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Weird Worlds

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During the lockdown this past spring, when we were doing a lot of remote, homeschool and online learning, my dad thought it would be a good idea for us to invest in a telescope. Our family lives in the Western Vail Valley of Colorado, where we have lots of dark skies and brilliant views of the universe.  Just perfect for exploring the wide world of astronomy!

Looking up at the sky at night is an amazing experience. It is incomprehensible how large and wonderful God’s creation is! On one particular evening, we were able to see the rings of Saturn, Jupiter and four of its moons, the NEOWISE comet and the Perseid meteor shower . . . what an amazing show!

Have you ever wondered about what’s up there? We all learn about the solar system in school: the eight planets, the moon, and maybe Pluto, but you might be surprised to learn just how many other small yet incredible worlds there are orbiting around the sun. Jupiter alone has 79 known moons, and it is estimated that there are millions of objects beyond Neptune’s orbit. Each of these is a unique testament to the beauty of nature.

One of these distant worlds is Haumea, a dwarf planet that is shaped like an egg. It is so odd-looking because it rotates end over end every four hours. Interestingly, though this world is only 385 miles wide, it has been confirmed to have rings and two moons. Scientists speculate that Haumea’s odd shape, fast spin and moons were set off by a violent collision with another object.

Io, one of Jupiter’s four largest moons, was originally discovered by Galileo in 1610 and has a bright yellow hue due to the large amounts of sulfur on the surface. This sulfur coating is caused by the moon’s many volcanoes; it is the most volcanically active world in the solar system. Its volcanoes shoot huge jets miles above the surface, leaving behind a gaseous trail in outer space. These jets are so large that when they were first imaged by the Voyager space probe, NASA scientists thought they were looking at another moon. The same gravitational effects that give us high and low tides, called tidal forces, are also responsible for Io’s volcanism.

Liquid water is very uncommon in the solar system beyond earth because water is only a liquid within a narrow range of temperatures. But it may surprise you to know that some of the outer planets’ moons have liquid oceans buried beneath icy shells. This is again due to the effect of gravity pulling, squeezing and stretching these worlds so much that it heats them from the inside out, like an egg with a hard surface and liquid beneath. The most famous of these is Europa, which was also discovered by Galileo. It has giant cracks on its surface due to the subsurface ocean. Another notable ocean world is Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, which is so far away and so small that it is amazing it was discovered back in 1789. But since it is covered in a smooth sheet of ice, it is one of the most reflective bodies in the solar system.

Though these worlds all have unusual traits, the laws of physics unite them  into a varied and vast solar system. This is a direct parallel to our relationship with God in the Bible. Though we are all unique and have different interests, we are united by God’s laws and His Spirit. As it says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Of course, when confronted with the spectacle that is our universe, one can’t help but reflect on the words of King David: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? . . . O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalms 8:3-4, 9). Every part of the cosmos tells a story, whether it’s about earth being uniquely suited for life, the laws of nature or the power of God.

by Alden Skye Mapes