©1986 by Paul D. Ackerman    http://www.creationism.org/books/ackerman/ 

 3 - The Solar Janitor


To him that made great lights... The 
sun to rule by day.  ... The moon and 
stars to rule by night: for his mercy
endureth for ever.   Psalms 136:7—9


Once scientists have an eye for them, the world around us reveals an abundance of clocks. Furthermore, as time goes by and we learn more about how to read the clocks of nature properly, their testimony is increasingly clear that things are not so old after all. The evidence of the moon-dust and meteorite clocks are only two of a host of witnesses for a recent creation.

In the past, when almost all scientists believed that evolution was true, they had no choice on the age issue. A dedicated evolutionist cannot be open-minded on this question, because evolution absolutely requires vast amounts of time. Thus, for evolutionist scientists the question has never really been "How old is the universe?" but rather "How is the universe old?" Since they "knew" it was old, clocks had to be found and interpreted according to this "known" antiquity.

But, as we have learned more and more, the testimony of the clocks has grown more insistent that there is something drastically wrong with the evolutionist scenario and its claims of an ancient cosmos. It used to be put forth as a charge against the simple faith of believers in the straightforward record of creation found in the Bible that the account could not really be "God's Word" because that would mean God was a deceiver. If God has created all things out of nothing only a few thousand years ago, he could not then proceed to fill the universe with clear "evidences" that the universe was old and that vast ages inhabited by strange creatures had preceded man's entry into the world. Now the tables have turned, and the believer can throw the challenge back by saying, "If the universe was created as long ago as the evolutionists claim, why does it look so young? God is surely not a deceiver."

Solar Cleanup Clock

If one stops to think about it, a person engaged in a cleanup job presents us with another kind of clock. For instance, in sweeping the carpet, the amount of carpet that has been swept makes for a kind of clock that indicates how long the janitor has been working at the job. The more carpet that has been swept, the more time has passed since the job was started. In this regard it turns out that the sun in a certain sense resembles a janitor within the solar system, constantly working away to "sweep" and "sort" some of its smaller particles.

The Poynting-Robertson Effect

A good part of this janitorial work occurs by what scientists call the Poynting-Robertson effect after the scientists who discovered and explained it.1 This is one of the most intriguing solar janitorial clocks indicating a recent creation. It has an imposing name that sounds impressive, but the idea is fairly easy to understand.

An Analogy

I will use a simple illustration to explain. Assume that a steady rain shower is occurring and that there is no wind. If you sit in your car, the drops appear to come straight down from the sky. In fact, they do come straight down since there is no wind. However, if you start to drive the car, the drops of rain begin to appear as if they are coming down at an angle directly into your front windshield; the faster you drive, the shallower the angle becomes.

The same thing holds true if you are standing in the rain with an umbrella. If there is no wind, the drops come straight down and you hold the umbrella directly over your head. However, as you begin to walk you have to tip your umbrella forward in order to keep dry. The faster you walk, the more you tip the umbrella. The crucial point in understanding the Poynting-Robertson effect is that even though the raindrops are coming straight down, they strike an object at an angle as it moves through the rain.

Now, although we don't think much about it, a raindrop has weight and substance. It hits your car's windshield with a certain force as you drive along. The force that the rain exerts pushes against the forward movement of the car since the raindrops are coming in at an angle caused by your car's movement. They beat against the front of the car and tend to slow it down. If we could get fine enough measurements, we would find that your car has to burn just a little more gas when driving through the rain, because it takes just a little more power to push the car along the road against the force of the raindrops.

Back to Outer Space

The above illustration provides all the basic components for understanding the Poynting-Robertson effect in space. The counterpart of the rain is the light radiation emitted by the sun, and the counterpart of your car is any object moving through space in orbit around the sun or some other body in the solar system. Light radiation from the sun may be viewed as little particles called photons. These photons move on a straight line out from the sun in all directions. As an object in space moves along its orbit, it encounters these photons of light, just as one's car encounters raindrops in a storm. Furthermore, these photons exert a certain force to impede the forward movement of the object, and over time the object will lose speed. As it loses speed, its orbit is changed so that it falls closer and closer to the sun. Eventually the object will be slowed down to the point where it can no longer stay in orbit, and the sun's gravitational force will pull it in. In this way, as well as others, the sun is constantly working as a janitor and sweeping the solar system clean of debris.

