A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Have you thanked God for neutron and black hole merging events today? You should. A new study of an ancient dwarf galaxy shows that human life—and certainly a global high-technology civilization—might not have been possible if it weren’t for neutron and black hole merger events. Without such events, Earth and the rest of the universe would lack the abundance of elements heavier than zinc that are needed for the existence of billions of people on a single planet.

Astronomers have known for several decades that elements heavier than zinc are synthesized through rapid (r) and slow (s) neutron-capture processes. The r-process is known to occur in core-collapse supernovae (very massive stars whose cores collapse when nuclear fusion suddenly becomes unable to sustain the cores against the stars’ gravitational forces) and is responsible for the production of about half of all the elements in the periodic table that are heavier than iron (see figure). The s-process occurs in asymptotic giant branch stars (medium mass stars that have evolved to become hyperinflated red supergiants) and is responsible for the production of the other half of periodic table elements heavier than iron. However, the s-process is not independent of the r-process. The s-process converts elements produced by the r-process into different heavy elements.

Figure 1: The periodic table. All elements heavier than zinc (30 Zn) are either r-process elements or s-process elements that are derived from the production of r-process elements. Arsenic (33 As), selenium (34 Se), molybdenum (42 Mo), tin (50 Sn), and iodine (53 I) are vital poisons.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Sandbh

The new study calls into question the assumption that all the universe’s r-process elements are manufactured by core-collapse supernovae. Core-collapse supernovae are exploding all the time in galaxies throughout the universe. Thus, if core-collapse supernovae were the sole or primary source of r-process elements, these elements would be continually produced. However, the appearance of a plateau (a leveling out over a long period of time) in the abundance of europium in several dwarf spheroidal galaxies indicates that r-process element enrichment is not continual but rather the result of rare but highly efficient events.1

Motivated to test this hypothesis, four astronomers from MIT, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics measured the abundance of several r-process elements in seven of the nine brightest stars in Reticulum II.2 Reticulum II is an ultra-faint dwarf galaxy that has remained undisturbed by other galaxies or infalling intergalactic gas since it formed more than 10 billion years ago. The enrichment of the r-process elements that the four astronomers measured in the seven Reticulum II stars was “two or three orders of magnitude higher,” that is, approximately 100 to 1,000 times greater, than that which has been detected in any other ultra-faint dwarf galaxy.

This result shows the primary source of r-process elements is not core-collapse supernovae, but rare, highly productive events. Such events require the merging of two neutron stars, two black holes, a black hole and a neutron star, or either a black hole or a neutron star merging with a large star. Though indeed rare, when they do happen, the enormous densities and energies involved in such mergers generate and expel enormous quantities of r-process elements.

The amounts of r-process and s-process elements on Earth are both at the just-right levels for humans to exist and to make a global high-technology civilization possible. This fine-tuning is imperative because too much arsenic, selenium, molybdenum, tin, or iodine in our diets will kill us. Too little of any one of these elements in our diet will also kill us. Each one of these vital poisons must be consumed at a precise level.

Apparently, the universe is designed so that the just-right number and types of merging events occur to produce the necessary amount of r-process elements so that billions of human beings can enjoy a global high-technology civilization here on Earth and use that technology to take the Good News of salvation to all the people groups of the world.

Now, aren’t you motivated to thank God for creating and designing the universe so carefully?

Subjects: Universe Design

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About The Author

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. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

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