Reasons to Believe

Looking for a Firefly in the Face of a Searchlight

New and exciting spaced-based optical instruments are continually being proposed and built to advance our understanding of the universe and its contents.

In the wake of past discoveries that provide overwhelming support for the creation model put forth by the scholar team at Reasons To Believe,1,2,3 it is expected that any new discoveries will bolster the case and provide exciting new support for the truth of the Bible.

Recent achievements include the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in orbit around the Earth. Though not the largest in diameter, the HST has produced spectacular images of the earliest ages of our universe because of its position above the atmosphere.4 The new James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013, will allow even deeper probing of our universe at the red-shifted wavelengths of that era.

With the number of discoveries of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) reaching over 200 as of the end of 2006,5 there is strong motivation for building new instruments that have sufficient resolving power and sensitivity to be able to detect any earthlike planets that might be circling other stars. Most of the planets found so far are gas-giants like Jupiter that travel in highly eccentric orbits. While these have been detected using ground-based telescopes, scientists believe that the greatest potential for actually imaging earthlike planets will be achieved with space-based instruments.

One of the most difficult problems for any instrument capable of imaging a planet is the overwhelming brightness of the star around which the planet is moving. An earthlike planet would typically be 10 billion times fainter than the star and have an angular separation from the star of only about 0.1 arcseconds.

In a recent letter in Nature,6 two authors presented an approach with a laboratory demonstration that shows great promise for overcoming this problem. Their coronagraphic telescope in space, which makes use of a special mask and an adjustable lens to subtract the star’s glare, could detect and characterize an “Earth twin” orbiting a nearby star. Their work is also described in a NASA JPL News Release. They note there that these demonstrations are at least a thousand times better than anything previously accomplished.

Subjects: Extrasolar Planets

Dr. David Rogstad

Dr. Dave Rogstad received his PhD in physics from Caltech and worked over 30 years for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Though now retired, Dave continues to serve as an RTB board member and participates regularly in several RTB podcasts.

References:

  1. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (NavPress, 2001).
  2. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life, (NavPress, 2004).
  3. Hugh Ross, Creation as Science, (NavPress, 2006).
  4. David H. Rogstad, “New Telescope Promises Greater Evidence for Design,” Connections, April 2007, 8.
  5. http://exoplanets.org.
  6. John T. Trauger and Wesley A. Traub, “A Laboratory Demonstration of the Capability to Image an Earth-like Extrasolar Planet,” Nature 446 (2007): 771-73.