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One of the most positive fruits of the great latter-day restoration is the ongoing reconciliation of the so-called conflict between science and religion. “Truth is truth,” declared President Ezra Taft Benson, “whether labeled ‘science’ or ‘religion.’” As a powerful example of that reconciliation, recent discoveries in astronomy are resulting in revolutionary new theories of how habitable worlds and their solar systems are created.[i]
Planetary Pinball: Formerly Heretical Theories Now Pressing into Mainstream
Since the discovery in 1995 of a “hot Jupiter” planet circling a nearby star at an unbelievable speed of just four days per orbit, the theories of how solar systems are created and evolve have been overturned and new theories proposed.
Instead of a single roll of the dice as it were to configure stable fixed orbits for the whole solar system, along with their starting positions, planets are now believed to be able to have their orbits changed multiple times and move long distances from where they were initially created, dramatically affecting other planets’ sizes, orbits and characteristics.
These kinds of theories used to be considered heretical. They postulate that “catastrophic” events organized solar systems, as compared with the formerly accepted “uniformitarian” theories with initially fixed planetary orbits.
The Great Flood of Noah and the darkness over the area around ancient Palestine and America at the Lord’s crucifixion are examples of miraculous catastrophic events described in the scriptures.[ii]
An excellent documentary entitled “Secrets of the Solar System” (Horizon, BBC 2015) is now online on Netflix (search on “secrets solar” on TV within Netflix) or with a Google search of “secrets of the solar system netflix.” It describes this dramatic paradigm shift in mainstream astronomy. I highly recommend this video and will discuss it in detail in this and several future articles.[iii]
Here is the summary of this documentary from the BBC web site, with a bit of cheerleading:
“New planets are now being discovered outside our solar system on a regular basis, and these strange new worlds are forcing scientists to rewrite the history of our own solar system. Far from a simple story of stable orbits, the creation of our solar system is a tale of hellfire, chaos and planetary pinball. It’s a miracle our Earth is here at all.”[iv]
New Age of Discovery in Modern Astronomy
A new era of discovery in modern astronomy was ushered in with the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. The HST is considered by many to be the “most important instrument ever built.”[v]
Caption: Hubble Space Telescope being serviced by space shuttle astronauts. The 1993 visit repaired the spherical aberration defect that happened during the many years of grinding the telescope’s main mirror.
Starting on July 16, 1994, 21 pieces of a small comet that had been torn apart by Jupiter collided with the giant planet. “This is the first collision of two solar system bodies ever to be observed, and the effects of the comet impacts on Jupiter’s atmosphere have been simply spectacular and beyond expectations.”[vi] “Astronomers were shocked to actually witness an event that had been estimated to happen only once in millions of years in the solar system.”[vii]
Hot Jupiters: Baffling Discovery
After that spectacular show by a comet in 1994, on October 6, 1995, the first planet was discovered orbiting a sun-like star. The star is 51 Pegasi and is about 50 light years away. The planet is about half the mass of Jupiter and, amazingly, orbits its star in only four days, compared to the 12-year orbit of Jupiter in our solar system.
Such a planet is called a “hot Jupiter” and it is so close to its star that its day/night temperature difference is more than 1000 degrees Celsius. It was detected by the “radial-velocity” method which takes advantage of the oscillations that the planet’s gravity causes in its star’s motion. That is to say, the planet’s size and speed cause its star to wobble slightly and that wobble can be detected by the “changing color of the light astronomers observe” so that they can calculate the planet’s position, size and speed relative to its star.[viii]
“The astronomers were left baffled by the find: A Jupiter-like planet — but in a remarkably close orbit to its parent star. The discovery was so unexpected — and so weird — that astronomers brushed it off as a kind of celestial anomaly. But then they started to find others just like it. And another. And another.”[ix]
These hot Jupiters are in orbits so close to their stars that they could not possibly have been formed as the traditional theories asserted. Apparently, based on these discoveries, planets move around their solar systems after they form resulting in chaotic interactions among the planets and with unbelievably large amounts of energy involved.[x]
In such light, traditional theories of the creation of the solar system and of an earth capable of supporting life would have to be updated with dramatic and much more complicated and yet also more flexible theories.[xi]
All Star Cast of Documentary
This documentary “The Secrets of the Solar System” and the possible paradigm shift in how scientists believe solar systems and worlds are formed has an all-star cast of very credible scientists, including especially Scott Bolton, the principal investigator of NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter.
