Thursday, December 5, 2019

Knowledge Gain: UAPs are real!

In the 21st Century we have gained considerable knowledge of UAPs—unidentified aerial phenomena—formerly termed UFOs. We may ask, “What knowledge have we gained?” The eventual answer may surprise some and disappoint others. In the last several years the UFO/UAP matter has evolved into a highly complex issue, a topic surrounded by many more questions than answers… 

Beginning 2017 government agencies finally acknowledged UAPs are real. Their explanation, not to mention their existence and wide differences on how to describe them, has been a hot button topic of conversation for over 70 years. There were multiple government probes from 1947 to 1990, many involving the CIA. National Reconnaissance Office Historian Gerald K. Haines wrote at length about government responses to the UFO phenomena in “CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs 1947-1990.” This was a heavy period of UAP activity. 

Haines referred to many sightings in his article posted on the CIA website. Over the 1947-1990 time frame many statements from the government focused on suppressing knowledge of UAP sightings not attributable to “natural” causes. Many press releases deliberately sought to persuade the curious public that UAPs were not unusual or extraordinary. Some releases cited “mass hysteria and hallucination, hoax, or misinterpretation of known objects.” Officials repeatedly stated there was no threat from the UFO phenomena but efforts were made to conceal information. In many cases our government agencies did not have much information. Many citizens have speculated on official cover-ups and have proposed their own conspiracy theories.

Heightened US interest in flying saucers began with the 1947 incident in Washington State. Strange sights in the sky are not new to the inhabitants of our planet. They have been reported for hundreds or thousands of years. Compared with our modern accounts of UAPs, they were more speculative and imaginative, perhaps on account of different reporting styles of long ago. Official government investigations have diminished since 1970, when interest in the subject waned somewhat. Government officials have stated they continue to investigate UAP reports. The UAP phenomenon is far from dormant. It has recently reawakened to front burner status owing to the influence of a popular entertainer.

Tom DeLonge (b. 1975) is a pop punk musician who has achieved immense fame. He originated Blink-182 and more recently Angels and Airwaves rock music bands. DeLonge has always been fascinated with the exotic and esoteric, particularly aliens and extraterrestrial research as well as paranormal phenomena. In 2017 he founded TTSA—To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science with concomitant Science, Aerospace, and Entertainment divisions. TTSA was founded as a PBC (public benefit corporation), a “for-profit corporation with an express commitment to abide by high standards of corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency in order to make a positive impact on society.” TTSA proposed and executed a CRADA—a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the US Army. It will run for five years, then expire.

More specifically, DeLonge wrote that he had “…brought together an elite team from  CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), DOD (Department of Defense), and the FMR Advanced Development Programs at Lockheed Martin’s SkunkWorks. We are aiming to build this ElectroMagnetic Vehicle to Travel instantaneously through Space, Air, and Water by engineering the fabric of Space-Time. Our company is called To The Stars…and you can INVEST in our plan to revolutionize the world with technology that can change life as we know it.” 

DeLonge cultivated his acquaintances with individuals in the CIA, the DOD, and Lockheed Martin in 2017. These relationships enabled him to acquire government videos of several startling UAPs. One such video from 2004 was known as FLIR1. It was filmed by Navy technology on the US Nimitz off the US west coast. Other video records were from the east coast in 2015, entitled Gimbal and GoFast. They were lengthy military videos produced with highly advanced technology. DeLonge released them to The New York Times. Subsequently they were distributed and are still widely available on many internet outlets. Many different television news reports have covered this remarkable story multiple times in the past two years following the initial release of the astonishing UAP videos. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has interviewed guests numerous times. The military admission that “UFOs are REAL” went far beyond the denials and concealment of official statements up until that time. The official admission that “UFOs are REAL” and that government officials are now actively engaged in finding answers to the UAP phenomenon has been described as a “paradigm shift.”    

In many TTSA written releases we find other fascinating phrases such as space-time metric engineering, quantum communication, beamed energy propulsion, active camouflage, concealment, deception, obscuration, materials science, and electromagnetic metamaterials. Tom DeLonge has published statements that the universe, with its trillions of galaxies, is teeming with life. UAPs are extraterrestrial, according to him. The Science and Aerospace divisions of TTSA officially collaborates with the US Army to research deep uncharted territory of UAP reality. TTSA purportedly has specimens of materials gathered from close encounters with UAPs.   

