so far I’ve concentrated on showing some of their flaws, I will yet again ask: So what? What does an apparent alignment from an insignificant planet floating in a vast universe have to do with anything?

Numbered Claim 10

“Aug 14th 2012 Mars and Saturn conjunct Spica [sic]”

Not sure what Ms. Nazon has against periods, but she leaves them out a lot in this list. Anyway, Ms. Nazon seems big on conjunctions with Spica. And as I stated for her 4th claim, this is another one that is simply not true. A conjunction is when things come together and appear to be in the same spot. Unless you’re using a very loose definition of the word – perhaps she meant “close conjunction” instead of “conjunction” – then this is again demonstrably false (just go to planetarium software and look!!).

Yes, they’re reasonably close, with about 3.5 full moons separating Mars from Spica, and 5.5 separating Mars from Saturn. I’m really not sure I’d call this a conjunction, especially if you’re trying to link it to some cosmic energy vortex being activated because these objects are supposed to meet. But, I suppose under the 5° idea that astrologers seem to use (based on my friend), the three will be in a “conjunction.”

Numbered Claim 11

“August 22nd 2012 The Moon, Mars, and Saturn are conjunct [sic] Spica.”

Moving the ol’ clock forward on Starry Night software and … Nope! For those familiar with photography, you could easily use a 100mm lens to photograph this close conjunction. You need something with wider than a 5° field of view, as Saturn from the moon is nearly 6° apart — even under the 5° rule we can’t really consider this to be a conjunction.

Now, granted, this would make a neat photograph. And if I remember, I’ll probably try to capture it. But in the grand scheme of things, this really is not a very close conjunction – definitely not a once-in-26,000-years event.

Numbered Claim 12

“October 5th 2012 Saturn enters Scorpio.”

Okay, I’m not sure what Ms. Nazon is using. But Saturn is still pretty much smack dab in the middle of Virgo in October 2012 (see image below). Unlike Jupiter, Saturn takes longer – about 30 years – to orbit the sun once. So, it will enter a new constellation about once every 2.5 years. And 30 years later it repeats. So, is there supposed to be some significance I’m not getting in it staying in Virgo on October 5, 2012 allegedly entering Scorpius?

Skychart on October 05, 2012 Showing Saturn's Location

Skychart on October 05, 2012 Showing Saturn's Location

Numbered Claim 13

“November 13th 2012 Total Solar Eclipse at 22 degrees Scorpio 22-12 GMT visible from north-eastern Australia.”

Let’s see … May + 6 months = November … we have another potential eclipse! Which is what Ms. Nazon is predicting for NE Australia. And, lo!, yes there is an eclipse on November 13, 2012, visible from northern Australia and the southern Pacific.

But in what seems to be a running theme, this takes place in the constellation Libra (the scales), and the declination is about -18°, not 22°. For those who don’t know, Libra is a full 3 constellations away from Sagittarius, over 11% of the visible sky away from Sagittarius. It hasn’t been since about the year 1400 B.C. that the sun was in Sagittarius on November 13 — assuming we use our calendar instead of what was in use at the time.

Numbered Claim 14

“November 14th 2012 The Moon occults Mercury (daylight occultation visible from the UK with a telescope) .”

Yep, the moon occults Mercury, visible from the UK, at about 10AM on November 14, 2012. And it does it again May 9, 2013. Mercury never strays too far from the ecliptic, so the moon has a reasonable chance of occulting it once a month. So again, this is not a rare occurrence, nor does it have any physical significance.

Numbered Claim 15

“November 28th 2012 Penumbral lunar eclipse 7 degrees Gemini. Central eclipse 15:33 GMT [sic]”

Yep, 2 weeks after a solar eclipse, we have the possibility of a lunar one. And not a very good one at that – the moon may appear to dim a little, but it’s unlikely that it will appear to go very red. That’s what a penumbral eclipse is versus an umbral – the good kind! And if Earth’s shadow could stretch farther into space, just a few hours later we would see a Jovian eclipse with Earth’s shadow turning Jupiter red!

Anyway, I’m getting kinda sick of saying it and hopefully I don’t have to post yet another screenshot for you to believe me, but she got the constellation wrong again. This happens in Taurus, not Gemini. And I’m not sure where she’s getting her coordinates from — she either needs a new calculator, better tables, or better software. The moon will be at about 4 hrs RA and +20° DEC … not 7° in Gemini. In fact, the farthest south that Gemini gets is just under 10°. Now, Gemini does cross through the 7th hour RA, but there are 24 hours of RA, not 360, so saying anything about it being 7° is either being completely oblivious about what RA means or making up numbers.

And she’s again an hour off, with the greatest eclipse time being 14:34:07 GMT. This eclipse will be visible in Europe, East Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific, and North America.

Numbered Claim 16

“Uranus will enter Aries in 2011. The last time Uranus transited Aries was in 1927-1935 which we all know as The Great Depression.”

