What appears to be a solar system in the process of formation has been imaged by the newly commissioned Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope (see Fig. 1).1 The ALMA telescope, located 5,000 meters up in the Andes of northern Chile, on the Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama Desert, consists of 66 mobile radio-astronomy dishes, which can be spaced up to 16 kilometers (10 miles) apart. This effectively combines their power into one 16-km-wide telescope which results in detailed images never before achieved. The telescope’s submillimeter wavelength resolution allows it to see through the clouds of dust that obscure it from sight in visible light images. Future improvements to the facility are expected to more than double its resolution.
This leaves us asking questions. Have planets been imaged while forming around young stars? Have protoplanetary systems—as they are called—actually been observed while the formation process is happening? If so, how do they fit into the biblical creationist worldview? According to the latter God created the stars on Day 4 of Creation Week about 6000 years ago (as measured by Earth’s clocks).
From a biblical creationist perspective then, the issue of both star and planet formation is not so much that we are seeing the process via our telescopes today, but whether the process is occurring naturalistically,2 without the creative hand of God.
However, the stunning significance of the ALMA image (Fig. 1) is that it almost exactly matches what secular astrophysicists had long predicted a solar system should look like during the early stages of its formation. An article in Sky & Telescope, November 6th, 2014, reported,
“An ALMA submillimeter-wavelength image unveils the dawn of planet formation around a surprisingly young star in unprecedented detail.”1 (emphasis added)
One important element missing from this image (Fig.1) is the planets themselves, or at least the planetesimals,3 which are allegedly their precursors. Another important missing element is the cloud of gas and dust that allegedly surrounds it all and obscures it from view in visible light. The ALMA telescope is able to see through this dust to obtain the image. But a much wider view, taken in the visible part of the spectrum, with the Hubble telescope, shows what it looks like (Fig. 2).
So what is it exactly that we are looking at in Fig. 1? Is it really a new-born star and proto-planetary system caught on-camera in the process of formation? Does this evidence support the evolutionary worldview by demonstrating beyond doubt that stars and planets can form via naturalistic processes? Or are there other explanations?
As biblical creationists, we are really left with just two questions:
- What can we learn from planetary systems?
- What story-telling is told to support the evolutionary worldview?
We need to be cautious about anything at all that we might say about this new image. Science makes progress only by studying repeatable events, making comparisons between them, developing generalizations (hypotheses) about them, and using those hypotheses to predict the expected outcomes of new observations.
The study of origins in secular astronomy is fundamentally uniformitarian in nature.5 Astrophysicists are limited to what they can find to test their hypotheses. What they do is like ‘stamp collecting’—if you find a lot the same you say it is common, if you don’t you say it is rare. And because they are largely locked into the evolutionary big bang paradigm, they are looking for systems at different evolutionary stages. That is very much analogous to the fossil record and ‘seeing’ the supposed evolutionary stages therein. The investigators’ bias heavily influences their interpretation of the evidence at hand.
Because Fig. 1 is the first-of-a-kind image it would be prudent to wait until more similar objects are detected before making any generalizations anyway. To illustrate the problem, the biggest obstacle to anyone developing useful hypotheses about universes is that we only have one of them (the so-called ‘cosmic variance’ problem). In contrast, there are lots of galaxies, stars, and planets that we can study, but this is the first time that we have seen what looks like a newly-forming solar system.
To properly interpret Fig. 1, however, we need to understand the theory behind planetary disk formation.
The Sky & Telescope (2014) report stated that,1
“The smallest gaps in the protoplanetary disk occur around 20 to 30 a.u. and near 70 a.u. Although no planets are detected at these wavelengths, the gaps are most likely the markers of a planet’s passage through the disk.” (emphasis added)
The discovery of disk gaps around a star supposedly less than one million years old is surprising—planets aren’t supposed to form so fast under naturalistic uniformitarian processes. No, they are meant to take up to 100 million years to form.
Astronomers expect from the standard theory of formation of planetary systems (from a solar type nebula of gas and dust, see Fig. 3) that after the star turns on in the centre (which is impossible, naturalistically2) the radiation from that star clears out lanes of dust where the planetesimals are forming. These are what they hope has occurred here in the dark rings around the central star in the image of Fig. 1.