From 2007-2012 the government spent $22 million on the AATIP (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program). Former Senator Harry Reid was especially proud of his role in founding that program. The program was extended, unfunded, by a group of defense professionals, including Luis Elizondo, former employee of the “Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSDI). In that role he was in charge of the AATIP program established by Senator Reid. Elizondo resigned from his government intelligence position in October 2017 to “protest government secrecy and government opposition to UAP investigations, and that the program was not taken seriously.” Elizondo now works for the above described TTSA. He has been interviewed on Tucker Carlson Tonight at least twice in the last year.

TTSA bills itself as “a revolutionary collaboration between academia, industry, and pop culture to advance society’s understanding of scientific phenomena and its technological implications. It also has an Entertainment Division that publishes works of fiction about UFOs and the paranormal. The actual origins of the organization (TTSA) are ‘murky,’ to say the least.” (quotes from The War Zone…emphasis mine) Our position is that we should be very cautious concerning the official partnership of TTSA with the US Army

Christians should take an interest in the UAP phenomenon in view of revelations of the last several years. We recognize that currently there is no doubt concerning the reality of these objects. Now that hallucination or misinterpretation are not viable explanatory possibilities, we must exercise diligence to identify other explanations grounded in truth. God is the source of truth. Our Creator enables us to discover truth according to special and general revelation. Reliable mainstream science research and discovery must join with general revelation in concert with special revelation—inspired scripture. We ask for divine wisdom to interpret both revelations correctly—the special revelation of scripture and the general revelation of the natural world. Our blog will continue to search for and discover correct explanations of these truths.      



Monday, November 25, 2019

UFOs, RUFOs, and UAPs

Since 1947 when the “flying saucer” craze first impacted public awareness in a significant way, many books and articles have been published, numerous radio and television specials have been produced, and much interpersonal discussion has been generated. Waves of sightings have occurred periodically. Almost everyone has been a party to these discussions at some point during their life. People are asked, “What is your opinion on flying saucers?” The first reports of these phenomena were popularly described as flying saucers after a famous 1947 sighting in Washington State. Historically, many unidentified phenomena throughout history were described as “saucer-like.”

What do we mean by saucer-like? This is only one description of UFOs. Their shape may be saucer or disc-like. But UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena) is a term from a more modern perspective. The phenomena have appeared in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some hover; others maneuver at impossible speeds. They have also acquired a wide variety of explanations—inspection and/or invasions by extraterrestrial beings, intrusions from foreign military powers, or evidence of clandestine military research technology from our own military. Errant human perception, faulty description, or hallucination rate as possibilities. Personal opinions regarding UAPs vary widely. The spectrum of belief is wide, indeed.  

Some people do not believe in UFOs for a variety of reasons. Even residual UFOs (RUFOs—those UFOs left over after doubtful sightings are explained away) are subject to question by skeptics who are still in denial concerning these mysterious occurrences. Statistics concerning public belief in UFOs can be confusing. For example, 56% of Americans think UFOs are real. 60% of Americans think human activity or natural phenomena are responsible. About two-thirds of Americans believe the US government is hiding information from the public. Half of those believe alien spacecraft are responsible for the hiding.

In the US 16% of the population has “personally witnessed what they thought was a UFO. 84% have not. 20% of the population in the western US make this claim, while only 12% of easterners have claimed to witness an unidentified flying object. Regionality, therefore, is significant. UAPs seem to gravitate toward population or military centers. We offer a preliminary caveat to our discussion: Apparent surveillance by UFOs so far does not equate to “foreign” conquest. To date, our planetary societies have NOT been threatened or attacked.

