An indicator of a "young earth" with rebuttal
The number of supernova remnants observed
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
- 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
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.
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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.)
- 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
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
- 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
Rebuttal: The case for an old universe (over 10 billion years):
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
- 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
- As asking: "Why have the large number of expected remnants not been
- 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."
- However, a more complete quotation is: "...the
mystery of the missing supernova remnants is also solved."
Strictly speaking, the above YEC quotations are accurate. Those exact
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."
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
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.
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:
Dave Moore, "Supernovae, Supernova Remnants and Young Earth
Creationism FAQ," The Talk.Origins Archive, at:
Abell, George O., 1984, Realm of the Universe, Saunders College
Publishing, New York, pp. 389-390. Cited in Ref. 8
- "M1: Supernova Remnant M1 (NGC 1952) in Taurus," Students for the
Exploration and Development of Space. at:
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:
Clark and Caswell, 1976. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical
Society, 174:267. Referred to in Ref. 1.
Keith Davies, "Super Nova Remnants - How old is the universe anyway?,"
Creation Discovery Project, at:
- Jon Covey & Anita Millen, "A second look at supernova remnants,"
- D.W. Xavitz?, "All the missing supernova remnants: a clue to the
age of the universe," at:
- D.A. Green, "A catalogue of Galactic Supernova Remnants,"
- 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
Originally written: 2001-MAY-29
Latest update: 2002-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson