Friday, April 26, 2013

“Kinds” of evolution 1,2,3 a summary and extension

We have seen that the origin of the elements following the Big Bang origin of the universe is neither a great mystery nor unsupported by direct scientific observation. There is still much to be learned, but we can dispense with the lie that they are without clear and obvious evidence. The energy released in the Big Bang, regardless of source, cooled and this resulted in the formation of neutrons from a quark, and gluon storm under tremendous heat and pressure. The continued cooling due to cosmic expansion provided conditions where neutrons decayed to protons, electrons, and neutrinos. Protons found electrons becoming hydrogen. Accelerated protons found each other becoming helium. Neutrons continued to add themselves forming the isotopes of deuterium, and helium 3, and 4. Traces of lithium were made, but the Big Bang nucleosynthesis process was blocked at beryllium-8 due to its nearly instant self destruction back into helium.

Gravity came to be the most important force in the next step, the formation of stars. The earliest stars were mostly huge things, millions of times larger than our sun. They quickly (in universal time scales) generated the elemental nuclei up to iron’s 26 protons via the “slow” process . Again the process was blocked, but this time by the stability of the iron nucleus. That very stability, ironically, lead to the greatest explosions observed in the universe today, the super nova. Those events generated the rest of the heavy elements to uranium (and maybe higher). Once there were ample amounts of heavy elements, other more interesting things do start to appear - planets.

2007 NASA’s Spitzer space telescope detected silica (sand) in the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. The cyan dot just off center is the star's remnant.

This is, step by step, observed and verified scientific fact. Naturally creationists have denied it could ever be true. Any gap is clutched like a drowning man grabs at straws. One gap in our observations of ordinary r-process nucleosynthesis at atomic number 79, Gold, has just been filled. The collision of neutron stars, which are the remnants of massive star novas, provides the exact energy conditions for Gold synthesis. This has just been directly observed, and reported in, "Smoking Gun or Smoldering Embers? A Possible r-process Kilonova Associated with the Short-Hard GRB 130603B."

In the creationist’s freakish version of reality, planets just spring into existence by magic. For many decades, all leading creationist “thinkers” insisted that there were no planets other than those around the Earth. Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, was still trying to deny that science could discover extra-solar planets, or even the origin of the moon in the late 1990s. See for example his nonsense published as “The Stardust Trail.”

"As far as distant stars and galaxies are concerned, there is no evidence either in science or Scripture, that any of them have planets." Henry Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Grand Rapids: Bier Book House, 1984) p. 244.

The late Duane Gish claimed that the non-existence of extra-solar planets was important to Christian faith. He wrote, “Our faith is based on the certainty of eyewitness accounts, not the uncertainty of the wobble of stars.”

Science knows, and every American should know that extra-solar planets are common. Science knows, and every American should know that the nebular hypothesis as proposed by Immanuel Kant in 1755 has been obsolete for over a century. Its modern replacement owes a great deal to Kant, but has the major advantage of making predictive statements regarding the physical structures we can directly observe in our solar system, and around distant stars. ( The Wikipedia article on this is excellent, and I'll just refer readers there).

This does not slow down the creationists who continue to deny reality, for example: as recently as 2011, "NASA Data Derail Nebular Hypothesis" by Brian Thomas of the ICR, "The nebular hypothesis is dead, and no other naturalistic origins scenario has fared any better. Clearly, the solar system is not a product of natural forces but of supernatural."

Two features of the modern nebular hypothesis are that there will be a circumstellar disk which will have remnants following the formation of inner planets. This is called the Kuiper Belt. It was recently determined by astronomers that Pluto was better classified as a Kuiper Belt object. There should also be an even more distant, spherical distribution of matter around a star called the Oort Cloud. These two concentrations of matter also have the interesting feature of explaining the origin, and persistence of comets. And this is why creationists hate and deny their very existence. Young Earth Creationists insist that the rather short cometary lives (hundreds to thousands to millions of years) somehow "proves" that the Earth is merely 6,000 years old. This is why we can read such stupidity from creationists as, “This imaginary cloud is called the "Oort Cloud," named after the astronomer who proposed it. The problem is that there is no observational evidence such a cloud exists at all.” “The Stardust Trail” Henry Morris.