Okay, for some reason this claim was bolded on her site, along with #17 and 18. Perhaps it’s because she actually ties these into past events. Let’s look …

Uranus has a longer year than Saturn, about 84 Earth years. When running open house observing nights on campus, we refer to it as the “once in a lifetime” planet because unless you have an unusually long lifespan, you will never see Uranus in the same location in a constellation (excluding retrograde motion, but that’s a different story). You will never see it in the same place in its orbit (that’s more precise).

So now let’s go through this without looking up to see if she has the constellation right. 1927 + 84 = 2011, so yes, wherever Uranus was in 1927, it will be returning there around 2011. So that would be a correct analysis.

Now, about depressions. For those who don’t know, one of my hobbies is coin collecting. As such, I’ve tracked US inflation rates throughout history and come up with some beautiful graphs. Suffice to say, the US has gone through several “great” depressions – present one excluded because only history will tell if it’s a “great” one. The first was during the Revolutionary War, when inflation skyrocketed. Second was around the War of 1812 – about 40 years later. Third was during the Civil War, when America experienced the largest inflation rates in its history as a country (excluding just after its founding) — that was 50 years later. And then the Great Depression – about 70 years later. If you want to play it forward, we experienced depression-class inflation rates again during WWII (15 years later) and again during the Korean and Vietnam Wars (30-40 years later).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see an 84-year pattern there.

United States Inflation Rates, 1776-2008

United States Inflation Rates, 1776-2008

Oh, and now let’s see if it’s actually in Aries (looks at Starry Night Pro …) Nope. Uranus is smack-dab in the middle of Pisces. It enters Aries in late 2018. And what would it entering in 2011 have to do with 2012?

Numbered Claim 17

“Neptune will enter Pisces its own sign in 2011. The last time this occured [sic] was 1847-1862 where it last transited during the time of the French Revolution.”

Just because I’m already looking at Starry Night for Uranus and Aries, let’s take a look at Neptune. Neptune takes even longer in its orbit – about 164 years. And in very late 2011 it moves into Aquarius, and finally in December 2023, it will move into Pisces. So, I am honestly curious now – Ms. Nazon, what are you using to make these claims? Are you just making them up? Are you using software that doesn’t account or over-accounts for precession? What’s going on here?

Anyway, about revolutions. Yes, 1847+164 = 2011. Now, I’m not a historian, so I did a quick look-see on Wikipedia … The French Revolution was 1789-1799, while there was a less severe one in 1848. But revolutions take place all the time. The Cuban revolution of the 1960s. The Islamic Revolution in Iran in the 1970s. You could even say the Civil Rights in the 1960s was its own kind of political revolution. Let’s not forget the Communist Revolutions in the mid-1900s in China, Vietnam, and Korea. Or Germany in the 1930s, Italy in the 1930s, the Russian Revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century … need I go on?

This – like the Great Depression link to Uranus – is an obvious example of retrodiction and anomaly hunting. She’s looked at the last time Neptune was in that place in the sky (NOT PISCES) and found something that would’ve made front-page headlines while ignoring any other occurrence of an event of that type that has happened since.

Numbered Claim 18

“Pluto has entered Capricorn, well, the last time Pluto entered Capricorn was 1762-1777 the American Colonial Revolution.”

I’ve heard this from several astrologers on Coast to Coast over the last few years, that Pluto is entering a place in the sky that it hasn’t been since the American Revolution. That’s because Pluto’s year is about 248 Earth years, so it takes quite awhile. The “only” problem is that, yet again, Pluto won’t be in Capricorn until about mid-2024. It’s still in Sagittarius until then.

Numbered Claim 19

“Venus will make a rare planetary loop above the Orion star system, a rare planetary passage over the disk of the Sun on June 6,2012.”

Let’s take this in reverse-order since there are actually two things here. Venus’ year, being an inferior planet relative to Earth (meaning that it’s closer to the sun than Earth), is shorter than ours and once or twice a year it will pass close to the sun. Unless it passes directly in front of it, as is actually the case in 2012, it will appear to pass above or below the disk. And as I already discussed in Claim #7. Double-dipping isn’t allowed.

As for “rare planetary loop,” this happens about once every 20 months – hardly a once-in-26,000-years. When Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the sun (its farthest distance) when it’s an evening star, it will appear to reverse directions in the sky and instead of traveling West-to-East, it will go retrograde and travel East-to-West. So, from Earth’s point of view, it will look like it stops and reverses direction, I suppose appearing as a “loop” in the sky.

This happens when it’s in Taurus in May 2012 (above Orion, yes). It will happen in the constellation Libra in October 2010. It happened in March in 2009 in the constellation Pisces, above Cetus and below Andromeda and Pegasus. In December 2013 it will happen in Sagittarius, just next to Capricornus. And in August of 2015 it will happen through Leo. In fact, just a month before that – on July 1, 2015, Venus and Jupiter actually will have a very close conjunction, appearing less than 0.5° apart in the sky. Too bad it’s during the day, though you may be able to catch them pretty close together just after sunset.

