Reasons to Believe

A Superior Milky Way Galaxy Map

A better understanding of how our galaxy looks promises to deliver a test for a component of RTB's creation model.

Astronomers already recognize that many different features of a galaxy must be fine-tuned to support life, especially advanced life. Many evidences for design became apparent only when astronomers successfully mapped the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy (MWG)—which is distinguished by two main spiral arms emerging from the ends of a large central bar. (Click on the link to see the most detailed and accurate map of our home galaxy achieved so far.)

To put galactic design evidence through more rigorous testing, astronomers require an even better map of the MWG. Such a map could reveal more evidence for design—evidence that is currently hidden from view.

The greatest barrier to achieving a superior MWG map is the lack of accurate distance measurements to the various features in the spiral arms, direct distance measurements in particular. Now a team of astronomers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico has taken the first step to rectify the situation.1

Direct astronomical distance measurements are based on plane geometry theorems. If one knows the length of an isosceles triangle's base, then measurements of the angles at either end of the base will deliver the distance to the vertex of the triangle. For determining distances to nearby stars, the diameter of Earth's orbit about the Sun (about 185,912,076 miles or 299,195,741 kilometers) has been the traditional base of the triangle. But astronomically speaking, this base is so tiny that distances to even the nearest stars cannot be determined to be accurate to within an error bar no better than a few percent.

At radio wavelengths using telescopes 25 to 100 meters (85 to 330 feet) in diameter, astronomers have found a way to make accurate direct measurements out to far greater distances. Instead of using Earth's orbit about the Sun as the base of the isosceles triangle, they employ the orbit of a water maser source about the nucleus of a galaxy.

A maser is a microwave laser. Like a laser, it emits a highly collimated (parallel) pencil beam of light. Potentially both the position and the orbital path of a maser can be precisely determined. That potential is realized through very long baseline interferometry.

Earth's atmosphere doesn't disturb the phase of incoming radio waves as it does at optical wavelengths. Consequently, astronomers can electronically link together radio telescopes all over the world to create an instrument with the equivalent resolving power of a telescope several thousand miles in diameter. With this instrument radio astronomy teams can achieve an angular resolving power a thousand times better than the biggest ground-based optical telescope and a hundred times superior to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The NRAO team used the Very Long Baseline Array to measure the distance to the water masers in the star-forming region (of the MWG) IRAS 00420+5530. They determined that the masers were 7,074 light-years away. The error bar on their measurement was 160 light years, an error of only 2.3 percent. This measurement was twenty times superior in accuracy than previous measures.

This new measurement revealed four things to the NRAO team:

  1. It established that the Perseus Spiral Arm is much closer than previous measures had indicated.
  2. It showed that IRAS 00420+5530 is on the near side of a hydrogen gas super-bubble that is expanding out of the plane of the MWG.
  3. It implied a significant noncircular motion of the Perseus Spiral Arm.
  4. It provided the best evidence to date that the simple axisymmetric picture of galactic rotation is wrong. Rather, it proves that the MWG is a barred spiral.

This initial work by the NRAO researchers has helped improve our understanding of the structure of the MWG. Future measurements on many more water masers inside the MWG within a few years should result in a map of the galaxy ten times more detailed and precise. Given that the God of the Bible designed the MWG for the specific benefit of the human race, that superior map should reveal plenty of new evidence for supernatural design.

Atheist skeptics frequently charge that creation is not testable. Ongoing and future research on galactic water masers means that all of us can watch—in real time—the Reasons To Believe biblical creation model being put to the test.

Endnotes:

  1. G. A. Moellenbrock, M. J. Claussen, and W. M. Goss, "A Precise Distance to IRAS 00420+5530 via H2O Maser Parallax with the VLBA," Astrophysical Journal 694, no. 1 (March 20, 2009): 192–204.

Subjects: Galaxy Design

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.