What makes the Sun shine? Where does Earth’s life-sustaining radiation originate? Astronomers answered these questions in part with the discovery of nuclear fusion, the same process that powers the hydrogen bomb.
To test the theory that hydrogen’s fusion into helium powers the Sun, astronomers spent the last thirty years searching for exotic particles dubbed neutrinos, a by-product of the fusion reaction. Once generated, neutrinos stream out and away from the Sun in all directions at nearly the speed of light. Detecting them requires painstaking efforts, but scientists succeeded in doing so. They captured neutrinos in underground detectors,1 only to discover two-thirds of their expected number missing. This “solar neutrino problem” persisted for 30 years, eluding careful experiments until now.2
The problem arose when physicists calculated (using standard equations) that nuclear fusion in the Sun would send 5.1 million neutrinos to every square centimeter of Earth’s surface per second.3 However, observatories designed to detect solar neutrinos found only about 1.7 million neutrinos per cm2 per second.4
No physicist or astronomer, however, really believed that the Sun fell two-thirds short in its neutrino production. So, they altered their hypothesis. The initial hypothesis treated neutrinos as massless particles, but if neutrinos possess a tiny mass, they could “oscillate,” or transform into alternate neutrino “flavors,” namely tau and muon neutrinos. The flow of solar neutrinos arriving at Earth, then, would be split among electron, tau, and muon flavors.
Since neutrino observatories were originally designed to find only electron neutrinos, the detected 1.7 million neutrinos per cm2 per second would actually prove consistent with the revised hypothesis (1.7 is one-third of 5.1). Discoveries made three years ago by two independent teams using different detectors confirmed that neutrinos do indeed oscillate from one flavor into another.5 These discoveries indirectly solved the solar neutrino problem. But researchers hungered for direct proof.
To get it, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) was built in Ontario, Canada. There a collaboration of Canadian, American, and British physicists can use 1,000 tons of heavy water (water molecules in which the hydrogen atoms contain an extra neutron) and for two experiments. The first sensed only electron neutrinos. The second will measure the flux of all three types of neutrinos.
To date, only the first experiment has collected data. However, the team has compared its results with the results of a Japanese experiment dubbed “Super-Kamiokande,” which detected all three varieties of neutrinos.6 The data showed that the so-called missing neutrinos were not really missing after all but had simply converted from electron neutrinos into tau and muon neutrinos. The two studies indicate that solar neutrinos flow at 5.4 ±1.0 million neutrinos cm-2 sec-1, a measurement close enough to resolve the neutrino problem.7
Solving the solar neutrino problem gives astronomers confidence in their understanding of the Sun. The neutrino flux shows physicists how the Sun’s output of light has remained very steady over the last 50,000 years, and will continue to do so for the next 50,000 years—a requirement for human existence.
The solution also affirms the nuclear fusion model for other stars. This confirms that the oldest stars in Earth’s galaxy are about 13 billion years old, as the big bang creation model predicts.
Astronomers and physicists can now state with greater certainty that the Sun is 4.60 billion years old. This age implies that the 4.57-billion-year-old Earth formed relatively quickly. These findings about the Sun—and their implications for life on Earth—powerfully suggest the involvement of a divine designer.