Numbered Claim 20

“We will be in an 11 year Sun Spot Cycle that is known to make us less compliant and more reactive over the slightest provocation.”

Please show your work. And, by the way, we’re always in an ~11-year sunspot cycle.

Final Thoughts, Part 1

Okay, there are two real take-away points from this analysis of Terry Nazon’s justification for why 2012 is meaningful astrologically or that it’s going to lead to something big that the Mayans supposedly predicted.

First take-away point is that she’s quite sloppy. Well over half of the specific claims that she made for where objects would be relative to constellations are demonstrably false – just use any planetarium software you like and you’ll see this.

Second point is really the main debunking point of astrology – what does any apparent alignment of an object with another object from Earth’s fleeting vantage point at that moment have to do with anything?

May 28, 2009

Jupiter: Further Confounding Those Darn Evolutionists


Today I had a happy occurrence – Phil Plait mentioned me in his “Bad Astronomy” blog in the context of my previous post on this subject. As a consequence, my blog received over a 5-fold increase in hits. Thanks, Phil, and thanks to all of you who came here from the BA blog.

The purpose of this particular post is a follow-up on that first one. In the first one, I wrote that the video sample on the CreationAstronomy.com blog is approximately 13 minutes long. However, I was only able to view about 4 minutes of it for free from the website. Well, one of the readers of my post sent me a link to download the full section of the video.

So, without further ado, let’s examine the claims in the next 9 minutes of the video.

The Rest of Psarris’ Claims

1. “The more we study Jupiter, the more evolutionists have realized it doesn’t fit into their models.” He then shows another quote from Richard Kerr (the same author he quoted from out of context in my first post on the subject) stating, “… no one has a satisfying explanation of how they were made.” Psarris then states that, no, that’s not true, “the Bible has a very satisfying explanation of how they were made.” (3 min 50 sec)

2. “Jupiter has over 60 moons; they pose problems for evolution, too.”

2.a. “Ganymede has one of the most bizarre surfaces in the entire solar system. … Evolutionary models predicted that Ganymede couldn’t have a magnetic field. But when our space probes arrived and started taking measurements, we found that it does have a magnetic field.” (4 min 30 sec)

2.b. “Then there’s Callisto. This moon is the most heavily cratered object in the solar system. Evolutionists believe that it has one of the oldest surfaces of any object, about 4 billion years old. It was a real surprise, then, when our space probes took some close-up pictures.” It was expected that there would be many small craters, but there was a lack of them. Also, “some of the pictures show what appears to be fresh ice on Callisto’s surface, … [but] evolutionary models say Callisto is old, cold, and dead.” (5 min 30 sec)

2.c. “Next, there is Europa. … Europa is the smoothest [object in the solar system]. … [The ice on Europa] is several miles thick, but some scientists think there might be liquid water beneath it. And where there’s water, there has to be life, right?” Apparently in a previous video section he addressed “how ridiculous that idea is,” but Psarris goes on to say, “you still hear it in the news a lot: Somebody finds a new crack on Europa, and thinks, ‘Ooo! Look! Water might ooze into the crack, and there could be life evolving in the water!’ Then some reporter runs a story about it saying we’re on the verge of finding life elsewhere in the solar system even though all we found was a crack in a moon.” (6 min 30 sec)

2.d. This claim deals with craters on Europa, about which he makes a claim straight from the Institute for Creation Research (I know this because I already debunked this claim before): “Because Europa has only a few craters, we’ve been able to study them closely. One recent study has shown the evolutionary model for cratering is all wrong.” He goes on to explain that it’s apparently wrong because a single crater forming can create up to a million or so smaller, secondary craters (formed by debris from the primary crater event). Because of this, he makes the claim that you need fewer impactors to make all the craters we see, which then implies a younger age than “all these billions of years.” Psarris then extrapolates this to Venus and the moon. (I’m not going into significant detail here since I’ve addressed it extensively before, and I’ll talk about it in my next section where I address these claims.) (7 min 10 sec)

2.e. For the last of Jupiter’s large moons, Io, Psarris makes light of the massive volcanism on Io’s surface. Psarris’ main claim is simply that Jupiter’s tidal heating of Io is not enough to account for all the heat, so some of it must be left-over from its formation which means it formed recently. (9 min 15 sec)

2.f. The second of the Io claims is that, given the amount of lava that is erupting, Io must have completely recycled itself 30 times in the ~4.5-billion year history of the solar system. (10 min 30 sec)

2.g. We get a third claim out of Io: Apparently, astronomers were “flabbergasted” to learn that the temperatures of the lava on Io reaches 3000°, when it only reaches 2000° on Earth. Also, the lava is dense when it should be formed of low-density material by this point due to simple differentiation (heavy stuff sinks). (11 min 20 sec)

The rest of the video (post-12 min 15 sec) is a review of all the points that Psarris makes. But, there are some typical statements at the end:

  • “Evolutionary models fail utterly to explain Jupiter.”
  • “Building Jupiter has long been a problem for theorists.” (Wetherill, 1995)
  • “I don’t think the existence of Jupiter would be predicted if it weren’t observed.” (Wetherill, 2001)
  • “Why do they still cling to a broken model? Because when you reject the Truth, you have to accept a lie.”
  • “Pity the poor evolutionist, who is so committed to a bankrupt theory that he can’t see the hand of his creator in this majestic planet.”

