Genesis

This is the Astronomy page, not the Commentary page. This article deals with a subject dear to the worlds of both science and faith. Our Constitution supports both freedom of religion, and separation of church and state, and I, a “nonbeliever,” support each in this discussion and elsewhere.

The idea of a Genesis, or creation story, seems to have its roots in the predawn of mankind. After that, scholars and archaeologists unearthed written documents going back, in some cases, several thousand years.

Those earliest writings bore little relation to the much later King James Genesis most of us know today, or to the earlier Hebrew Bereishit (Genesis). One uniqueness that distinguishes the “new” creation stories from the really archaic versions is their description of something being created out of nothing.

Physics.org is interested in this too:

bigbang

The universe may have existed forever, according to a new model that applies quantum correction terms to complement Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The model may also account for dark matter and dark energy, resolving multiple problems at once.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html#jCp

I got interested in this Genesis angle after examining the proposed new “No Big Bang” model for the birth of the universe. A universe without beginning or end? It’s not proven mathematically or theoretically, and peer review will be merciless.

But it does revive haunting metaphysical questions arising out of Big Bang or Son of Big Bang: Is a “singularity” anything? How can something be created out of nothing? Or can it indeed?

Genesis? How do we justify THAT? For scientifically-oriented people like me, that’s always been just a lovely metaphor, in fact my favorite part of the OT when I read it as a youngster.

I wanted to remember what Genesis actually SAID. I admit to a shock when I went back to read it anew!

Genesis 1 King James Version para 1-4 (the Hebrew text is identical here).

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Let’s refer to the artist’s model depiction of the creation, development and expansion of the universe in its first 13.8 billion years. We can identify, measure and describe each of the four stages depicted in Genesis.

1a. Big Bang: Inflation, Afterglow

2a. Big Bang: Dark Ages

3a. Big Bang: 1st Stars

4a. Big Bang: Development of Galaxies, Planets, Dark Energy, Accelerated Expansion.

We can see that before Inflation, the universe was dark and without form (so far as we can know). We can see the stars divided light from the darkness, and all of what followed that we observe, measure and chart in the night skies.

We might just replace the biblical word “earth” with “universe.” No one can hold it against iron age mankind that they saw a time frame of “The Seventh Day” instead of our billions of years, spectral red-shifts, and Hubble’s billions of light-years.

For those of us who’re not religious, isn’t it striking how close to “getting it right” sequentially the drafters of Genesis actually came? Our twenty-first-century scientific advances, which make it so easy for us to interpret a customized and vetted physical timeline of the universe, were not even know to mankind when I was a youth in 1950. Those early civilizations had nothing but their eyes and minds to infer a logical sequence of events.

It would be cheap to play the Hollywood “cast of thousands of men and animals” card. God did NOT guide Charlton Heston’s hand in manuscripting Genesis, into what some might be tempted to call an astounding, supernaturally inspired coincidence.

Some are compelled by faith to see Genesis as divinely inspired. I see the power of the mind of man to infer and forge measurable order out of the unknown and chaotic.

For those of us who are religious, can we not be filled with a sense of awe that our spiritual forebears saw so clearly a right design in the night sky, nature and the firmament? Would this God create an inexplicable design that defied all other laws of His universe? I would certainly expect that logical consistency would not represent a problem for a Creator, even as it appears so inexplicable to some of his creatures. Let’s leave it to theologians to prove or disprove my postulate that a moody, irascible, helter-skelter Creator would be a logical contradiction solely of mankind’s making.

NASA states: “Supernovas signal the destruction of an entire star and can be so bright that they outshine the whole galaxy where they are found. Supernovas are extremely important for cosmic ecology because they inject huge amounts of energy into the interstellar gas, and are responsible for dispersing elements such as iron, calcium and oxygen into space where they may be incorporated into future generations of stars and planets.”

We might each do well to pause for reflection again that, whether by divine intervention or nucleosynthesis, we are all, quite literally, children of the stars. If by God, it would seem blasphemous to declare that such a deity could not have both created it in the grand fashion our astrophysicists describe and measure, yet still have left us, an inquisitive and bright mankind of His own design, with an audit trail and the faculties to follow it.