Of course this is story-telling based on the hoped-for course of events that they believe happens/happened, because there is no Creator in their universe. The sequence of events is illustrated in Fig. 3. But in the case of HL Tauri it is acknowledged that even this seems to be surprising, that the star, by their uniformitarian assumptions, is only a million years old, and planets are not supposed to form that fast.
Did they observe planets or proto-planets in those disk gaps? Well, no. But even if they did, or will do in the future with improved technology, it still does not mean the theory of planetary formation, the core-accretion model, is necessarily correct.
A recent attempt to simulate planetary formation6,7 started with key assumptions of sufficiently high cloud density and a supernova shock wave arriving at just the right angle, which simulated the formation of spinning planets. But the cloud had to already have a significant rotation, which leads to the well-known serious problem with the conversation of angular momentum.
Consider our sun with a mass representing 99.86% of the mass of the solar system but only 1% of its angular momentum. The planets on the other hand have a total combined mass of only 0.14% of the mass of the solar system yet 99% of its angular momentum. Most of the angular momentum of any solar system must reside initially in the central core of the collapsing cloud, which eventually becomes the star, according to the theory. Yet after some time nearly all the angular momentum is transferred to the planets. This is a huge problem for the theory.
From a biblical perspective, one thing that we can learn from an image like this is that it can give us clues into the early formation of our solar system.8 But not naturalistically, without the Creator. Rather it can give us some idea about the materials that God used and whether or not our solar system is unique.9 I don’t believe it is unique in the sense of being the only one to have planets, of course. Many extra-solar planets have already been discovered in the Galaxy. One was recently named Earth 2.0.10
I expect astronomers will find a whole gaggle of planetary systems in different states of ‘formation.’ This does not mean they are currently forming like this now. Though it is often stated that stars are currently forming in the Universe. Therefore it follows from big bang cosmology type thinking that as one looks out into the cosmos one should see them at different stages of formation.
There are yet many problems to solve with solar system formation. To get the star to form in the centre of the solar system, physics has to be overcome–the physics of magnetic fields and gas pressure that tend to act against the collapse of the cloud. More often than not, as stated above, the necessary density of a collapsing cloud, or near critical density, is assumed in any simulations on the formation of planetary systems. To form the star either you need a supernova nearby, or a Creator, who can overcome His own laws.2 A supernova is due to known physics, an explosion, which, in theory, is able to supersonically compress a cloud of gas beyond the limitation where gravity can take over, which otherwise cannot happen naturalistically.11 Of course, a supernova requires a star to exist already, so it cannot be used to explain the formation of stars in the first place. Otherwise you would have to ‘believe’ in the existence of some unobservable ‘dark matter’ in the centres of solar nebulae that allowed the stars to condense, overcoming the natural limits placed on the nebular clouds by the physics.2
I would like to thank Alex Williams for all his very useful suggestions.
- Young, M., ALMA Image Reveals Planetary Genesis, 6 November 2014.
- Hartnett, J.G., Stars just don’t form naturally—‘dark matter’ the ‘god of the gaps’ is needed, 1 September 2015.
- Planetesimals are objects formed from dust, rock, and other materials thought to exist in protoplanetary disks. Planetesimals sizes can range from several meters to hundreds of kilometres.
- A glowing jet from a young star, 15 September 2015.
- Hartnett, J.G., Why is Dark Matter everywhere in the cosmos? 31 March 2015.
- Boss, A. P., and S. A. Keiser, Triggering Collapse of the Presolar Dense Cloud Core and Injecting Short-Lived Radioisotopes with a Shock Wave. IV. Effects of Rotational Axis Orientation. The Astrophysical Journal. 809(1): 103, 2015.
- Thomas, B., Protoplanetary Disc Model Falls Flat, icr.org, September 17, 2015.
- Hartnett, J.G., The ‘waters above’, Journal of Creation 20(1): 93–98, April 2006.
- Because we are too close to ‘see’ our solar system overall, it may be easier to understand the structure of what it looks like and might have looked like during its creation by God by imaging these planetary nebulae.
- Hartnett, J.G., Life on Earth 2.0—Really? 13 August 2015.
- Sarfati, J.D., Solar system origin: Nebular hypothesis, Creation 32(3): 34–35, July 2010.