Addressing the Remaining Claims

1. No Models Explain How Jupiter Formed

This is simply not true, and at its nicest level is taking statements out of context and sorely downplaying the status of solar system formation modeling. I address this quite a bit in my first post in this 2-part series.

The other aspect of this claim that deserves to be addressed is the very common “god of the gaps” logical fallacy: “We don’t know how this happened, therefore God did it.” Among the skeptical community, this often is compressed into the single word, “goddidit,” because we hear it so often from Creationists. The basic fallacy here is that you confuse something that we don’t currently know with something that we can’t possibly know, and therefore it is only explainable through the miracles that a divine creator can make.

2.a. Ganymede

Ganymede’s magnetic field is interesting. But, as I stated in my first post about this CreationAstronomy.com site, that’s what makes astronomers happy! We like it when we find something that we can’t immediately explain. If nothing else, that means Job Security! But on a more explanatory level, the theory for the formation of a magnetic field on a planetary scale is that it requires a molten interior, but Ganymede shouldn’t have one by this point in its life because it should have cooled. On that point, Psarris is correct. But, what does this mean, then, for an explanation?

It means that we need to explain how Ganymede’s core could have either remained warm until at least 1 billion years ago or was heated up until about 1 billion years ago (since a remnant field can still exist for ~1 billion years even without something actively driving it). What modelers have come up with is that the main jovian satellites were not always in their current orbits, but that they slowly migrated into them. This migration passed through resonances until it got to its current resonance of 1:2:4 (Io, Europa, Ganymede … Callisto isn’t really in a resonance (yet)). Getting into this resonance caused enough tidal heating to create a dynamo in Ganymede’s core. In other words, there’s a perfectly reasonable dynamical model that explains this without resorting to goddidit.

2.b. Callisto’s Lack of Small Craters

This is another (almost) true observation about Callisto: It does lack as many small craters as were predicted from simple cratering models. Note here that “small” is ~1 km sized craters and smaller. Before I get into possible explanations, though, I have to pose the likely rhetorical question: How does a lack of small craters prove the solar system is young? I honestly don’t see how it has any relevance to it, other than under the quite childish false dichotomy notion that, “if I can show you’re wrong, then I must be right!”

What this implies, however, are a few different things. One idea is that the main impactor population of Callisto – possibly comets – simply lacks a small size population (impactors a few 10s to 100s of meters). Personally, I don’t find that explanation incredibly convincing from my own research in craters, however. Another possible explanation (Bierhaus et al. (2000) “Small Crater Populations on Callisto”) is that it is simply a resolution issue, and that when viewed under higher resolution, previously indiscernible small craters become evident.

There are also other possible explanations here, but my main point is one that I’ve been stressing when dealing with this CreationAstronomy.com website: A lack of conforming to known, simpler models is something that astronomers – and scientists in general – like, because it means that they then get to go and figure out a new model to explain the new results.

2.c. Europa -> Liquid Water -> Life?

This claim is one that I’ve addressed before, namely in my post, NASA’s “Follow the Water,” Ice Detected by Phoenix on Mars, and Noah’s Flood. It’s one of my older posts so not as well organized, but the basic idea is that all life that we know of needs liquid water to live. Therefore, the first step in attempting to find life is to find places where liquid water is. It’s that simple.

2.d. Europa and Secondary Cratering

This is another claim that I have addressed, in-depth, before. The post is, Dating Planetary Surfaces with Craters – Why There Is No “Crisis in Crater Count Dating”. Psarris’ claim really is identical to this ICR article. The basic response boils down to: Astronomers know of the issue. And we take it into account. It’s another of the classic creationist tactics where they will give you a problem with “evolutionary” science and then say it invalidates everything about science, but they don’t tell you that we already know about the issue and take it into account.

2.e. Io Is Too Hot

Says who? I have not heard nor seen this claim before, and I took a graduate class from the guy who literally wrote the book on Jupiter’s moons. If Psarris would like to show his calculations, I will gladly look over them and get back to this claim.

2.f. Io Is Erupting Too Much

While the basic idea behind this claim is not new, I have never seen it before raised as an issue. Planetary crust is recycled. Stuff coming out of volcanoes on Earth now used to be buried miles beneath the surface which used to be on the surface. I’m sorry, but I honestly don’t see the issue here with this claim.

2.g. Io’s Lava is Too Hot and Too Dense

First, I just love it when articles say that scientists are “flabbergasted,” “surprised,” “shocked,” “astounded,” “puzzled,” “clueless,” “can’t understand,” “unbelieving,” “amazed,” “bewildered,” “baffled,” and other such phrases. (Okay, more honestly, I really don’t like it.) Seriously, we’re apparently the people who are supposed to know everything and so it’s like a “gotcha” game when there’s a discovery that “surprises” us. Need I repeat it? THAT’S THE POINT OF SCIENCE — TO FIND OUT NEW THINGS!