An internet search reveals multiple articles on UFOs and their history. Many accounts of UFOs are credible, still unexplained, and occurring throughout human history. Since the modern flying saucer craze began in 1947, many more credible reports have occurred, sometimes in clusters. Among many famous figures who have offered their opinions have been Allen Hynek (1910-1986) and Jaques Vallée (b. 1939). Hynek became convinced of an IDH, an “interdimensional overlap” with our familiar dimensions. Vallée has spoken of “other dimensions beyond space/time.” Early UFO researchers were more convinced of the ETH, the extra-terrestrial hypothesis which proposed that visitors from other planets or locations beyond our solar system have discovered methods of traversing enormous distances from outside Planet Earth using advanced space travel technology. 

With passing time it now appears that the IDH (interdimensional hypothesis) holds more promise from a scientific perspective. Another term for the IDH is supernature, or the supernatural. In future posts we will address further IDH and supernatural hypotheses. In the past several years even government agencies have publicly admitted that RUFOs are real—a vastly more explicit admission than at any time in the past. Our blog will deal with these revelations in future posts.

There are multiple explanatory hypotheses for UAPs. There exists an abundance of opinion to match the hypotheses. Skeptics may insist that UFOs are manifestations of natural phenomena such as reflections, unusual temperature inversions, cloud formations, or even flocks of birds. A reasonable or logical explanation for an unusual UFO sighting commands support from a variety of interested  parties.

Let us conclude with two accounts from Northern New Jersey where I lived and worked for nearly fifty years. The first account is reported to provide comic relief from concern over the serious subject of UAPs. A famous hoax was perpetrated in 2009 in Morris County which fooled thousands of local residents and was reported widely on local and national television. The hoax was even reported on a program produced by History Channel—“UFO Hunters.”

Two young men assembled, ignited, and launched highway flares at night on fishing line attached to large helium balloons. On five occasions over several weeks in January and February 2009 they launched from five to nine red flares. The sightings, visible over a wide area, astonished people in Morris County and around the country. Many local and national mainstream media reported it. It has been described as “the biggest hoax ever covered by the mainstream media” by Reddit. “UFO Hunters” deleted their program soon after the hoaxers confessed and documented their activity in detail. Wikipedia has a lengthy article on the “Morristown UFO Hoax.” Curiously, the 2002 volume by Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark Clark—A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials described in some detail that “…less than 1% (of UFOs) have been shown to be hoaxes…..The most common type of UFO hoax is a prank balloon, which involves tying a flare or candle to a helium-filled balloon. On rare occasions elaborate hoaxes have been perpetrated, necessitating a more extensive investigation.” Did the hoaxers use the Ross book, published seven years before their prank, as a source for their ideas? We do not know.

The young men were fined $250 and sentenced to fifty hours of community service. They later noted “If a respected UFO investigator can easily be manipulated and dead wrong on one UFO case, is it possible he’s wrong on most (or all) of them?” The hoaxers passed off their prank as a “social experiment” but stated they would do it all over again. 

The other event took place in 1952 a few miles west of the Morristown during the height of a number of eastern US sightings, many around Washington, DC. I was a teenager who had digested many UFO reports. After dark I spotted a very bright light near the southeast horizon, barely moving. After observing the slowly ascending light it disappeared behind a row of trees. When it reappeared it was barely visible much higher in the sky moving very rapidly. At no time was any noise generated. My next door adult neighbor also reported seeing the phenomenon the next day, his description matching mine almost exactly. Had I observed a UFO? Perhaps. 

Dr. Hugh Ross states in his closing chapter that, “If one takes the extradimensional hypotheses to mean that entities could come into the universe from a spiritual realm, one can see a remarkable coincidence between science and Scripture.” We strongly recommend reading the Ross volume for its thoroughgoing treatment of the RUFO/UAP phenomenon from a sound Christian perspective. 




Saturday, November 16, 2019

Of This World?

When the Scientific Revolution commenced roughly 400 years ago, humans began to seek more rational explanations for everyday phenomena. Scientific methods of observation, experimentation, measuring, hypothesizing, and testing replaced theory and philosophy which were prominent in previous centuries. Modern scientific methods have advanced, to the benefit of humanity.