Personally, I find comfort in the fact that the mathematics would be the same in either case.

 

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Will Earth Perish by Fire, Ice or Black Hole?

On last night’s news, veteran PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill interviewed a prominent astronomer to solicit comment on the recent discovery of two enormous black holes hiding in the bright central bulges of the giant elliptical galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889.

The scientific news itself went “viral,” being picked up on BBC, The New York Times, Huffington and elsewhere that I can recall, as well as in the scientific journals. The Sky & Telescope article is much more oriented toward readers who are already familiar with cosmological objects and distances. It can be picked up at this link.

You can also read the PBS transcript of Ifill’s interview with Chung-Pei Ma. Ma is professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley. She appeared visibly constrained by the problem of how to explain these concepts to a general viewing television audience.

But the item here concerns Gwen’s question to Chung-Pei Ma. Presumably Gwen had done her homework and knew the answer, but most viewers might not:

[quote]GWEN IFILL: Nearby, but not a threat? I mean, we’re not — you’re talking about black holes that suck in light and gases and everything in its path, but we’re not in its path?”[/quote]

Ma tried to explain, in lay terms, why not. Breaking this question apart, the salient components of a better answer would be:

  • how far out do the effects of these monster black holes reach?
  • how far away are we now?
  • how long in years could an approach to within their spheres of gravitational influence take?

Facts:

  • Both galaxies in question are about 300 million light years away.
  • “For NGC 3842’s central monster, the team found a mass between 7 and 13 billion Suns; for NGC 4889 the range is much bigger: 6 to 37 billion solar masses” [Sky & Telescope].
  •  In other words, each black hole’s estimated bulk suggested it had already swallowed the mass equivalent of an entire “ordinary” galaxy.
  • The “event horizon” of each black hole – the boundary inside of which even light cannot escape the black hole’s unimaginable gravitational field – is estimated at around 3 to 5 solar system diameters.
  • Our Solar System has a diameter of about 0.001 light year. To put this into some kind of perspective, our Milky Way galaxy has a diameter of about 100,000 light years.

Discussion:

  • So, our Milky Way (which has a large black hole of its own) is about 3,000 Milky Way diameters away from NGC 3842 and NGC 4889.
  • Looking at the second illustration in the Sky & Telescope article, and the companion text, it appears that only the the motion of stars within 1,000 light years of their black holes NGC 3842 and NGC 4889 are affected by the nearby dark monsters.
  • We are 300,000 times further way than that.

Devil’s Advocate:

But … but … supposing some cataclysmic upheaval were to propel our solar system, or our planet, toward those monster black holes? How long might it take for them to tear us apart? How fast could an “object” like us move in that direction?

Obviously, we’d have to move really fast.

  • Let’s disregard the fact that any catastrophic event powerful enough to do that would also undoubtedly shred Earth to dust, if not elemental gases.
  • A supernova explosion of our Sun might propel an expanding sphere of gases and dust outward at 11 million miles an hour, though it’s a fact our Sun is way too small to go supernova.
  • According to a Stanford article  “THE MYSTERY OF THE FASTEST MOVING STAR STILL PUZZLING,” they mention a candidate speed in this question: “How do you accelerate 2.7 octillion tons (27 followed by 26 zeros) from a standstill to over 1,800 kilometers per second, about one- half of one percent of the speed of light? That could be as fast as 4 million miles per hour.”

So, even at the catastrophic speed of one percent of the speed of light (give or take), hurtling straight toward either of those two monster black holes, it would take us something like 30,000 million years to reach a destination 300 million light years distant. The universe is currently 13.7 billion years old. Cosmologists think it might be good for another 10 or 20 billion years or so before perishing in fire, or ice, or whatever.

In short: since 30,000 million years is 30 billion years, the universe may not even exist by the time a battered Earth arrives at NGC 3842 and NGC 4889 at the improbably high speed of only one percent of the speed of light. Any slower than that, we’d never arrive, nor would there be any destination to arrive to. I don’t think we have to worry about it too much.