Alright, deep breath … now, what about the temperatures of Io’s volcanoes. Again, I do not know of why this is particularly an issue. If Psarris would like to show his math – or show someone else’s as to why magma cannot be heated to 3000° on Io, I will take a look at it. But this is another case where I do not particularly want to do his work for him to then add more work to my own plate.

Final Thoughts

I’ll start off by saying that I threw this post together rather quickly (if “quickly” can mean an hour of writing and looking things up and watching the video segment), so I apologize if I seem a little flippant at the end, brushing off his claims.

However, my point really is the same: If he is going to make the claim, he needs to back it up. You can’t just state something and leave it at that and expect people to bend over backwards to flesh out your own claim and then go to the trouble of pointing out why it’s wrong (if it actually is). And at least with the few physics things that Psarris addresses (basic thermodynamics), he needs to show the math. Otherwise, it holds as much weight as me saying that my oven can’t possibly heat up past 500° by itself therefore it contains heat left over from its formation which means it’s young.

Otherwise, I hope that at the very least this post will lead you to question the validity of Psarris’ claims. And if you’re already a firm critic of young-Earth creationism, then I hope that I have armed you with more information to stop the spread of bad pseudo astronomy.

May 23, 2009

Jupiter: Confounding Evolutionary Models of the Solar System


Making the rounds on the blogs and skeptical websites – including PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog – is an up-and-coming young-Earth creationist, Spike Psarris and his CreationAstronomy.com website. Now, when I was made aware of this site, I tried to go to it but kept getting 505 errors meaning that they had exceeded the bandwidth they paid for.

I’m guessing this was due to PZ’s blog post about it. Well, a few hours later, it was back up and I got to see what the hooplah is about. It’s a guy selling a YEC DVD. He has a free preview on his site – at least at the time of writing this blog – that shows the intro to the DVD and the “chapter” on Jupiter.

The title of this blog post is what he claims within the first minute of the Jupiter video segment. The rest of this post will be correcting the errors, half-truths, and misstatements throughout the rest of the 13-minute video.

Update: I have posted a follow-up analysis of the Jupiter segment claims that are not addressed in this post here: “Jupiter: Further Confounding Those Darn Evolutionists.”

Psarris’ Claims

There are many claims made in this segment. The main points are the following:

1. “Evolution says Jupiter can’t be spinning as fast as it is … [because] evolutionary model make certain predictions about how fast a planet should spin.” He then quotes a “recent” article to back this up, where “recent” is 1992. He then makes the argument that evolutionary models cannot supply the energy to spin up Jupiter such that its day is only 10 Earth hours long. (1 min)

2. “Evolutionary models predicted that Jupiter would lack certain elements, Ar, Kr, Xe, N, and others. But it turns out that Jupiter has lots of these elements. … [An overview of the article of the results said] ‘Jupiter is the largest of all the planets, but results in Nature now reveal the embarrassing fact that we know next to nothing about how – or where – it formed.'” (2 min)

3. “The evolutionary model requires Jupiter to have a large core inside of it [at least 10 times the mass of Earth]. This would have been necessary for Jupiter to form from the solar nebula billions of years ago. Unfortunately for evolution, a recent space probe measured the mass of Jupiter’s core. … We now know that, at most, the core can only be 3 times the mass of Earth. … Jupiter does not match evolution’s predictions.” (2 min 30 sec)

4. The next claim is that models require 10-100 million years for a planet like Jupiter to form, but that the solar nebula would have dissipated around the sun within 5 million years. “So, according to evolution, Jupiter shouldn’t exist at all.” (3 min 15 sec)

This is where the video stops for me. Even though my player lists the video as being 13 min 28 seconds long, it keeps stopping after 3 min 54 seconds. But, that’s really enough to get a flavor of the video, so let’s get to what’s really going on.

The First Big Clue

Okay, even if you’re a young-Earth creationist, please please PLEASE stop talking about astronomy in terms of “evolution,” “evolutionists,” and “darwinism.” The Theory of Evolution has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with astronomy (unless you are talking about really far down the line things). Natural selection says nothing about how planets form. Punctuated equilibrium has nothing to do with the gases in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Now that I’ve gotten that out … the first big clue as to an alternative agenda (as if that weren’t obvious from the get-go) is relating evolution to astronomy. As if somehow showing that Jupiter’s rotation rate cannot be explained by an outdated model has something to do with the validity of common descent of species. And this is quite telling in this clip because in practically every single sentence, Psarris claims that this has to do with evolution, evolutionary models, or evolutionists.

With that said, I will not address the non sequitur “evolution” references in each and every claim when I address them in the next section.