Unfortunately for creationists, we have all the data we need. Even better, every feature of the modern Nebular Hypothesis: circumstellar disks, Kuiper Belts, and Oort Clouds, have been directly observed around other stars. And, how do we know that our solar system was built from earlier generations of stars? The most obvious way is the analysis of extra-solar dust grains still found today. There have been hundreds of scientific publications on these observations in just the last few years. Just use the Google; "extrasolar dust" is a good one. Then, "extrasolar disks" will reveal space telescope images of planet formation recorded for over a decade.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Kinds" of evolution, Part Deux: Cosmic nucleosynthesis of elements

The “kinds” of evolution under the last part of "Kind" #1, and "Kinds" #2, and #3 are convoluted in the minds of creationists everywhere. In fact, they are convoluted period. The questions, and answers are so complex because we have to refer back and forth between experimental laboratory results here on earth, and astronomical studies from the deepest reaches of space. And for extra fun, the different elements formed at different times under extremely different conditions. So let's look again at Big Daddy's blackboard.

The Big Bang did make nearly the universal mass of hydrogen as per "Kind 1.2." And the Big Bang also made trillions of tons of helium, and billions of tons of some other stuff (universally just trace amounts) which is the next error by Jack Chick and his science tutor Kent Hovind. Hydrogen and helium under the influence of gravity make stars. The stars make heavier elements by nuclear fusion, and to get the really heavy elements super massive stars need to go bang all by themselves in a supernova. This must happen billions on billions of times before there is even enough heavy elements to make a planet. So, the cosmic comic by Chick and Hovind fails in several ways. First, it denies reality. Second, it confused star formation and stellar nucleosynthesis with super-nova nuclear synthesis. Third, all of those processes cycled mass for billions of years before there was sufficient stuff (heavy elements) to even make a planet like Earth. I'll review this in some detail below.

Part 1.

By knowing the age and background temperature of the Universe today, we can calculate the approximate temperature at the Big Bang. This was an extraordinary 10^30 degrees Kelvin. At that temperature normal matter, baryonic matter, cannot even exist and all the physical forces with the exception of gravity are mashed into a single unified force. As the universe expanded it cooled, and below 10^28 degrees Kelvin the first ordinary matter condensed, and the weak, strong, and electromagnetic forces began to separate. Atoms could not have existed yet, and didn’t emerge until the temperatures dropped to an average of around 10^6 degrees Kelvin, or about the temperature of the stars seen today. The cosmic microwave background radiation is a remnant of this era around 300 to 500 thousand years after the Big Bang. But long before this, neutrons and protons could exist, and to a limited extent interact forming nucleons.

So what were these first atomic nuclei, and how can we study them? In the 1920s, chemical elements were proven to be built from three subatomic particles, neutrons, protons and electrons. Mass is a major property of neutrons and protons, and electric charge is carried by protons (+) and electrons (-). The easiest of these particles to form, and therefore the first, is the neutron. Naked neutrons rapidly decay into a proton, an electron and a neutrino. The simplest atom is Hydrogen with just a proton and an electron. So the early neutron decay generated the resources needed for the formation of hydrogen, and an amazing amount of neutrinos.

Adding a neutron to hydrogen generates Deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen. Smashing two protons together with a combined energy of about 10^7 degrees overcomes the electromagnetic force, and binds then together with the strong nuclear force creating Helium. This process, called nuclear fusion, is what powers nuclear bombs, and stars. It is easier to form helium by fusing two nuclei of deuterium than by bare protons, and makes helium isotopes with mass 3, and 4. Only tiny traces of Lithium (3 protons) could have been formed just after the Big Bang and before the first stars. The next heaviest nuclei are Beryllium (4 protons, with 3 to 6 neutrons). This could not form just by the addition of protons to existing nuclei because the extremely short half life of Be-8 blocks this route, and only extremely small amounts of Be-7, and Be-9 could have formed. So, the Big Bang theory predicts that about 75% of the early mass of the universe was hydrogen, just under 25% was helium, 0.01% deuterium, and less than a millionth of one percent lithium, and beryllium.

How have we tested all this?

The development of space telescopes coupled with spectrographs allowed the direct measurement of the atomic composition of extremely distant stars, and interstellar gases. We find that the proportion of atomic nuclei is exactly as predicted by Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

The graph above shows the theoretical abundances, and the directly observed cosmic abundances of the light elements as discovered by the NASA WMAP project. Click here for more information from NASA.

The nuclear physics is tested in accelerators. The most recent big result was from the European CERN experiments (we Americans have dropped out of “big science,” in favor of massive wars in tiny places. Many American physicists have maintained active collaborations with CERN). The CERN Large Hadron Collider smashed pairs of lead nucleons, each with an energy of 5.75 X 10^14 electron volts. The collision energies were well over 10^20 eV. This is still well below the energies of the Big Bang, but it generated quark-gluon storms similar to the post-inflation period just before the emergence of the first neutrons.

