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An indicator of a "young earth" with rebuttal

The number of supernova remnants observed


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Note:

Unlike other indicators of a young earth on this web site, this essay does not address the age of the earth. Rather, it discusses an indicator proposed by creation scientists that the entire universe itself is young. Their belief is that the number of detected supernova remnants is consistent with a young universe. A rebuttal is supplied.


About the age of the universe:

No agreement has been reached about the age of the earth and the rest of the universe:

  • About 99.8% of earth and biological scientists have reached a consensus that the earth is a little over four billion years old and the universe itself is on the order of 12 to 14 billion years old.
  • Many creation scientists believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. However, they have a number of conflicting beliefs about how the creation story/stories should be interpreted. Young earth creationists (YECs) believe that the Bible implies that God created the universe, the earth, humans, and rest of the earth's life forms during a period of seven days, less than 10,000 years ago. Some think that it happened in the fall of 4004 BCE, a little over 6,000 years ago.
  • Although these two belief systems differ by a ratio of 1.3 million, it appears impossible to solidly prove whether the universe is ten thousand, or fifteen billion, or some other number of years old -- at least, it is impossible to find a proof that everyone will accept.

About supernovae remnants (SNRs):

Almost all astronomers have reached a consensus on general mathematical models of the birth, growth, maturity, decline and death of stars. Large single stars, those more than about 7.6 times the mass of our sun, can produce a spectacular release of energy and matter, called a Type II supernova. Like other luminous stars, they consist of a massive body of gas that is sufficiently hot to maintain a fusion reaction. For most of a large star's life, it is stable; the inward gravitational pressure of the gas is balanced by the outward pressure of the energy produced by the reaction. But the fusion reaction consumes hydrogen. Eventually, the star runs out of fuel. Its innards collapse in a matter of seconds, and a supernova is generated. Enormous amounts of energy are created over a week or so -- typically equal to the entire energy output of a galaxy! Answers in Genesis writes: "The energy produced by a supernova is mind-boggling: 1044 joules. Is it the same as if each and every gram of the earth's mass was converted to a nuclear bomb 200 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima." 1 That amount of energy is equivalent to that emitted by a billion suns. 2 And yet, one astronomer has estimated that a supernova occurs once a second somewhere in the universe. In very rare occasions, a supernova can be seen on earth during daylight hours. The final end product of a supernova is either a neutron star or a black hole.

There are other possible ways in which a supernova can be created:

  • In a Type 1 supernova, a white-dwarf star may have additional mass supplied, typically siphoned off from a nearby red-giant star. Eventually, it becomes unstable and produces a supernova. 3
  • In a Type 1b and 1c supernova, a giant star loses its covering of hydrogen. The star's exposed helium core then explodes. 2

Our own sun does not have the potential to become a supernova. It has no nearby star to interfere with it, and so cannot become a Type 1, 1b or 1c supernova. It doesn't have the mass to produce a Type II supernova. It will last for another five billion years or so before its supply of hydrogen is depleted, and will then evolve into a white dwarf and fry any living matter left on earth. Even cockroaches will be wiped out. Of course, if present trends continue, by the year 5,000,000,000 CE, humans will probably have disappeared, the victims of inter-religious and intra-religious wars.

The light from one of the most recent supernovae reached earth in 1054 CE. This is the SNR in the Crab Nebula. 4 Many supernova may be just as powerful as the 1054 collapse. However, they are so far away that it takes a radio telescope, or an optical telescope working at night, to find them. Only about one to four SNRs happen every century in our galaxy. 3 One must admire the dedication of some astronomers -- many of them amateurs -- who specialize in the search for exploding stars.

Many large creation science organizations, like Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research 5 reject most of the astronomers' models because they require that stars have a lifetime of many billions of years. Obviously, if the universe were created fewer than 10,000 years ago, then there would be insufficient time to allow any stars to have progressed to the end of their lifetime, and entered the supernova stage. However, these organizations do accept those portions of the models that describe the supernova expansion, because they are consistent with a young universe. They simply believe that some stars have extremely short lifetimes and so have already become supernovae.


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Stages in the development of a Supernova remnant:

A supernova records the death of a star. According to the current theoretical model, it goes through four separate stages:

  1. Stage 1: (a.k.a. the free expansion stage): The star explodes, leaving behind a supernova remnant (SNR). This stage lasts for about 90 to over 300 years. (Creation science sources generally use the value of 300 or 317 years). The resultant object reaches a diameter of about seven light-years. One light year is the distance that light travels during one year in a vacuum. This is approximately 5.87 million million miles -- an enormous distance that is difficult for most people to conceive.
  2. Stage 2: (a.k.a. the adiabatic or Sedov stage): This stage starts at the end of the first stage and lasts from 100 to 100,000 years. 2 (Creation Science sources often use the value 120,000 years.)
  3. Stage 3: (a.k.a. Snowplough or Radiative phase): Again, this stage begins at the end of the second stage, and lasts "hundreds of thousands of years." (Creation scientists typically cite from 0.88 to 6 million years, and use the former in their calculations.)
  4. Stage 4: (a.k.a. Dispersal): Following stage 3, "what is left of the remnant dissipates into the" interstellar medium." 2 (Creation science sources typically don't mention this phase.)