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Interstellar Time & Distance

In this Sunday’s comic strip “Beetle Bailey”, the dumbest guy in Camp Swampy asks the smartest questions, and nobody knows the answers. Zero: “Boy! I’d like to visit one of those stars.” Sarge: “It would take you years to travel through space to get to one of them.” Exactly. But how long would that really take?

Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker
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The Great 2012 Scare – Sky & Telescope

When we wrote our two October postings on the “2012” doom-and-gloomers, we debunked the myth, as many others have done. We also referenced the Sky & Telescope magazine’s impressive articles stating that the world is not going to end in any of the ways the movie or the Nostradamus and Mayan Calendar fetishists are predicting, at least, certainly not as the result of any known astronomical phenomenon expected in that year or century.

And we noted with regret that the S&T magazine’s website was “under construction” and we could not provide the customary link to document our sources.

The S&T editors have rectified that with a new November 11 online article and a couple of PDF downloads, free reprints from their magazine articles. They say:

If your friends and family are worried about the impending disaster — supposedly based on an ancient Mayan prophecy — we have the stuff you need to tell them …

November 11, 2009 | The world won’t end on December 21, 2012, no matter what ancient Mayan prophecies might imply. Noted archaeoastronomer E. C. Krupp explains the cause of this mania in November’s Sky & Telescope. But this issue is no longer available on newsstands, so we’re making Krupp’s article available as a free download.

The link to the article is here: The Great 2012 Scare

You should be able to download the PDF’s for yourself. Should you find the link broken at some future point, just reply to this posting, let me know. I downloaded them for myself and any friends who might want them by e-mail (they’re in my ‘Articles’ folder, Alex). I’ll post the PDF’s myself.

Cheers!

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Debunking the “2012” Myth

On November 13, Sony Pictures International is releasing a new doomsday movie, “2012“. It’s about yet another end-of-the-world, Chicken Little “prediction” of the ancient Mayan Calendar (which the Mayans were not actually predicting). The movie will no doubt scare a lot of superstitious or uninformed people, and may even (grin) scare off sales of the Sony Playstation:

from the Sony website

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WMAP*

WMAP, cosmic microwave background, NASA

“Let there be light”, said the Lord. After the flash, whereupon the electrons and protons did recombine out of the plasma, at T=110,000 years give or take, there was light.

“Don’t look directly at it until it cools down”, said the Lord.

And Mrs. God said, “You create an entire universe without even consulting me? It clashes with the drapes. ** Everyone will say my drapes look hideous.”

And Satan said slyly, “Which half is mine?”
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Black Holes and Chariot of Fools

Wait a minute, I meant Chariot of The Gods, no, dang, I meant Ship of Fools – gosh darn it, why can’t I get this right? I mean micro-black holes – here on Earth, explaining everything we didn’t want to know about the Bermuda Triangle.

History Channel ran a special, nominally on Black Holes, on Thursday night (3/6). The special started out interestingly enough, with about all the generally accepted facts about black holes that you could expect a composite of American families to absorb without breaking out into a sweat.
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The End of Cosmology

According to the article “The End of Cosmology” in the March Scientific American, “evidence of the universe is disappearing as the universe expands.”

I guess that’s OK, as long as it doesn’t happen before my subscription runs out.

Edwin Hubble figured out not only that the universe is expanding, but that the speed at which an object recedes due to expansion of the universe is proportional to its distance. That is, an object twice as far away is expanding away from us twice as fast.
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Fat Singularities and Skinny Infinities

Foggy Mist

HubbleIMAGINE that it is a really cold morning, and you have taken a REALLY hot shower. Not just the bathroom mirrors are fogged. The bathroom itself is filled with steam. In fact, the living room windows are even fogged over. So we open the sliding glass door for a little while to vent the moisture.

Instantly, or PDQ as near as anyone can tell, the mist expands out of the apartment to uniformly fill your entire hometown.
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