Addressing the Four Main Claims

1. Jupiter’s Rotation Rate

First off, I should note that we have known what Jupiter’s rotation rate was as far back as 1835 (since that’s the first paper that I can find on the subject) but I would guess that Galileo was able to estimate its rotation period, as well. For those interested, here is the article from 1835.

With that out of the way – we know how fast it’s spinning on its axis – how does it spin so quickly? The preliminary question would be, why does it spin in the first place? This webpage has a pretty good simplified explanation for why objects in the solar system spin, and why they mostly spin in the same counter-clockwise direction (when viewed from the North Pole). The basic one-liner is that the protoplanetary disk was orbiting the protosun in the same direction, and due to the differential rotation within the disk, a net spin was imparted onto any condensing objects.

And now we get to the part where the objects spin quickly. This is the classic ice skater analogy: If your spinning on the ice and you have your arms extended, you will spin slowly. If you bring your arms closer to your body, you will spin faster. That is because of the conservation of angular momentum. Now let’s say you put 20-lb lead weights in your hands. If you now bring your arms close to your body, you will spin even faster than before. In other words, the more mass you bring close to the center, the faster you will spin.

Jupiter has a lot of mass – the most mass of any object other than the sun in the solar system. It also has the fastest rotation rate. Saturn, the second-most massive planet, has the second-fastest rotation rate. Neptune, which has the third-largest mass, has the third-fastest rotation rate. See a pattern?

Now, I’m not sure what “evolutionary model” he’s talking about that predicts a slower rate. He doesn’t cite his source. Regardless, he has not presented any case that anyone should take seriously as to why Jupiter “can’t” spin quickly under an “evolutionary model,” so at best this is an unsupported claim where the burden of proof is solely upon him to at least present reasoning rather than a simple claim.

Update since original post: I have now obtained a copy of the paper that Psarris quotes from (Kerr, (1992), “Theoreticians are putting a new spin on the planets,” Science, 258: 5082, p. 548.). This is a very obvious example of a fairly common YEC tactic, quote-mining. This is where they search for a line or two in pretty much any scientific paper/book/press release and use it completely out of context.

In this case, the quote is, “The simulated bombardment leaves a growing planet spinning once a week at most, not once a day.” The main problem is that, just as I point out in the rest of my blog, this isn’t a “naked” announcement — the two teams that this paper cites have modified current models in order to explain how the planets spin faster than once a week. In fact, that quote comes from the fourth paragraph. The second paragraph states: “Neither group claims to know exactly what actually set the planets spinning so furiously. But both groups–Stony Brook’s Jack J. Lissauer and David Kary and Toronto’s Luke Dones and Scott Tremaine–are ready with alternative scenarios. Lissauer and Kary favor a modified version of the small-collisions scenario, but Tremaine and Dones lean toward a more catastrophic mechanism, in which planets acquired their spins from a few giant impacts, or even one, late in their evolution.”

I can’t go on to quote the paper verbatim because that is not the purpose of this blog post and it is not completely legal (and the paper requires a subscription to the journal in order to read it). But the upshot is that this paper simply describes, in short, two small modifications to the main planetary formation models that can better account for a preferred direction once you consider even more of the real, physical dynamics that occur in a protoplanetary disk.

2. Elemental Composition

This second claim is at best misleading, at worst just an outright lie. The main composition of Jupiter is H2 (molecular hydrogen) at 89.8% (±2.0%). The secondary element is He at 10.2% (±2.0%). Notice that those two add up to 100%. Now, there is a very little bit of other stuff, but it is what we call “trace,” meaning that there is very very little of it there.

The main trace constituents are methane (0.3±0.1%), ammonia (0.026±0.004%), hydrogen dueteride (.0028±0.001%), ethane (0.00058±0.00015%), and water (0.0004% (varies with pressure)). This is data from NASA’s Jupiter Factsheet.

Looking at a recent paper, the amount of argon in Jupiter is about 2.5x the sun’s or ~0.0009% of the total composition. Krypton is 2.7x the sun’s, or ~0.0004% the total composition. Xenon is 2.6x the sun’s, or ~0.0004% the total composition. And nitrogen is 3x that of the sun’s abundance, or ~0.0003%. It’s noted in the paper that the nitrogen amount is likely off, that the probe landed in a “hotspot.”

Now why are these tiny tiny numbers cause for mention? Well, they do show a relatively significant enhancement over the solar abundance, and Jupiter is supposed to be reasonably like the sun in its composition. But not totally. What I have noticed that creationists commonly fail to realize is that scientists want to make observations that disagree with their theories. But rather than throwing away their theories, they modify them in order to improve the theories so they can explain all of the evidence. That is what has happened since the determinations of the jovian atmospheric composition: It has placed constraints on models of Jupiter’s formation. Rather than make assumptions, we now have legitimate constraints upon parameters, like where in the solar nebula Jupiter may have formed, or where the smaller pieces that combined to form Jupiter may have formed themselves.

