This afternoon (as of this writing), Carol and I arrived in Gettysburg, Pa. We settled in and decided to get our laundry washed before the rest of the crowd in the Gettysburg RV Campground figured out where the laundry room was. It was dark and we were getting ready to fold the clean clothes when I got sight of the half-moon out the window.
"Precious, wait a minute. I've got to get a picture of the moon." Astronomy has intrigued me all my life, and I have hundreds of pictures of the moon, many of the sun and a few of Mars. But what I have won't hold a candle to the collection David Cater has.
As I walked outside, I remembered the column David writes each month about star-gazing. David writes an amazing series about humankind's astronomical frontier, and I encourage you to read his column.
Outside the laundry room, my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I saw two smaller dots: One at the two o'clock position from the moon, and a dimmer dot at the 10:30 position.
Doing a quick check on Google, I discovered what Mr. Cater could have easily told me: The brighter dot was Jupiter, approximately 484 million miles distant, and the dimmer dot was Saturn approximately 920 million miles from earth. But the internet isn't always correct, and I would happily receive David's correction.
The reports also said that these gas planets wouldn't reach this position relative to the moon and our visual perspective for another 20 years.
I went back into the laundry room to keep my promise to my Precious: I helped fold the clothes. But Carol became curious about my excitement, and she stepped outside to peer at the night sky. Several other campers walking by looked up when I was describing the three satellites, and they became awestruck.
One said, "I never knew we could see other planets without a telescope." Another quipped, "How do you know which one is what?" To that one, I responded, "Look it up on Google." The issue was settled when that camper said, "Oh, yeah. I should have known that."
Oh-oh, I just had a revelation. I've been out of town for several weeks, and David Cater might have already written about these gas giants. Oh well ... I've already started this reflection, so I'll finish it.
Jupiter is the largest of our eight (or nine) planets. How big is it? Its diameter is about 87,000 miles, it takes 12 earth-years to orbit the sun, and it might have 79 moons -- several of which are larger than our moon. It's possible that Jupiter has a solid core that is at least 12 times the mass of our earth, but Jupiter as a whole has a mass of about 318 times that of earth. Most of the "atmosphere" is comprised of hydrogen and helium. Since its gravitational pull is powerful, it is a primary protector of the earth by attracting and capturing dangerous comets and asteroids that might imperil the earth.
Saturn circles the sun in about 29 earth years, has a diameter of about 72,400 miles, but its spectacular rings add another 150,000 miles to its diameter. Saturn is the second-largest planet. It probably has a solid core, has an atmosphere primarily of hydrogen and helium, and is about 95 times the earth's mass. Saturn has 82 known moons, and probably many more are hiding in the rings. But Saturn, also, is a protector of earth due to it's gravitational pull.
But with all the admiration and attention we bestow on these two giants that we can see without a telescope, let's not forget two more protectors. Many of the dangerous astronomical bullets that escape the gas bullies are caught by the moon. And the vast majority that escape the moon are smaller and disintegrate in our atmosphere. The comets (mostly ice) evaporate and add to our water supply, and the meteorites and asteroids are pulverized and turned to dust. Overall, the earth could be gaining over 30,000 tons of water and dust a year due to these astronomical visitors.
God's foresight in assembling the solar system amazes me!
God created man for fellowship. He redeems fallen man through relationship with Jesus who died for us but rose from the dead. And He protects humanity so that those who cooperate with Him can fulfill His heavenly plan. What an awesome God we have!
-- S. Eugene Linzey is the author of 'Charter of the Christian Faith.' Send comments and questions to [email protected] Visit his website at www.genelinzey.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.