Questions especially for young readers (answers in footnotes):
Who is the astronomer in the documentary who is called a “planet hunter?”[xii]
What are the four solar system puzzles discussed in the documentary?[xiii]
Here are some bio extracts on just two cast members extensively quoted in the documentary:[xiv]
Dr. Scott Bolton is the Principal Investigator for the NASA Juno space probe now orbiting around Jupiter that is trying to determine the crucial “ingredient list” of the planet’s composition which would give clues of the Giant Planet’s history. Dr. Bolton has 24 years of experience in planetary missions including Cassini, Galileo and Voyager.[xv]
Dr. Harold F. Levison is the Principal Investigator of the NASA Lucy mission to tour multiple “Jupiter Trojan” asteroids currently scheduled for the year 2021. “Among other achievements, Levison is the co-author of SWIFT, a commonly used symplectic integrator that solves planetary equations of motion for periods of billions of years.”[xvi]
Scriptures Declare a God of Miracles, Actively Involved in the Creation
Most leading astronomers do not yet openly propose that God is essential for their new giant catastrophe-centered theories of making solar systems. The scriptures, however, strongly testify of a Supreme Creator.[xvii]
“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that He created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4:9-10)
“All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44)
“And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.” (Moses 1:33)
Clues about How the Lord Accomplished the Creation of the World
As we study the revelations contained especially in the Pearl of Great Price, the Lord has given many detailed clues as to how He accomplished the great work of creating “all things, both in heaven and in earth.” Here is one of those clues found in the Book of Abraham just after the creative process is described where the two great lights were organized to provide light for the earth. (Abraham 4:16-17)
“And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” (Abraham 4:18)
Besides the implication that these steps in the process of creation followed natural law and took time to accomplish (“watched,” “had ordered,” “until”) and followed multiple procedural steps, how could these “things” (Sun’s daily cycle and the Moon’s monthly cycle) “obey?” Is it possible that the elements of the universe have the ability to act and not just to be acted upon? These kinds of insights from modern revelation go beyond what is available from the Bible alone.
Hugh Nibley emphasized how important this verse really is in describing the creative process where “the Gods organized the earth to bring forth” plant life.
“Abraham 4:11-12 continues: ‘Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass. . . .
And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass from its own seed, yielding fruit [the fruit is the seed], whose seed could only bring forth the same . . . after his kind; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed.’ Here are levels of independence down to a complete programming by which the ‘seed could only bring forth the same.’ It reminds us of DNA, but nothing is completely automatic, for the Gods watched those things which they had ordered ‘until they obeyed,’ that is, until they could be trusted to carry on on their own. This is not Deism, the prearranged harmony of Leibniz, for the Gods keep up an active interest in the operation in which indeed things often go awry: ‘We shall go away now,’ they say, ‘but we shall visit you again,’ which they do from time to time, keeping up an active interest.”[xviii]
Navigating through the Science and Religion Semantic Space
We are fortunate to have a distinguished LDS scientist who also made explaining the science/religion debate one of his highest priorities.
Henry Eyring is “undoubtedly the most celebrated” LDS scientist and had the ability to navigate through the science-religion debate supporting both science and religion, angering neither side. Elder Neal A Maxwell called him “The most distinguished Mormon scientist of this dispensation.”[xix]
From Henry Eyring:
“There isn’t anything to worry about between science and religion, because the contradictions are just in your own mind. Of course they are there, but they are not in the Lord’s mind because He made the whole thing, so there is a way, if we are smart enough, to understand them so that we will not have any contradictions.”[xx]
“Contemplating the awe-inspiring order in the universe, extending from the almost infinitely small to the infinitely large, one is overwhelmed with its grandeur and
with the limitless wisdom which conceived, created, and governs it all. Our understanding, great as it sometimes seems, can be nothing but the wide-eyed wonder of the child when measured against the Creator’s omniscience.”[xxi]
“There are some people who throw away the scriptures and restrict themselves to science and related fields. Others use the scriptures to the exclusion of other truth. Both are wrong. Latter- day Saints should seek after truth by all avenues with earnest humility. There is, of course, no conflict in the gospel since it embraces all truth. Undoubtedly, however, science is continually challenging us to think through again our conceptions of the gospel. This should work both ways, of course.”
Truth will Prevail!
Truth discovered by science and truth discovered by revealed religion will eventually agree. The recent discoveries of “hot Jupiters” and of many planets in other star systems have triggered steps toward a major revision in astronomical theories about how worlds that can support life are organized and formed.
I believe that these new discoveries in astronomy, new theories and predictive computer models now being tested and further investigated are great examples of science and religion coming much closer together in their discovery, analysis and explanations of the universe.