Scientists have justifiably experienced a feeling of power and self-enablement as they made thousands of important new discoveries. Man has unveiled and explained multiple realities in the world of nature. Scientists claim they study only “natural” laws. Concepts deemed to be “supernatural” are often declared to be off-limits for study and analysis in the world of professional science. Discoveries made by scientists, however, have monumentally benefitted the human race even if many scientists are unmotivated or uninspired by supernatural divine realities. Many scientists do not believe in God, but their research and discovery skills in the physical world have proven to be a treasure.

Until now our posts have never addressed the topic of UFOs (unidentified flying objects). As  studies of these phenomena progressed, a new acronym appeared—RUFOs (residual unidentified flying objects). The term refers to those UFOs left over after all others have been explained away. Currently an even more novel acronym—UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena) is in common use. This moniker de-emphasizes their apparent similarity to the heavier-than-air flying machines built by humans in the past 150 years. Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark Clark published a book on UFOs in 2002, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, subtitled A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials (Navpress). The provocative title may betray the seriousness of their topic but the subject matter is, indeed, serious. Their volume has been extremely helpful in identifying the physical and spiritual significance of these phenomena.

Residual UFOs have been analyzed by many experts. Ross, Samples, and Clark cite several well-known studies. Astronomer and ufologist Jacques Vallée highlights 23% of UFO incidents that “…could not be identified as having any possible natural or human-devised source.” Astronomer J. Allen Hynek generally agrees with this figure. Some researchers put the number of genuine reports at less than 20%, but none reports the number as zero. All serious reporters on UAPs point to the credible reality of strange objects in the sky which disobey firmly established physical laws.

We conclude by citing one characteristic of RUFOs (or UAPs) which puts them into the category of fascinating, strange, mysterious reality. The category is called inertia negation. Inertia negation would permit physical objects possessing mass to act as if they were of lower mass or even massless. Scientific technology does not exist today to achieve inertia negation. Neither is such technology envisioned in our foreseeable future. RUFOs, however, are able to accelerate to multiples of hypersonic speed in a mere second of time and are able to make impossibly sharp turns. We leave many other characteristics of RUFOs for future discussion.

There is but one explanation. Supernatural phenomena exist as well as natural. Supernatural phenomena exist beyond the realm of natural phenomena. Natural physical laws govern almost all human experience. God is in ultimate control of both realms—the natural, and the supernatural. The topic of RUFOs or UAPs is an appropriate topic for discussion in the faith community. In future posts we will examine surprising revelations of the past few years, diverse discoveries on the subject, and their theological concomitants.       


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Astronomy--Extraordinaire or Mundane?

We conclude our short series of posts on astronomy phenomena with a few more cosmic wonders we have experienced in the past few decades. Interest in astronomy varies in our population along a spectrum. Some have extraordinary interest in astronomy; others find the topic dull or lacking in excitement—one definition of ‘mundane.’ A majority of folks may fall in the middle of the interest spectrum: They become especially interested when media publish noteworthy current or future astronomical events.

Some may perceive virtually all astronomical phenomena as extraordinary, including the daily trek of the solar sphere across the heavens, the moon phases and stages which gradually change throughout the 29.5 day lunar month while the satellite revolves around its parent planet, or the steady change in lunar position each day of the lunar month. Observers who find daily or monthly motions of the sun and moon extraordinary no doubt revel in statistics of sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times by the clock. These times are predictable many years in advance, one of the many indicators of a precisely ordered, divinely authored physical cosmic system.

Our ancestors spent thousands of years observing the sky before the invention of telescopes and modern visual media. Telescopes and modern instructional devices such as power point and video have curtailed direct study of celestial phenomena. Photography, video, and descriptive/explanatory literature have negated some of the necessity for original, personal discovery in astronomy. These discoveries have already been made and are accessible with little effort on our part. To repeat a well-known phrase, however—“There’s nothing quite like being there.” In that spirit we described our experiences with meteor showers and evening/morning star watches in our last two posts. There are many other in-person experiences to share with readers. Most of them did not require astronomical telescopes, desirable as they are. We recount many interesting in-person experiences…..