Part 2.

The Big Bang creation of atoms was limited to 75% hydrogen, just under 25% helium, 0.01% deuterium, and tiny traces of lithium, and beryllium. The physical forces were all fixed, and the weakest and most profound force was gravity. It was gravity that controlled the next stage in atom building. Hydrogen, and helium were swept together by gravity, and the density, or pressure of the gas increased. This heats the gases. The deeper the gravity well, the greater the pressure, and the greater the heating. Stars are masses of hydrogen and helium that have heated by gravitational collapse to temperatures high enough to trigger fusion. This starts at about 15 million degrees, or 1.3 thousand electron volts per nucleon resulting in the simplest fusion path of 3 hydrogen nuclei fusing into one helium. The larger the mass of gasses condensing, the faster the temperature raises and the sooner fusion begins. The heat released by hydrogen fusion is what powers a thermonuclear bomb. What keeps stars from exploding is their deep gravity well. But, the heat of fusion does act against gravity, stopping the increasing pressure from gravitational collapse.

The maximum temperature in the interior of a star depends on how much gas was available to collapse to build it. Basically, the larger the star the hotter the maximum core temperature. As the size and core temperature of a star increases, different fusion pathways from hydrogen to helium take over, and release even more energy as heat, and as neutrinos. But, there is no way to go simply from hydrogen to the heavy elements. I mentioned this earlier. What stops the reaction is the extreme instability of Berylium-8 which decays into helium in less than a trillionth of a second. This problem was solved theoretically by Fred Hoyle in the 1950s. He proposed that three helium nuclei (alpha particles) could fuse essentially instantly in the core of a large enough, and hot enough star to form the stable carbon-12 nucleon (6 protons and 6 neutrons). This “triple alpha” process was shown observationally/experimentally to occur in 1957 by William A. Fowler who received the 1983 Nobel Prize for this work. In spite of the fact that this reaction is rare even under the best of conditions, nearly all the carbon, and oxygen in the universe formed this way.

© Copyright CSIRO Australia

For an excellent overview of stellar nucleosynthesis, visit the the Australia Telescope
Outreach and Education pages.

Once carbon, and oxygen are formed, other higher elements follow by the addition of more alpha particles (heliun nuclei), or protons (beta particles). There are other pathways also opened once the Be-8 barrier is overcome, particularly the formation of elements by Beta decay which removes one proton from a heavier element converting it into a lighter one. As the concentration of heavier elements increased, they also undergo fusion reactions, for example two carbon-12 nuclei fuse to make either a Neon-20 + Helium, or a Sodium-23 + Hydrogen. These are called s-reactions because they are all slow.

But another roadblock appears due to the extreme stability of the iron nucleus. Elements formed with atomic mass higher than iron are less stable, and the end result is that iron cores begin to form in massive active stars. (There are still stars today a million times larger than the sun, and these were much more common in the early universe). There is no further nuclear synthesis in the iron core, and the star acquires a stratified structure with most of the active nuclear fusion happening away from the core. This is leading to the collapse of the star, and a Super Nova.

Experimental evidence:

C. W. Cook, W. A. Fowler, C. C. Lauritsen, and T. Lauritsen
1957 “B12, C12, and the Red Giants” Phys. Rev. 107, 508–515

PS: On a personal note I received my first Isotope Producer License when I was about 20 years old and under the instruction of Dr. George Miller at the University of California, Irvine. I used thermal neutrons generated in a TRIGA Mark IV nuclear reactor to produce radioactive isotopes. Beta decay is accompanied by the emission of a gamma ray, and the energy of the radiation indicates the mass of the nucleus. This kind of research is called Neutron Activation Analysis. It was quite new back then. Dr. Miller and I have maintained a professional relationship, and friendship for over 40 years.

Suggested reading;

Dickin, Alan P.
2000 “Radiogenic Isotope Geology” Cambridge University Press

Helpful websites;

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Frame 7

The next string of posts are unavoidably text heavy. I skipped Frame 6 because it was just boring, as you can see for yourself.

The creationist claims there are "six kinds of evolution," and the "professor" kindly outlines them;

1. Cosmic Evolution - Big Bang makes hydrogen
2. Chemical Evolution - higher elements evolve
3. Planetary Evolution, i.e. evolution of stars and planets from gas
4. Organic Evolution - life from rocks
5. Macroevolution - changes between kinds of plants and animals
6. Microevolution - changes within kinds

Big Daddy's big lie, "Only the last one has been observed and can be called science. The first five are believed by faith." Of course, none of the ways these "kinds" are characterized by Jack Chick make much sense scientifically.

