December 17, 2017

The Good Shepherd is the Creator of the Heavens

Stephen Caesar

How Old Are the Stars?

One of the strongest weapons in the arsenal of skeptics who reject young-universe Creationism has been the alleged great antiquity of the stars. As scientists currently date them, stars appear to be far older than would allow for a Biblical age of the universe. However, new, refined, technologically superior methods of dating the stars have in recent years disarmed much of this arsenal and bolstered the Biblical side of the issue. In fact, these new techniques consistently indicate that the stars are much younger than previously assumed.

A Pulsar Sheds New Light

One recent find involving a pulsar (a collapsed star that emits regular bursts of energy) has demonstrated the faultiness of conventional dating systems. For instance, until last year, astronomers had assumed that a certain pulsar was 24,000 years old. However, a team of astronomers using the orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope discovered that the pulsar in question is actually a remnant of a supernova reported by Chinese astronomers in A.D. 386. (When a star approaches the end of its stellar “life,” it explodes into a supernova. In some cases, these supernovae can be seen from earth with the naked eye.) “This connection” between the pulsar and the Chinese record, reported the Boston Globe, “proved that the pulsar was dramatically younger than once believed— less than 2,000 years old rather than 24,000.”[1]

The earlier, incorrect estimate of that pulsar’s age resulted from the faulty logic traditionally used by astronomers to date stellar bodies. Victoria Kaspi of McGill University, one of the members of the team that discovered the pulsar’s correct age, commented, “Determining the true ages of astronomical objects is notoriously difficult. For this reason, historical records of supernovae are of great importance.”[2]

The Globe went into further detail as to how unreliable traditional old-universe dating methods have proven: “Until now, the only way to figure out the age of pulsars was by measuring how fast they are spinning, and the rate at which the spinning is slowing down. By extrapolating backwards to the estimated spin rate when the pulsar was born, this allows an estimate of their present ages. But the new discovery shows that this method can be way off, and shows [that] the process must be more complicated than astronomers have yet been able to analyze.”[3]

Astronomer David Helfand, a pulsar expert at Columbia University, commented that the new findings are “a little disquieting.” In the words of the Globe, Helfand’s disquietude stems from the fact that the young date for this allegedly old pulsar “undermines what the specialists in the field thought they knew.”[4]

Help from Hubble

Another recent example of improved technology revealing a younger age for a particular celestial body is found in the so-called Veil nebula. The January 2001 issue of Discover magazine reported that images taken by the Hubble telescope have caused this revision: “Astronomers believed the Veil, one of the best-studied supernova remnants, was 2,500 light-years away and 18,000 years old. But when astrophysicist William Blair of Johns Hopkins University and his colleagues compared this new [Hubble] image with ground-based photos taken in 1953, they found the consensus was quite wrong. In fact, the Veil nebula is a mere 1,500 lightyears away and 5,000 years old. Blair is taken aback: ‘This had been considered the prototypical supernova remnant, and we thought it was well understood.’”[5]

Refining the Models

Yet another recent instance of this phenomenon involves not a specific astronomical body, but an improved technique for dating stars in general. Dr. Brian C. Chaboyer, who received his Ph.D. from Yale and currently serves as a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth, is a principal investigator on NASA’s Space Interferometry Mission. In an article written for Scientific American, Dr. Chaboyer discussed the problems with the older dating methods: “Unfortunately, although astronomers can deduce the total lifetime of a star, it is hard to gauge how many years an individual star has already lived. A star in its prime is a paragon of stability. It must be younger than its theoretical life span, but researchers cannot pin down its age with much certainty.”[6]

Next, Dr. Chaboyer goes on to describe a complication in conventional methods for dating closely packed groups of stars called globular clusters: “Theoretical models are approximations of what really goes on inside a star. For several years now, studies of the sun have revealed those limitations. Solar sound waves, for example, indicate that helium is slowly sinking toward the center of the sun, as Jorgen Christensen Dalsgaard of the University of Arhus in Denmark, David B. Guenther of Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, and others have shown. The helium displaces hydrogen, reducing the amount of fuel that the sun has at its disposal and therefore its life expectancy. My colleagues and I have also refined the modeling of other processes such as convection and have improved the description of how the gas responds to changes in pressure and temperature. The net effect has been to reduce the estimated globular ages by 14 percent.”[7]

Star Light, Star Bright …

Other problems also exist, as Dr. Chaboyer notes: “The observed brightness of a star depends on its distance as well as its intrinsic luminosity. But measuring distances is one of the most difficult tasks in astronomy. … The errors [in measuring techniques] worsen systematically with distance: telescopes working at the limit of their resolution tend to overstate small parallaxes[8] and thus understate distance.”[9]

To correct this shortcoming, the European Space Agency in 1989 launched the Hipparcos satellite, which can measure the distance of stars from the earth with greater accuracy than ever before, including stars ten times farther away from the earth than earlier instruments could measure.[10] Prof. Chaboyer reports, “The result has been surprising: globular clusters are about 10 percent farther away than previously thought. That makes them intrinsically more luminous and therefore younger.[11]

What is particularly interesting to note is that the more advanced scientists’ dating methods become, the younger they discover stars to be, rather than the other way around. In other words, improved scientific technology has proven to be the friend of young-universe Creationists, not the enemy. Critics of the Bible have traditionally argued that advancements in science will disprove the claims of Scripture. However, just the opposite is happening, which is to be expected from a God who enjoys irony (witness Haman’s experience in Esther 6:1–11)!

(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. D.L. Chandler, “Pulsar linked to old sighting, shining light on star’s age,” Boston Globe, 11 January, 2001: p. A11. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid. (Emphasis added.) []
  4. Ibid. (Emphasis added.) []
  5. K.A. Svitil, “Dream Weaver,” Discover, vol. 22, no.1 (2001): p. 18 (emphasis added). []
  6. B.C. Chaboyer, “Rip Van Twinkle,” Scientific American, vol. 284, no. 5 (2001): p. 48. []
  7. Ibid., pp. 49, 52 (emphasis added). []
  8. Parallax is a technical method of estimating the distance of a star from the earth using a system of triangulation. []
  9. Ibid., p. 52. []
  10. Ibid., pp. 52–53. []
  11. Ibid., p. 53 (emphasis added). []

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