That is what real science is: Making a model from current observations and then making predictions from that model. If future observations do not match those predictions, then the model must be altered or replaced in order to be able to account for the new observations. We can still build Jupiters in planetary formation models (as opposed to evolution models). We just now have more constraints upon how, where, and from what they form.

3. The Core of Jupiter

This claim is fairly silly at this point in time. Before the Galileo probe reached Jupiter in the 1990s, estimates of the size of the core of Jupiter were around 5-15 Earth masses, though the actual value varied considerably based upon what model you used and what you assumed (think back to section 2 above on how science is done).

Once Galileo reached Jupiter, it was able to take various measurements and it being in orbit allowed various tracking stations on Earth to record its position — allowing us to create a model of Jupiter’s gravity field. This, along with Jupiter’s moments of inertia, are needed to really constrain models of how big Jupiter’s rocky, solid core may be — or if it even has one.

The current state of the science, however, is inconclusive. The measurements from a decade ago were not good enough to conclusively state whether or not Jupiter has a core, and how large it may be. The data generally indicate that the core can be no larger than ~12 Earth masses — a far cry from whatever source Psarris used that said the core can be a maximum of only 3 Earth masses. But, the results from Galileo provide few limits towards the size of the core, and so it is still not well-constrained. One example reference is: Guillot, Gautier, & Hubbard, (1997), “New constraints on the composition of Jupiter from Galileo measurements and interior models” Icarus.

Another recent paper (where I use “recent” as meaning 2008) models what Jupiter’s core will be from first principles of physics and comes up with 14-18 ±6 Earth masses, within the range of what Galileo results show.

4. Formation Timescale

The next claim is that the solar nebula would disappear within 5 million years, but Jupiter takes 10-100 million to form. Obviously a problem!

But that’s what happens when you take the extreme numbers on the one hand with the opposite extreme numbers on the other, along with outdated models.

Let’s look at the 2004 publication, “Formation of the giant planets,” from 2004. The author clearly states that the protoplanetary disk will dissipate within 1-10 million years. So, yes, the “5 million years” number Psarris quoted is reasonably accurate and jives with the latest science.

However, this isn’t a “gotcha” moment for the YECs. It’s not as though they caught us astronomers with our proverbial pants down, that we didn’t realize there’s a contradiction here. We do. And yet again, this simply serves to place further constraints on how planets can form. And new models have come out of it.

The main model of forming planets is referred to as the “core instability model,” and it takes 6-8 million years to form a nice-sized gas giant. A possible problem. Then there’s the “disk instability model,” which is at-present poorly modeled but promises to form planets somewhat faster. This is still a very active area of research, and the state-of-the-art can change over the course of a grad student’s tenure. (Case-in-point: There was a grad student in my program who was 4 years ahead of me who, when I took the “Planetary Formation” class my third semester, sat in on the class. I asked him why, and he said that it’s changed so much in the 4 years since he took the class that he wanted to see what people were discussing now.)

One example is this model which proposes a diffusive redistribution of water as one of the primary mechanisms for forming Jupiter, and they can form Jupiter’s core within 100,000-1,000,000 years. Or there’s this paper, which forms the gas giants by concurrently accreting both solids and gas (generally thought to accrete separately). It can form Jupiter and Saturn in 1-10 million years.

Of particular interest in planet formation, to be honest, is how Uranus and Neptune form. All models require significantly longer timescales for them because they are farther from the sun. The fastest I’ve seen still requires ~2x as much time to form. them as Jupiter and Saturn, but they have to form while there’s still enough of the solar nebula left.

The very first line of a 2002 paper by Thommes, Duncan, and Levison states, “The outer giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, pose a challenge to theories of planet formation.” Even though this was written over 8 years ago, it still holds true today. They do pose challenges. But astronomers welcome those challenges as opportunities to learn more about the universe around us rather than throw up our hands and turn to a young-Earth creationist model, which is ultimately what Psarris wants you to do.

Final Thoughts

In general, Psarris is not presenting new arguments. I’ve heard of the last two before, though not the first two. And I can almost guarantee that he uses some of the classic arguments that I’ve addressed before in other sections of his DVD.

What’s the bottom-line? He points out apparent observational evidence that seems to conflict with the “evolutionary” picture of Jupiter. The problem with that is astronomers know about these problems – if they are problems at all – and we actually use them rather than ignore them in order to refine models of how Jupiter formed and has changed through time. All because it has 3x more nitrogen than the sun does not mean that astronomers will suddenly throw up their hands in despair and change their views to reflect that of young-Earth creationism.

But, for $19, that’s what Psarris is going to try to convince you of.

Update: I have posted a follow-up analysis of the Jupiter segment claims that are not addressed in this post here: “Jupiter: Further Confounding Those Darn Evolutionists.”

September 4, 2008

More Reasons Why Comets Do NOT Prove Creationism

Filed under: comets,creationism — Stuart Robbins @ 11:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This post is in regards to the Institute for Creation Research’s September 6, 2003 program about Comets. You can listen to the audio here.