1997 Comet Hale-Bopp was visible for many months. Visiting Earth’s environs after the less spectacular Hyakutake in 1996, it may have been the most viewed comet of all time. Its blobs of ice and dust had a diameter of 19-25 miles according to NASA; other estimates report the nucleus to be even larger. It was easily visible in the evening across North America. I offered an optional “comet watch” for my students on the school soccer field. This comet’s large quantities of ice and dust occasionally emitted jets of gas as it rotated and exposed its surface to the sun. That phenomenon could explain the visible jets spiraling closely around and away from the comet on the night we observed it through a telescope. One personal family highlight: My father, age 88, viewed Hale-Bopp a few days later at his home through an Astroscan telescope. His eyes were failing from macular degeneration!

1997 In September of 1997 newspapers announced a good opportunity to spot the seldom visible Planet Mercury. Venus and Mercury were set to rise almost simultaneously from the eastern horizon on September 19. Again we offered an optional viewing opportunity to watch the two planets rise minutes apart from the clear, dark horizon. Simple as it was, the experience became “A Moment of Worship.” Read more details of this early morning, pre-dawn, “get up very early” experience with this link:

1997 Several hours later as students began to arrive on early school buses, we trained the district’s Astroscan telescope toward the southeast. The sun had risen, but we located the planet Venus through the telescope…in broad daylight!

2010 The Livingston (Wisconsin) meteor flashed across the sky on the evening of April 14, 2010. It created a stir of excitement as many meteorite hunters converged on the area hoping to find a piece of the meteor, a small chunk of ancient rock from outer space. That ‘chunk’ may have weighed several hundred pounds. It disintegrated and largely vaporized from the intense heat generated by its entry into our atmosphere. It was a clear night. We mistook the several flashes of light illuminating our living room window for an approaching thunderstorm. The next morning media reported that the flashes were caused by the disintegration of a large meteor. A few meteorite fragments were found. Livingston is 38 miles to our north. Read in more detail:

2014 In 2014 and 2015 there was a rare series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses. The rare series is termed a ‘tetrad.’ Total lunar eclipses are not especially rare. The second tetrad eclipse ended as the moon set in our western skies. Lunar tetrads, however, are unusual. None occurred from 1600AD to 1900AD. The account of the second lunar eclipse in the tetrad is recorded here:

2015 The Supermoon lunar eclipse of October 2015 created substantial public attention. It was the last lunar eclipse in the lunar tetrad. It enjoyed the superlative “super.” Memories of this lunar event remain with us because of the noticeably larger size of the lunar body. More details for readers follow:

2015 Sometimes grandchildren provide their grandparents with opportunities for meaningful sharing of nature’s wonders. When children return the favor by making prudent observations about their natural surroundings, their forebears are pleased. So it was when our grandson offered his observation that a configuration of the Moon and Venus looked like a “Semicolon in the Sky.” Read further:

2017 Saving the best for last: I had made the assertion many times that prominent on my bucket list would be an in-person witnessing of a total solar eclipse. We invite you to share our joy at this “Everest Experience:”

When we observe the extraordinary wonders of astronomy we are often struck with an emotion of worship. Our worship is not for nature itself. Neither do we worship the astronomical bodies nor the natural laws that govern the movements of those bodies. Rather, we worship God Himself who created all things, authored natural laws, and sustains all things from moment to moment. Jeremiah 33:25 is often cited as a theologically prescient scientific concept. The prophet lived 2700 years ago. He cited God’s “…covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth…” Surely the ordinary daily, mundane movement of physical heavenly bodies as well as their extraordinary movements are governed by divine fixed laws originating from the Creator.   




Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Observing Solar System Wonders

The Solar System is a true system, defined as a group of structures or elements which together form a functional unit. Science teachers incorporate the physics of energy and motion to explain how Solar System bodies move and remain in orbit. Visual (non-telescopic) astronomy affords impressive views of many objects in the Solar System. This includes six of the major planets—four terrestrial rocky planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, and two gas giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn. Two ice giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, are much larger than the four terrestrial planets, but smaller than the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. Therefore, they are not generally visible without a telescope. Earth’s satellite, the Moon, constantly assumes different appearances as it revolves, waxing and waning throughout the lunar month. The Sun, the Solar System’s central star, also varies in elevation, intensity, and times of rising and setting due to Earth’s rotation and revolution.