Creationists like to exploit the different meanings of the word “evolution” as seen in this “list of kinds of evolution.” And to be fair, there are scientists who use the word “evolution” to mean any process of transformation. Recently, Harvard University has used this same over extended sense of “evolution” to organize a brief science curriculum covering topics from the origin of the universe, to the origin of new biological species today. I find it amusing that they are unknowingly following a pattern laid down first by creationists. But, it does make it much easier to debunk the main lie told about these “kinds of evolution,” in Frame 7. Of course this is that there is a lack of evidence for these events to have occurred, and be still occurring today.

1. Cosmic Evolution - Big Bang makes hydrogen

The first of the creationist “kinds” of evolution was “Cosmic Evolution." This is properly known as Cosmology. The Belgian priest, Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, was an accomplished astronomer and professor of physics. He proposed in 1927 that the Universe was expanding based on Einstein’s General Relativity, and then four years later that the Universe had had a discrete beginning. The phrase "Big Bang" was coined by English astronomer and physicist Fred Hoyle who was a critic of the idea. The direct observations by Edwin Hubble at the Mt. Wilson observatory lead to the discovery in 1929 that that Lemaître was in fact correct. So, the expanding universe and Big Bang origin of the universe has had direct observational support for over 80 years.

The data do not stop there. One implication of the Big Bang theory was that there must be a fading background “glow” which should be everywhere in the universe. Calculations by Ralph Alpher, Robert Herman, and George Gamow in 1948 indicated that this radiation should be in the microwave frequencies generated from an energy of about 3 degrees Kelvin. This was detected accidentally in 1965 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs. A team of researchers at nearby Princeton University led by Robert Dicke realized what Penzias and Wilson had detected. The NASA Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) (launched in 2001) has completed a map of tiny temperature variations in this cosmic background which corresponds with the formation of the first galaxies in the universe. The project also refined the age of the universe to 13.7 ± 0.13 billion years.

The European Space Agency and NASA collaborated on the Planck CMB mission. They have just released their first results. The improved sensitivity of the Planck satellite adjusted the age of the Universe to 13.8 billion years.

The third test of the Big Bang origin of the universe is the distribution, and abundances of atoms of different elements. I’ll leave this to a later post on Big Daddy's "kinds of evolution" 2 and 3. The trigger of the Big Bang is still under study. Two recent books summarizing our current understanding are;

Krauss, Lawrence
2012 “A Universe From Nothing” New York: Free Press

Susskind, Leonard
2005 "The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design" New York: Little and Brown Publishers

Monday, April 8, 2013

To visitors, 8 April 2013

I have not added new frames for some months. I have been building up pages, and I'll try to get them posted more often. I just added Frame 5 this morning. When the project is finished, I'll also rearrange all the posts so that they will run from frame 1 to the end. I hope you will enjoy the ride, and thanks for your patience.

Big Daddy Frame 5

By several measures, the most outrageous lies of this entire comic are in Frame 5 where the professor threatens PWGWC boy with JAIL.

The first lie of course is that a professor would threaten anyone with jail for holding a dissenting opinion, if for no other reason than it could cost them their job. We have already addressed the bigoted representation of the "professor." But the lies don't stop there. The footnote to this frame reads;

“It has never been illegal to teach the Bible, or creationism in public schools. See Public School Presentation video from Creation Science Evangelism”

It will take a momment to unpack the lies in this statement. It is clearly illegal to teach creationism in public schools as part of any science course. It is clearly illegal "to teach the Bible" in public schools in any manner that confers authority to the Bible by the governmental authority of the school. So those are two obvious lies that are exposed by the many court cases discussed here by the National Center for Science Education. But, there is a more subtle contextual lie; these legal limits are directed wholly at the public school teacher. Students are not under any personal limitation that limits their belief, or discussion of their personal belief- provided that they are not disrupting normal school activities or harassing other students.

There is a referral at the end of the footnote. "Dr. Dino" was the nickname of creationist preacher Kent Hovind. His new nickname is Federal Bureau of Prisons prisoner #06452-017. Hovind is scheduled for release from prison on August 11, 2015 after serving 85% of his 10 year sentence. Hovind was found guilty of 58 counts fraudulent banking transactions, and income tax evasion. Court records show he was raking in over one million dollars a year from his audiences, and video sales.

The "Public School Presentation" can be viewed on YouTube as a set of videos (viewed 8 April, 2013), or at Hovind's website maintained by his son Eric. The lies begin immediately after Hovind says, “My name is Kent Hovind.” Details of Kent Hovind's career are reviewed at "Stones and Bones."