Friday, April 23, 2010

Asteroid Ardor

The Midwest meteor, dubbed the Livingston (Wisconsin) meteor, which spectacularly illuminated the skies over a large portion of several states on April 14, 2010, is an occasion for reflection on the greatness and splendor of God and His creation. Even questions such as “Where did the space rock come from?” trigger a cascade of even deeper questions about the origins of the Solar System and how it acquired the characteristics we now observe.

The Solar System is structured like a disc. Its planets orbit the sun in roughly the same plane and all of them revolve in the same direction. This accords with the best theory of star and planet formation which posits that great, diffuse clouds of cosmic dust condense under their own gravitational attraction, spinning more rapidly as the condensation proceeds. A disc of material forms around a central star. Within these discs, additional accretion may eventually occur, forming one or more planets. Since 1992 when the first of over 400 currently known extra-solar planets was discovered orbiting a distant star, we have observed other stars where this process still seems to be occurring.

Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, several hundred thousand asteroids have been catalogued ranging up to several hundred km in diameter. Perhaps one million exist larger than one km in diameter. Much smaller objects like the Livingston meteor number in the uncounted millions. Instead of becoming a planet as did Earth and seven other bodies, the gravitational effects of the more distant gas giant Jupiter acted to prevent coalescence of the asteroids, according to current scientific thinking. Jupiter now functions like a vacuum cleaner in space, preventing frequent comet and asteroid bombardment of earth. Our solar system’s largest planet, therefore, acts as a shepherd, keeping most wayward asteroids harmlessly corralled.

The model described harmonizes with the concept of a solar system of great age. The Creator certainly could have created Earth with its present characteristics and resources in just six days several thousand years ago. In one millisecond He could have created the millions of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter as well as the millions of additional objects discovered orbiting in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. The Kuiper belt is a recent discovery. Its objects are composed of ices of frozen gases while the asteroids are mostly rocky and metallic. A Creator capable of speaking everything into existence in an instant showed equal creative power seeing to it that our solar system acquired the hundreds of fine-tuning characteristics necessary to support the requirements of complex life.

Many scripture passages affirm a history of God’s progressive creative activity, such as Amos 4:13 (NASB): “For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, The Lord God of hosts is His name.” Davis A. Young, in The Bible, Rocks and Time, claims that geologists like 19th century orthodox Christian Hugh Miller “evidently believed that an earth of great antiquity proclaimed God’s glory with greater intensity than did a recently created globe.” Numerous Christian authors writing on the scientific discoveries of the last two centuries have expressed the same sentiment.