Stars are not part of our Solar System, but the unaided eye may perceive over 2000 nearby stellar bodies presiding magnificently over Earth residents on a clear night, not to mention one or more Solar System planets visible on virtually any given night. They appear to be placed on the imaginary, infinitely distanced celestial sphere which surrounds Earth, a terrestrial planet also known as the terrestrial sphere.   

Many Solar System wonders are readily visible, but modern “light pollution” is an increasing handicap for envisioning objects on the celestial sky dome. We will recount several memories of Solar system wonders we offered to public school students during the last three decades of the 20th century. Prior to October each year we researched calendar dates of the dark phases of the Moon. We needed to know when the moon was not visible in our night sky. Those dates allowed for planning a dark sky “Star Watch” event for our astronomy students.

Dark skies facilitated observation of stars and planets. After a short talk in the gym by “Pastor Pete,” my own pastor, we proceeded outdoors for a group session to highlight visual identification of well known objects or star groups. I discovered that a flashlight with a narrow beam held as high as possible could direct student attention to individual stars, planets, constellations, and asterisms. We could instruct students concerning distances to selected stars. For example, in the asterism Summer Triangle which was dipping toward the west in October evening skies, we pointed out bright Vega, to our eyes’ fifth brightest star in the sky. It is a relatively close star at 25 light years. Also in the Summer Triangle is Deneb, about 1500 light years distant. It is a supergiant star, enormously larger and intrinsically much brighter than Vega, but appearing dimmer—only 19th brightest—because of its great distance.

Students were invited to view the skies through the pastor’s fine tracking telescope and several Astroscan telescopes owned by the school district. Several highlights were Jupiter with its four brightest moons, Saturn with its beautiful ring system, and Albireo, appearing as a single star to the naked eye, but resolvable even in a low power telescope to an impressive double star—one bright yellow, accompanied closely by a dimmer but incredibly blue-hued companion. Color indicated differences in stellar temperature.

The visible objects on those ‘watch’ evenings were all stars or planets within our home galaxy, the Milky Way. There was one exception. Some telescopes occasionally focused on Andromeda, a nearby neighbor galaxy. That “object” is really an entire galaxy of billions of stars in an apparently tightly bound group. It is visible as a tiny “fuzzy patch” through binoculars if one knows precisely where to look. It is sometimes called a twin of our Milky Way Galaxy. At two million light years distant, it is really 220,000 light years wide and contains as many as one trillion stars.

We pointed out circumpolar constellations and asterisms such as the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Cassiopeia. These are star groups which never dip below the horizon at the latitude of New Jersey. They apparently revolve around the North Star, also known as Polaris. This famous star, sometimes called the Pole Star, is located directly above the geographic north pole of Planet Earth. The Earth’s extended axis never deviates from Polaris, day or night, summer or winter. Consequently, certain constellations such as the Big Dipper spend 24 hours apparently revolving around Polaris. This is caused by the real motion of Earth’s constant 24 hour rotation.

Following up on the above facts, our readers will understand our final instructions to students before they traveled home for a short night of sleep. Students were instructed to take note of the location of the Big Dipper. It was very low in the northern sky. Leading up to the star watch, students had been instructed to return to  school in pitch darkness the next morning. In Northern New Jersey, that means 5:43 AM on Oct. 21, for example. That hour corresponds with ‘astronomical twilight’ during which the sun is between 18º and 12º below the horizon. We enjoyed about one-half hour of darkness before the onset of dawn’s early light.

Students who arrived at 5:43 AM were able to view the Big Dipper, now high in the heavens. Earth had rotated substantially while they slept. The Big Dipper had apparently revolved to a position over their head, its handle now pointing toward the horizon! In addition a brilliant star field had become visible in southern skies, enclosed by an asterism of six bright stars named the Winter Hexagon. This phenomenon provided a convincing demonstration of Earth’s rotation. Our planet had rotated approximately 8000 miles eastward while students slept! 

Most male students took advantage of the opportunity to play touch football when they returned from the soccer field after observing the position of the Big Dipper and the new glory of stars enclosed by the Winter Hexagon. Most female students chatted in the cafeteria, waiting for the bagels prepared by their mothers. One year every student in our Earth Science classes attended both the evening and morning sessions even though their attendance was optional. Students were permitted to sleep in class that day, a privilege understandably forbidden on all other days.