Even though this episode of ICR radio was produced before my previous post on comets and creationism, I’ve opted to write about it second because the claims in it are more subtly incorrect.

The first comment on this episode is really more of a nit-pick (@ 4 min): The scientist on the program claims, “The famous Shoemaker-Levy [9] comet, which broke up into 9 pieces and crashed into the surface of Jupiter …”

Now this claim really isn’t used to try to prove creationism, but another purpose of this blog is to help propagate good astronomy when there is bad astronomy being stated. There are two problems with the above statement. The first is that the comet in question did not break into 9 pieces, but rather it broke into 21 main fragments, labeled A through W. Also, Jupiter really doesn’t have a “surface” in the traditional sense. It may have a rocky core, but we don’t know that for certain. What we do know is that its atmosphere is huge, extending at least 5 times Earth’s radius, and the comet fragments that crashed through the jovian atmosphere would have been crushed by the pressure well before they reached any “surface.”

About 6 min 30 sec into the broadcast, we get the first bit of real pseudo-astronomy: One of their scientists is talking about how comets tend to fragment, they lose some of their material during their orbit, and they’re somewhat fragile if they come really close to a large, massive object (like a planet or star). But he then states, “This has been a problem for evolutionists for a long time because comets just don’t last, and they certainly don’t last over the supposed age of the solar system.”

Again there’s that “evolutionist” label … somehow because I’m an astronomer who uses “real” science I’m now an evolutionist, too. Regardless of this snub, this is the same argument that I talked about in my previous post on comets: Comet nuclei were not all “launched” into close-Sun-passing orbits at the beginning of the solar system. They effectively “lie in wait” in the frigid outer regions until they collide amongst themselves or a passing massive body causes their orbits to change, bringing a few into the inner solar system. This effectively sets their internal “clocks” at a zero-age in terms of losing material, and so it really has nothing to do with “proving” the solar system was created a matter of a few thousand years ago. This is NOT “good evidence that the Universe isn’t billions of years old,” as the narrator states.

The next argument is closely related (about 7 min 45 sec in): Dr. Ross Humphreys is a physicist for the ICR and says, “There’s (sic) some comets called ‘short-period comets’ that come around so frequently that they could not have been in our solar system longer than 10,000 years. … Halley’s comet is acknowledged by scientists to not have been in the solar system longer than 90,000 years.” (emphasis mine)

So this is the same argument as above which I’ve already addressed. However, there’s a new wrinkle. This person claims that these comets aren’t even in the solar system until recently. This simply doesn’t make sense. People who do modeling have shown that it’s nearly impossible to have objects line up just right such that two bodies that were not gravitationally bound to begin with (a comet being “in” our solar system, in other words) can be captured. I believe their physicist meant to say “in the inner solar system,” which could be more correct. But this is a pretty obvious mistake to make, and if you’re going to make an argument from authority (the guy being a physicist) you would hope their authority knows that comets didn’t magically appear from beyond the solar system.

There are a few more misstatements and fallacious arguments in the next few minutes episode, but they are pretty much the same as those I have addressed below and in my other comet post (not believing in the Oort Cloud simply because they can’t see it). Oh, and apparently I’m now a “Big Bang Theorist” because I know about comets and agree with the evidence supporting the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. Maybe I could write a grant to NASA to study comets because I’m a Big Bang Theorist.

The last argument they make that I want to address is the claim the Kuiper Belt “can’t” be a source of short-period comets (about 10 min into the program). The evidence they point to is that the objects in the Kuiper Belt are generally redder in color than comets. They claim this means they’re two entirely different classes of objects, and that evolutionists (honestly, how the heck do they equate studying comets with being an evolutionist?) have tried all sorts of ways to get Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) to “lose” their red.

This is actually a fairly easy problem. Without getting into chemistry, spectroscopy, and physics, the basic idea is weathering. Even though there’s no air, water, etc. in space, there are particles that are constantly interacting with KBOs, and those particles mainly come from the solar wind. They have the ability to chemically alter the material they come into contact with, but only the very upper surface. When the objects are weathered, they become redder. Once a KBO is nudged into a sun-grazing orbit, however, the crust sublimates (turns from a solid directly into a gas). What is sublimating? The upper surface of the KBO … the surface that was weathered. So after a first-close-pass with the Sun, the object can easily lose that red color and look like an ordinary comet.

A final comment goes to the nature of science. On this program, as on the comet one I discussed below, the fall-back is something to the effect of, “Creationism has a much simpler answer than all this Oort Cloud, Kuiper Belt, and other stuff. It’s that the Solar System was created by God recently.”

That is faith. Plain and simple. It is NOT science. Science makes testable, potentially falsifiable hypotheses about the way things work. If you pass everything off to God as your explanation, that is perfectly legitimate faith, but it has nothing to do with science because it is not testable nor falsifiable. The explanations I have given may seem “materialistic,” but that is the nature of science; by definition, it does not accept faith-based explanations.

And I must add that, so far, the materialist explanation has worked perfectly fine for explaining the apparently unexplainable features of comets.

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