President Ezra Taft Benson declared his view with confidence that “Religion and science have sometimes appeared in conflict. Yet, the conflict can only be apparent, not real, for science seeks truth, and true religion is truth.”[xxii]
[i] Ezra Taft Benson, “Your Charge: To Increase in Wisdom and Favor with God and Man,” New Era, September 1979.
“Religion and science have sometimes appeared in conflict. Yet, the conflict can only be apparent, not real, for science seeks truth, and true religion is truth. There can never be conflict between revealed religion and true science. Truth is truth, whether labeled science or religion. All truth is consistent. There is no conflict—only in the interpretation of fact.”
“It is well to remember that when men make new discoveries in their energetic search for truth, these will always be in harmony with all fundamental and eternal truths. Yes, truth is always consistent, whether it is revealed directly from God to man, through his inspired prophets, or comes from the laboratory through diligent searching of his children and through the influence of the Spirit of the Lord upon them.”
“Secrets of the Solar System,” NetFlix, Horizon, 52 min., 2015.
[ii] “Gospel Study index (GS index references),” “lds scriptures online,” lds.org.
Gospel Study: Moses: “Chapter 8 contains a vision about Noah and the great Flood.”
Luke 23:44: “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.”
3 Nephi 8:19: “And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land.”
[iii] “Secrets of the Solar System,” NetFlix, Horizon, 52 min., 2015.
[iv] “Secrets of the Solar System,” BBC Horizon, Episode 8 of 19, 2014-2015, 1 hour.
[v] “The Hubble Space Telescope: The Most Important Instrument Ever Built,” deepastronomy.space, April 13, 2015.
“This month marks the 25th year of observations and discovery of the Hubble Space Telescope. No other instrument built by humanity has done more to show us our place in the cosmos.”
“Hubble Space Telescope,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4/17/2018.
“The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation. Although not the first space telescope, Hubble is one of the largest and most versatile, and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. The HST is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble, and is one of NASA’s Great Observatories, along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.”
William Harwood, “How NASA fixed Hubble’s flawed vision – and reputation,” CMS News, April 22, 2015.
“’the shape of the concave mirror, moving from the center to the outer edge, was too shallow by up to 2 microns — a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair’ caused by a ‘3 mm-wide washer’ in a ‘null corrector’ that was used to test the mirror’s shape.”
[vi] “Comet Shoemaker-Levy Collision with Jupiter: 20 years later,” nasa.gov , July 16, 2014.
[vii] Ronald P. Millett and John P. Pratt, “Astronomical Event of the Century,” johnpratt.com, Jan 14, 2000.
“One of the reasons for disbelief of John’s prophesies in the Book of Revelation has been that the catastrophic events described were believed to be so rare that they could only be expected to occur once in millions of years. The moon is covered with craters believed to have been caused by impacts, but the youngest of these craters is believed to have occurred millions of years ago. Instead of being explained away as just figurative descriptions, the collision of this comet with Jupiter brings this description by John to the realm of modern day reality.”
[viii] “5 Ways to Find a Planet,” NASA Exoplanet Exploration, Retrieved 5/11/2018.
Great explanations plus simulations from NASA.
George Dvorsky, “Hot Jupiters are the most astounding planets in the galaxy,” gizmodo.com, 8/21/2013.
“They’re big, full of gas, and have a penchant for hanging out way too close to their parents. These “hot Jupiters” are among the most common extrasolar planets in the galaxy. Here’s what the latest science is telling us about these celestial wonders.
“To date, astronomers have catalogued over 850 planets outside our solar system. This is incredible when you consider that just 20 years ago we had absolutely no conception of what other solar systems might look like. And in fact, prior to these discoveries, we wrongly assumed that our solar system was typical: small, rocky planets on the inside, large gas giants on the outside.But nothing could be further from the truth. Solar systems come in all sorts of crazy shapes and sizes. If anything, we’re the oddballs. Hot Jupiters are a special class of exoplanet that are similar in size, mass, and composition to Jupiter. But they hang out at stellar distances typically between 0.015 to 0.15 AU (1 AU = average distance from Earth to the Sun). This is really, really close to the parent star. For comparison, Mercury orbits at 0.39 AU. And in fact, hot Jupiters are so close that their orbits are practically circular. In terms of their origin and location, the going theory is that these planets formed like “regular” planets in the accretion disc, but migrated into the inner solar system soon afterward. This has to be the case, say scientists, because there simply isn’t enough material in the inner solar system for gas giants to form.”