The grandeur of the dark heavens was not lost on the students. In the initial group session “Pastor Pete” made reference to God’s vacuum cleaner, Planet Jupiter, whose strong gravity deflects harmful comets away from Planet Earth. The glory of God’s creation was apparent to all students and staff in attendance. Our star watches remain as cherished memories.   



Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Cosmic "Wow" Experiences

As we begin this post, clearing skies may provide opportunity to watch the Orionid Meteor shower which occurs in late October each autumn. The “shower” increases, then decreases in intensity from October 2 to November 7, but October 21 and 22 is the peak viewing opportunity. The annual event is but one of several dozen well known meteor showers. 

We are reminded of a unique event during childhood. On October 9, 1946, Earth residents in North America experienced an incredible meteor shower. I was privileged to view the shower resting on a hay wagon in the barnyard of my grandparents’ farm. My brother and I were enjoying the child-sitting skills of our grandparents that evening. At times not more than three seconds separated the meteor trails. Late in the evening our Grandmother insisted we “come in and go to bed” while the meteor show was still in progress—to the chagrin of her grandsons.  

We briefly review the cause of meteor showers. They originate from comets orbiting our sun. Wikipedia notes that 6339 comets were known as of July 2018, with the number of discoveries increasing steadily. Most of these originate in the nearby Kuiper Belt beyond the planet Neptune, but billions of comets still exist far beyond the Kuiper Belt in what has been dubbed the Oort Cloud. Comets are Solar System bodies composed of a mixture of small rocky particles, dust, and ice. When they approach the vicinity of the Sun, their ices vaporize from solar heat and form a much larger visible coma, sometimes forming a tail pushed away by the solar wind. When a comet passes through the vast reaches of space within our region of the inner Solar System, some dust or rocky particles remain behind as a thin trail of debris. Several dozen well-known comet trails crossing Earth’s orbital path remain from once active, visible comets of years past. They are the cause of meteor showers. Some comets leave behind denser debris than others; some trails strike Earth’s orbit more directly. We must understand that the “density” of comet trails is incredibly tiny. Predicting intensity of meteor showers is difficult. The 1946 meteor shower was caused by a comet named Giacobini-Zinner, discovered in 1900. Its debris still intersects with Earth October 6-10 each year, but peaks on October 8. The intensity of the October 1946 event had been forecast in August. Unusual circumstances make for unique, spectacular displays on rare occasions. The 1946 meteor spectacle is an example.

We opened this post by mentioning the annual Orionid Meteor shower, so named because its meteor trails seem to radiate from the star constellation Orion. Its origin is the famous Halley’s Comet. Tiny cometary left-over particles glow when they plunge at high speed into Earth’s atmosphere. They are consumed by frictional heat while streaking through the upper atmosphere at >45,000 mph. Then they are known as meteors. 

Halley’s is a famous periodic comet. It has appeared for hundreds of years every 75/76 years. It was first described as periodic by Edmund Halley in 1705. Researchers claim the periodic comet may have been seen before the time of Christ. Its fame is partly due to the precise predictability of its return visits. It made a famous appearance in 1910 when Earth actually passed through the comet’s tail. Its return in 1986 was hyped by commercialization, but its unspectacular appearance was disappointing. A New York Times reporter, Peter H. Lewis, later described the view of the comet as “small, fuzzy, and feeble.” I organized a bus trip to an observatory in Morristown, NJ with high hopes of seeing an impressive telescopic view of the famous comet. In February 1986 my students shivered in winter cold for at least 30 minutes while waiting in line for a brief look through a telescope at the famous Halley’s comet. In retrospect the bus journey did not result in a spectacular view of the comet. Still, the teacher remembers the experience as “worthwhile” and “meaningful.”