The Poynting-Robertson Clock

It turns out that the slowing effect of Poynting-Robertson is directly related to the mass of the object being considered. Just as raindrops might be more of a factor in slowing an automobile than a large truck, so it is that smaller objects in space are affected more than larger ones. Considering only the Poynting-Robertson effect, scientists can calculate how long it would take for objects of a particular mass and orbital distance from the sun to be "swept up." As it turns out, the calculations show that small particles such as the cosmic dust sphericals we discussed in chapter 1 should be swept up in a relatively short time. The fact that they exist in abundance in outer space, as determined by a number of lines of observational evidence, is a strong indication that the solar system is not nearly as old as evolutionist scientists maintain.

More important than the small-particle considerations, however, are the results of careful measurements made by the famous astronomer Fred Whipple at Harvard University. Whipple realized that over time the Poynting-Robertson effect would sort out and disperse meteor streams in accordance with the mass of individual objects making up the stream.

Scientists do not know where meteor streams originate. Many streams are thought to be formed by the debris left over from the breakup of comets as they come too close to the sun and are pulled apart. Other streams are thought to be left over from the formation of the solar system. Some believe that meteoritic material originated about three billion years ago when something happened between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Perhaps some previously existing planet broke up or perhaps there was some collision involving the asteroid belt. No one is sure about the origin of the streams, but it has frequently been claimed that they are quite old.

When the earth passes through one of these meteor streams, it produces the popular spectacle of a meteor shower. Of relevance to the issue of time and Poynting-Robertson is that individual chunks of material in a meteor stream vary greatly in mass. Some chunks are small, some large, and some in between. Whipple calculated that over time the various pieces of material in a given stream would be sorted out according to size by the Poynting-Robertson effect. Initially all sizes of debris would be jumbled together in the stream. But, as time went by, the smaller objects would be pulled more quickly toward the sun, with the larger objects lagging behind. After a while the meteor stream would be nicely and neatly sorted. Furthermore, the degree of the sorting and the amount of separation between objects of different sizes would provide a clock for measuring the age of the meteor stream.

Using careful photographic techniques to examine meteors burning up in the earth's atmosphere during a number of meteor showers, Whipple and his research team found no dispersion whatsoever in any of the meteor streams studied. Whipple concluded that the meteor streams studied must be quite recent in their origin. As creationist astronomer Harold Slusher writes regarding this finding:

If there is not this dispersion, this spreading out of material into smaller and smaller orbits, how can meteor streams be more than 10,000 years old? Meteor showers do not show the dispersion effect that the Poynting-Robertson effect predicts; therefore, they cannot be old.2


The sweeping action of the Poynting-Robertson effect and other processes such as one termed "sputtering" are extremely important in this question of the age of things. "Sputtering" is the name given to the effect of collisions of photons with small particles in space. The collisions break off small bits of matter and thus in time destroy the small particles. In terms of its sweeping effect, sputtering is much more rapid than Poynting-Robertson in clearing the solar system of small particles. Furthermore, what is true of our sun is true of the stars as well. Just as the sun is surrounded by an abundance of dust material that should have been swept clean long ago if the solar system were as old as generally claimed by evolutionists, so are many stars surrounded by huge clouds of dust and gas. In some cases these stars are radiating energy 100,000 times faster than our sun, thus speeding up the sweeping action by a commensurate amount. How can these stars be "old" and still be surrounded by so much material? The creationist answer is simply that they are not old; the evidence clearly indicates they cannot be.

Short-Period Comets

One of the themes we want to emphasize repeatedly in this book is that if evolution is true, the earth and the rest of the solar system and cosmos must be extremely old. The problem with this for evolutionist scientists is that since—as the creationists maintain—the overwhelming weight of actual physical evidence indicates that things are quite young, the evolutionists must come up with fantastic and totally implausible mechanisms to explain how things are kept going for the billions of years evolution requires. An excellent example of this is the amazing idea that volcanoes on giant planets occasionally belch out new comets into orbit around the sun.3 We shall return to this idea after we first consider the issue of short-period comets.

Short-period comets constitute one of the most easily understood examples of our so-called solar-janitor effect. Comets are very strange objects that orbit around the sun. Although it is not usually realized, the glowing, visible shroud of gas surrounding many comets is larger in terms of volume than even the planet Jupiter, and in a few instances it is greater than the sun itself. The inner core, or comet proper, however, is quite small and invisible to observation from the earth. Scientists do not yet know what the core is made of, but current evidence has led most to characterize it as a "very dirty iceberg."