“Last year, Astronomer Alain Lecavelier des Etangs and his team at the French National Centre for Scientific Research used the Hubble Space Telescope to describe a particularly dramatic blow-out effect, again on HD189733b. Despite the fact that HD189733b has such a hot atmosphere to begin with, it’s still not hot enough to cause the evaporation. Rather, the evaporation is driven by intense X-rays and extreme-ultraviolet radiation from its parent star. It’s getting an X-ray dose 3 million times higher than the Earth. When X-Rays are this intense, they heat the gases in the upper atmosphere to tens of thousands of degrees — hot enough to escape the gravitational pull of the gas giant.”
“51 Pegasi b,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4/18/2018.
“51 Pegasi b (abbreviated 51 Peg b), unofficially dubbed Bellerophon, later named Dimidium, is an extrasolar planet approximately 50 light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus. It was the first exoplanet to be discovered orbiting a main-sequence star, the Sun-like 51 Pegasi, and marked a breakthrough in astronomical research. It is the prototype for a class of planets called hot Jupiters.”
“Hot Jupiter,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4/18/2018.
[ix] George Dvorsky, “Hot Jupiters are the most astounding planets in the galaxy,” gizmodo.com, 8/21/2013.
[x] Dawson, Rebekah I.; Johnson, John Asher, Rebekah I.; Johnsom, John Asher (2018). “Origins of Hot Jupiters”,. Arxiv.org.
“Hot Jupiters were the first exoplanets to be discovered around main sequence stars and astonished us with their close-in orbits. They are a prime example of how exoplanets have challenged our textbook, solar-system inspired story of how planetary systems form and evolve. More than twenty years after the discovery of the first hot Jupiter, there is no consensus on their predominant origin channel. Three classes of hot Jupiter creation hypotheses have been proposed: in situ formation, disk migration, and high eccentricity tidal migration. Although no origin channel alone satisfactorily explains all the evidence, two major origins channels together plausibly account for properties of hot Jupiters themselves and their connections to other exoplanet populations”.
“Hot Jupiter,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4/17/2018.
“Hot Jupiters are a class of gas giant exoplanets that are inferred to be physically similar to Jupiter but that have very short orbital period (P<10 days). The close proximity to their stars and high surface-atmosphere temperatures resulted in the moniker “hot Jupiters”.
“Hot Jupiters are the easiest extrasolar planets to detect via the radial-velocity method, because the oscillations they induce in their parent stars’ motion are relatively large and rapid compared to those of other known types of planets. One of the best-known hot Jupiters is 51 Pegasi b. Discovered in 1995, it was the first extrasolar planet found orbiting a Sun-like star. 51 Pegasi b has an orbital period of about 4 days.”
“There are two general schools of thought regarding the origin of hot Jupiters: formation at a distance followed by inward migration and in-situ formation at the distances at which they’re currently observed. The prevalent view is migration.”
“Instead of being gas giants that migrated inward, in an alternate hypothesis the cores of the hot Jupiters began as more common super-Earths which accreted their gas envelopes at their current locations, becoming gas giants in situ. The super-Earths providing the cores in this hypothesis could have formed either in situ or at greater distances and have undergone migration before acquiring their gas envelopes.”
“Traditionally, the in situ mode of conglomeration has been disfavored because the assembly of massive cores, which is necessary for the formation of hot Jupiters, requires surface densities of solids ≈ 104 g/cm2, or larger. Recent surveys, however, have found that the inner regions of planetary systems are frequently occupied by super-Earth type planets. If these super-Earths formed at greater distances and migrated closer, the formation of in situ hot Jupiters is not entirely in situ.”
“Investigating the Mystery of Migrating ‘Hot Jupiters.” NASA.gov, March 28, 2016.
“The last decade has seen a bonanza of exoplanet discoveries. Nearly 2,000 exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — have been confirmed so far, and more than 5,000 candidate exoplanets have been identified. Many of these exotic worlds belong to a class known as “hot Jupiters.” These are gas giants like Jupiter but much hotter, with orbits that take them feverishly close to their stars.
“At first, hot Jupiters were considered oddballs, since we don’t have anything like them in our own solar system. But as more were found, in addition to many other smaller planets that orbit very closely to their stars, our solar system started to seem like the real misfit.
“’We thought our solar system was normal, but that’s not so much the case,’ said astronomer Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, co-author of a new study from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope that investigates hot Jupiter formation.
“As common as hot Jupiters are now known to be, they are still shrouded in mystery. How did these massive orbs form, and how did they wind up so shockingly close to their stars?”
“’We are starting to learn how long it may take for hot Jupiter migration to occur,’ said de Wit. ‘Our theories said it shouldn’t take that long because we don’t see migrating hot Jupiters very often.’ ‘The long time scales we are observing here suggest that a leading migration mechanism may not be as efficient for hot Jupiter formation as once believed,’ said Laughlin.”
[xi] Dave Goldberg, “What does it take to discover an earth-like exoplanet?”, gizmodo.com, 3/24/2011.
“You (hypothetical io9 reader) are looking for planets with atmospheres, planets in the Goldilocks zone, close enough to their sun to have liquid water, and planets with a rocky surface that you could stand on with something approaching earth-normal gravity. Let’s face it. You’re not in this for advancement of the scientific frontier, you’re in it for the unobtainium.” [this article had a great illustration of an earth-like planet.]
Irene Klotz, “Collision with look-a-like Earth created our Moon,,” ABC Science, April 9, 2015.
“The primordial planet believed to have smashed into baby Earth, creating a cloud of debris that eventually formed into the moon, was chemically a near-match to Earth, a new study shows. The finding, reported in this week’s Nature, helps resolve a long-standing puzzle about why Earth and the moon are nearly twins in terms of composition. Computer models show that most of the material that formed the moon would have come from the shattered impactor, a planetary body referred to as Theia, which should have a slightly different isotopic makeup than Earth.”
[xii] Planet hunter: Chris Watson; video 22:50 min:sec into video.
Hint: He is not either of the two scientists mentioned in this section of the article.
Christopher Watson information page, Astrophysics Research Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast
[xiii] Four puzzles: 08:30 min:sec into video
1) The size of Mars
2) The formation of the outer planets (Uranus and Neptune)
3) The composition of the asteroid belt
4) The bombardment of the moon
Video on dailymotion:
[xiv] “Full Cast and Crew,” “Secrets of the Solar System,” Horizon (TV series), 2015.
[xv] “Juno Spacecraft,” NASA-TV, August 9, 2017.
Using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System and simulated data from the Juno flight team you can ride onboard the Juno spacecraft in real-time at any moment during the entire mission. NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System program is a Web-based tool to journey with NASA’s spacecraft through the solar system. The experience is available on a Mac or PC by downloading NASA’s Eyes. NASA’s Eyes interactives require a one-time download of the app. For more information on the Eyes on Juno module, visit: [https://eyes.jpl.nasa.gov/juno]
“Juno: A Life Long Journey,” swri.edu, Retrieved 4/23/2018.
“Q&A with Scott Boulton,” Spaceflightnow.com, June 4, 2016.
“Scott J. Bolton,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4/23/2018.
Mike Wall, “Jupiter Storm Blooms in Rosy Photo by NASA Probe,” space.com March 18, 2018.
Latest pictures from Juno orbiting Jupiter.
[xvi] “Harold F. Levison,” swri.edu, retrieved 4/23/2018.
“Harold F. Levison,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4/23/2018.
“NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System,” NASA, January 4, 2007
“An artist’s conception of the Lucy spacecraft flying by the Trojan Eurybates – one of the six diverse and scientifically important Trojans to be studied. Trojans are fossils of planet formation and so will supply important clues to the earliest history of the solar system. (Right) Psyche, the first mission to the metal world 16 Psyche will map features, structure, composition, and magnetic field, and examine a landscape unlike anything explored before. Psyche will teach us about the hidden cores of the Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus.”
[xvii] “The Creation,” Gospel Principles, lds.org.
[xviii] Hugh Nibley, “Before Adam,”Neal A. Maxwell Institute BYU, 1980.
[xix] Henry Eyring, “Reflections of a Scientist,” 1983.
Henry J. Eyring, “Mormon Scientist: the Life and Faith of Henry Eyring, Deseret Book,” 2006.
Written by Henry B. Eyring’s son and Henry Eyring’s grandson.
[xx] Henry J. Eyring, “Mormon Scientist: the Life and Faith of Henry Eyring, Deseret Book,” 2006.
Henry Eyring, “Reflections of a Scientist,” 1983.
[xxi] Henry J. Eyring, “Mormon Scientist: the Life and Faith of Henry Eyring, Deseret Book,” 2006. Pp 52, 54
Henry Eyring, Picture 1951, Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4/23/2018.
[xxii] Ezra Taft Benson, “Your Charge to Increase in Wisdom and Favor with God and Man,” New Era, Sep 1979.
Ezra Taft Benson, Wikipedia.org, retrieved picture 4/23/2018.
Includes picture while Elder Benson was Secretary of Agriculture.