Following up on activities that are “worth it” in terms of effort, we must recount our personal action to recapture a small part of the Halley’s comet experience. We refer to the annual Orionid meteor shower with which we introduced this article. This morning (October 23) I rose at 4:30 AM, proceeded outdoors with a folding chair, and faced southeast toward the brilliant constellation of Orion. The thermometer indicated 38º F. Five meteors flashed through the heavens from the Orion radiant in 30 minutes; three were fairly bright, two were quite dim. Had no meteors been visible, we could still have perceived the divinely created glory of the autumn night sky. The “Winter Hexagon” is an incredibly rich star field enclosed by six bright stars. It is visible in the southeastern sky on early autumn mornings.
Media outlets frequently publicize annual meteor showers. Television meteorologists often combine news concerning meteor shower viewing opportunities with their weather forecasts. Comets and meteors provide opportunities for science minded Christians to highlight common and not so common environmental phenomena as manifestations of God’s characteristics—for example, His love and care for His created cosmic order. We are recapturing many other memories of cosmic “wow” experiences for future posts.     



Friday, October 18, 2019

Autumn Decline vs Potential for Renewal

Everyday conversations often begin with comments on the short and long term vagaries of the weather. Short term changes relate to rather sudden shifts. For example, one sunny summer or autumn day could be followed by stormy weather the next. Or, a cold front could lower the temperature substantially overnight. In contrast, seasonal shifts are noticed over several weeks or months. Potential for the first frost of autumn intensifies during late September or early October, with a killing frost possible by around mid October. Our current post relates to seasonal declines and how they relate to optimism for the future. 

(Our weather posts are based on your blogger’s residence in the Upper Midwest. All our lives we have resided close 40-42º N. Latitude. In more northern latitudes many meteorological and astronomical effects are intensified; in latitudes to our south effects are diminished. In the Southern Hemisphere the effects are reversed! Astronomical and meteorological statistics are available for tens of thousands of locations on Earth.)   

At this writing shortened day length and decreased sun angle are taking a toll on our temperatures in Northern Illinois. In the third week of October the lower sun angle contributes to weaker solar intensity. Day length has diminished more than four hours since the June 21 summer solstice. Sunrise is almost two hours later; sunset is more than two hours earlier. When winter solstice occurs on December 21, duration of daylight will be diminished about six hours. Solar heating from the sun’s radiation is less intense and occurs over a shorter time while Planet Earth radiates away more of its heat during the longer night. Average temperatures, therefore, fall when Earth loses more heat than it gains.

In January and February average temperatures do not fall any further. In the long term, Earth is generally losing its heat but gaining an equal amount from the Sun. Cold air masses move over the land more frequently and dominate our winter conditions. Air mass movements help generate meteorological variety. Winter weather enthusiasts are happy but some human “snow birds” escape to warmer climates at lower latitudes.

Generally stable, cold temperatures in January and February presage hope for those residents who prefer natural warmth. For them, help is on the way. Earth’s stable axis tilt results in increasing sun angles, earlier sunrises, later sunsets, longer days, and increasing temperatures as the planet continues its annual 365 day revolutionary cycle. At the December 21 winter solstice the Northern Hemisphere points farthest away from the Sun. Astronomers and meteorologists alike remind us that seasonal renewal is in prospect. One interesting sidelight is that significant temperature increases take about two months to become apparent. The general balance of heat gain and heat loss remains fairly even for weeks after the winter solstice. With increasing Sun angle, warmer temperatures will soon follow. Increased heat gain will predominate over heat loss. Future seasonal renewal is in prospect even during the decline of Autumn and the approach of cold winter months.

Our weather/astronomical system is a phenomenon of intricate beauty. Earth’s seasonal cycle has all the hallmarks of Intelligent Design. We do not shrink from proclaiming that the Intelligent Designer is the Creator of All Things. God has endowed living things with the potential to adjust to cycles of seasonal change. Some  plants and animals adapt to decreasing temperatures and remain in cold conditions all year long. Their perseverance is rewarded when warm seasons return. Many animals adapt by migrating seasonally. Inherently, they know what is best for their healthy survival.

Planet Earth is “a place to thrive.” Living creatures possess the God-gifted ability to manage and adapt to a broad range of environmental conditions, including seasonal changes. We are reminded of our ability to cope with changing seasons as we examine God’s statement to Noah in Genesis 8:22 (NIV): As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.