The case for a young universe (less than 10,000 years old):

Most Creation Science sources which discuss supernova remnants follow the following logic:

  • Consider stage 2 SNRs:
    • If the universe were billions of years old, then most of our galaxy's stars would be early in their life cycle, and not in imminent danger of going supernova. However, some stars would have already ended in supernovae. There should be on the order of 2,260 second-stage supernovae remnants in our galaxy.
    • If the universe were young, on the order of 7,000 years, and if four stars are going supernova every century, then only about 280 should have gone supernova. However, 12 of them -- those which have gone supernova during the past three centuries -- would still be in stage 1. Thus there should be 268 stage 2 SNRs in our galaxy. Astronomers estimate that about 47% should be visible on earth. Thus, astronomers should be able to see 126 stage 2 SNRs.
    • According to Answers in Genesis, 200 second stage SNRs have been observed to date. Thus, the universe is young, not old.
  • Consider stage 3 SNRs:
    • If the universe were billions of years old, there should be many thousands of third stage SNRs. Assuming that the supernovae have been happening at the uniform rate of 4 per century, and that stage 3 SNR typically lasts for 6,000,000 years, then over the past 6.14 million years, there should have been be 245,600 supernovae. Of these, 12 would be in stage 1, and 1,268 would be in stage 2. This leaves about 245 thousand in stage 3. Answers in Genesis quotes an unnamed source as estimating that 14% should be visible on earth. This is apparently related to observational limitations in the radio telescopes used to detect SNRs. Thus, astronomers should have been able to detect 34,300 stage 3 SNRs. At the other extreme, if we assume that an average stage 3 SNR lasts for only a million years, and if the other data remains constant, then 5,033 should be detectable.
    • If the universe is only 10,000 years old, there would be no third stage SNRs, because the first stage takes 300 years to complete, and second stage takes about 120,000 years. Third stage SNRs will only start to be detectable to us about 110,000 years in our future, cira the year 112000 CE.
    • No stage 3 SNRs have been found by astronomers. Thus the universe is young, certainly under about 120,000 years in age. The lack of any stage 3 SNRs is consistent with a universe that is under 10,000 years of age.
  • Being supporters of an ancient universe, astronomers Clark and Caswell were at a loss to account for the deficits of observed SNRs. They asked "Why have the large number of expected remnants not been detected?" The authors referred to "The mystery of the missing remnants." 6 [See below]
  • A detailed analysis of the missing remnants can be found on the Creation Discovery Project. 7 The author concludes: "The number of Supernova Remnants (SNRs) observable in the Galaxy is consistent with the number expected to be formed in a Universe that is 7,000 years old. The resulting problem of the 'missing Supernova Remnants' is well known and is recognized by astronomers who work in this field."

Rebuttal: The case for an old universe (over 10 billion years):

An essay by Dave Moore on the pro-evolution web site, The TalkOrigins Archives, sheds some additional information on SNRs and a young earth. He writes:

  • Most SNRs don't follow the standard four phase model. He cites five circumstances that can cause major changes in the SNR process.
  • An 1994 article by Keith Davies appears to be the first piece of creation science literature that links supernovae data with a young universe. 5 It is the product of a group called Creation Discovery Project from -- of all places -- Ontario, Canada. All of the creation science web sites which discuss supernovae appear to have derived their information from this article. 1,5,8,9
  • The expected second stage SNRs calculated by Davies contained a mathematical error. It should be 126, rather than the 268 computed by Davies. Some creation science groups which have republished his data have corrected the value; others have not.
  • The number of second stage SNRs detected is not 200 as listed in Answers in Genesis. According to a listing by D.A. Green, it was 225 in the year 2001. 10 Back-calculating from this value gives an age of the universe as 11,970 years, which is outside the upper limit of 10,000 years accepted by most "young earth" creation scientists.
  • Of even greater concern to the creation science position is the rate at which new SNRs being discovered. There were about 160 first and second stage supernovae found in both 1997 & 1998; over 200 in 1999, and 172 in 2000. The estimated age of the universe using Davies' calculation methodology is obviously increasing over time well beyond 12,000 years.
  • Moore criticizes on theoretical grounds Davies' estimates of the percentage of SNRs that should be visible: 47% and 14% for second and third stage SNRs.
  • The estimate of one supernova per 25 years in our galaxy is based on an 1970 estimate by Gustaf Tammann. Other astronomers have estimated 50, 60, and 100 years. Tammann revised his estimate in 1994 to 40 to take advantage of new data. Using these new values, the age of the universe could be as much as quadruple the value computed by Davies, placing it many times older than the 10,000 year upper limit tolerated by young earth creation scientists.
  • A serious objection to Davies' calculations is that "...within a few tens of thousands of years [after the initial explosion], most of the extended remnants which have survived to 'middle-edge' are expected to merge with the interstellar medium and be unrecognizable." 11 Thus, most SNRs can be expected to be undetectable on earth long before they reach the age of 120,300 years -- the time when Davies says the third stage begins.
  • But the finding that really blows Davie's calculations out of the water are the detection of at least six stage 3 SNRs. When creation scientist say that no stage 3 SNRs exist, they are just plain wrong.
  • The references found in creation science articles on supernovae sometimes mention that  Clark and Caswell were at a loss to account for the deficits of observed SNRs. As of 2002-MAY-30, they quote Clark and Caswell:
    • As asking: "Why have the large number of expected remnants not been detected?"
    • But this quote seems to be a rhetorical question that was extracted from the following sentence: "Thus two anomalies require explanation. Why have the large number of expected remnants not been detected? Is it reasonable that E0/n should differ so greatly from our estimate for the Galaxy? Both anomalies are removed if we assumed that the N(D)-D relation has been incorrectly estimated owing to the small number of remnants (4) used." 2