When we think of comets, we naturally picture the long visible trail, but the fact is that through most of each orbital period no trail is visible. It is only when a comet approaches close to the sun that the famous trail appears. This trail is comprised of material that is in effect being burned off the body of the comet; every time it passes close to the sun more of its substance is burned off and forever lost. This loss of material with each sun passage is the basis for a very important clock. The solar janitor is not only sweeping the solar system clean of tiny bits of material via sputtering and the Poynting-Robertson effect; it is also cleaning the solar system of comets by burning off a substantial portion of their mass during each close approach to the sun.

Over the centuries the destruction of many short-period comets has been observed and recorded. Sometimes they break up into smaller pieces, and sometimes they disappear entirely during their close approach to the sun. There have been ten recorded observations of comet destruction in this century. The perplexing problem of all this for evolutionists is that the average life span for these short-period comets is on the order of only 1,500 to 10,000 years. This means that if the solar system were even as old as one-half million years, there should be no short-period comets left. Yet there is an abundance of them.

Looking for Solutions

Evolutionists are well aware of the situation described here with regard to the life span of short-period comets. The only obvious solution to the dilemma is to find a source of supply so that the population of short-period comets can be continually replenished. As previously mentioned, it is in this search for solutions that evolutionist scientists sometimes drift off into the realm of the fantastic and the impossible. Evolutionists have proposed three suggestions regarding how the solar system might be resupplied with short-period comets.

Jupiter and Long-Period Comets

The first suggestion is that short-period comets are captured gravitationally by Jupiter from the large number of long-period comets, which have orbits that take them so far from the sun that they would pass into the interior regions of the solar system only once in perhaps a million years. The gravitational-attraction conjecture is that occasionally a long-term comet passes close to Jupiter and in the process its orbit is drastically changed so that it becomes a new short-period comet.

Several difficulties have led to the general rejection of this surmise. For one thing there are simply not enough near passes between long-period comets and Jupiter to account for the number of short-period comets in existence. For another, the orbits of the short-period comets rule out this possibility.

In the long term of the evolutionist time scale there is also a problem with the supply of long-period comets. The most popular suggested source of long-period comets is referred to as "Oort's cloud" after astronomer J. H. Oort, who guessed that there might be a huge spherical shell of comets surrounding our solar system at about one-fifth of the distance to the nearest star. He conjectured that the gravitational disturbance caused by occasional passing stars or planets might alter the orbits of some of the comets in such a way as to send them into the interior of the solar system as new long-term comets. Suffice it to say that there is no direct observational evidence of either the shell (Oort's cloud) or prospective stars or planets to disturb it. Calculations of the orbits of existing long-period comets also present difficulties for the theory. Finally, how such a cloud of comets itself might evolve is a very serious problem for evolutionists.

The Asteroid Belt

A second popular idea among evolutionists is that perhaps short-period comets originate in the asteroid belt. It has been suggested that a close encounter between an asteroid and one of the giant planets might result in a breakup of the asteroid and the creation of one or more short-period comets. A number of difficulties lead to rejection of this idea. As was the case under the surmise of their being captured by Jupiter, the orbits of the short-period comets will not fit into the asteroid-Origin scheme. More important, the physical makeup of asteroids and comets is totally different.

Volcanoes in Space

A third speculation about short-period comets seems more like science fiction than reasonable scientific conjecture. This idea suggests that comets are belched out by erupting volcanoes, most probably on Jupiter. Numerous critics have pointed out that the problems with this notion are monumental. Foremost among the difficulties is that the idea has no observational or theoretical foundation whatsoever. There is no known planetary mechanism to impart the force needed to expel a comet into orbit. The physical makeup of comets does not fit the idea of such an origin; the orbits of short-period comets do not bear the necessary relationship to Jupiter or any other giant planet to be accounted for by the volcanic-eruption notion; and, most critically, if a chunk of material were expelled upward from the surface of Jupiter or some other giant planet with the estimated 370-miles-per-second speed required to put it into orbit around the sun, it would burn up and vaporize in the atmosphere. To quote astronomer Harold Slusher from his book Age of the Cosmos:

... we know that even in earth's much shallower atmosphere meteors. . .are completely vaporized. This alone should make it clear that there is no possibility of anything remotely resembling a comet coming out of a planet. The requisite high speed would cause it to vaporize at once.4


In concluding this matter of the apparent recent origin of short-period comets, astronomer Harold Slusher has stated:

The failure to find a mechanism to resupply comets or to form new comets would seem to lead to the conclusion that the age of the comets and hence the solar system is quite young, on the order of just several thousand years at most. . . . The obvious is that the solar system has been operating on a short time scale since its creation.5

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