    Creation scientists have also quoted Clark and Caswell:

    • As referring to "The mystery of the missing remnants." 6
    • However, a more complete quotation is: "...the mystery of the missing supernova remnants is also solved." 2

    Strictly speaking, the above YEC quotations are accurate. Those exact phrases do appear in Clark & Caswell's report. However, their quotations are similar to quoting Psalms 14:1 and Psalms 53:1 in the Bible as saying that "There is no God." Again, that is a precise quotation. That phrase appears twice in the Bible. However, the full quotation is "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Quoting a very much abbreviated part of a sentence can often invert its meaning, either through intention to deceive the reader, or carelessness.

  • Moore concludes that Young Earth Creationists "...(YECs)  such as Davies and Sarfati... have also engaged in repeated misquotation, selective interpretation of the data and indeed, selective ignorance of data which disagrees with their conclusions. ...They are completely wrong." 2

Conclusions:

  • If the universe is old, as essentially all astronomers believe, then many more stage 2 SNRs should be observable than have currently been documented. However, in recent years, there have been an average of about 175 stage 1,2 and 3 SNRs per year found. Sufficient SNRs have now been detected so that calculations based on partial data already shows an apparent age of the universe that is far greater than the 10,000 years that young earth creationists are willing to accept.

  • Contrary to the statements by creation scientists, many stage 3 SNRs have been found.

  • The alleged misquotations by young earth creationists may be very serious breeches of ethics intended to deceive their readers, or may be due to an unusual level of carelessness. Either way, one might be moved to lose confidence in their conclusions.

  • An accurate calculation of the age of the universe using available SNR data is already on the order of 12,000 to 50,000 years, and growing every continually as additional SNRs are detected.

  • It might be wise for creation scientists to drop any discussions of supernovae, because the available data consistently support the age of the universe to be vastly older than 10,000 years.


References:

  1. Jonathan Sarfati, "Exploding stars point to a young universe: Where are all the supernova remnants?," Creation Ex Nihilo 19(3):46�48, 1997-Jun/Aug. See: http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/248.asp
  2. Dave Moore, "Supernovae, Supernova Remnants and Young Earth Creationism FAQ," The Talk.Origins Archive, at: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/supernova/
  3. Abell, George O., 1984, Realm of the Universe, Saunders College Publishing, New York, pp. 389-390. Cited in Ref. 8
  4. "M1: Supernova Remnant M1 (NGC 1952) in Taurus," Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. at: http://www.seds.org/messier/m/m001.html
  5. The Institute for Creation Research has a web site at: http://www.icr.org They offer a free, online, introductory course in creation science. They "prove" that the universe is young by discussing SNRs. See: http://www.creationonline.org/intro/08/8465.htm
  6. Clark and Caswell, 1976. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 174:267. Referred to in Ref. 1.
  7. Keith Davies, "Super Nova Remnants - How old is the universe anyway?," Creation Discovery Project, at: http://www.creation.on.ca/cdp/articles/snrart.html
  8. Jon Covey & Anita Millen, "A second look at supernova remnants," at: http://www.creationinthecrossfire.com/
  9. D.W. Xavitz?, "All the missing supernova remnants: a clue to the age of the universe," at: http://www.geocities.com/dwzavitz/snr.html
  10. D.A. Green, "A catalogue of Galactic Supernova Remnants," 2001-DEC, at: http://www.mrao.cam.ac.uk/surveys/snrs/
  11. David H. Clark, "Superstars: Stellar Explosions shape the Destiny of the Universe", J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd (1979), ISBN-0-460-04384-6. Quoted in Ref. 2.

Copyright � 2001 & 2002by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-MAY-29
Latest update: 2002-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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