Review by Greg Neyman
© 2006, Old Earth Ministries
In a featured article on the Creation Ministries International website on 27 September 2006, young earth author David Catchpoole took aim at comets.1 Comets are a frequent target of the young earth creationist, yet in all cases they have not given any good evidence to support a young earth (although they will not admit this!).
This new article presents the problem of the breakup of Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3. This comet has an orbit of 5.4 years, and it is fragmenting at an accelerating rate. This fragmentation was first observed in 1995, and it continues today, with the most recent sighting of the comet in May of this year. While it is not a surprise that this comet is disintegrating, the rate of disintegration is surprising astronomers. Because of their nature, comets are expected to lose mass, and eventually disintegrate. Apparently, the material making up this comet could be compared to a poorly packed snowball, that comes apart when you throw it. The young earth writer quotes a secular scientist, who says that comets “are as fragile as the meringue in lemon-meringue pie.” This is probably accurate for some comets. As small bodies of ice collide, some are not stuck together very well, and thus they can easily become “unstuck” when heated. Yes, it is a surprise, but not a problem for our current understanding of comets.
The real issue for the age of the universe issue is the origin of these types of comets. As Catchpoole notes, cosmologists have suggested that comets come from the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt. However, he fails to spell out the current theories concerning these two comet sources. Long term comets, with orbits of greater than 200 years, are thought to originate from the Oort Cloud. Short term comets, with orbits of less than 200 years, are thought to originate from the Kuiper Belt. Since the orbit of this comet is only 5.4 years, it would be a short-term comet.
As is traditional for young earth claims, Catchpoole says that these two features, the Oord Cloud and Kuiper Belt, are hypothetical. While there is only one candidate Oord Cloud object, the Kuiper Belt has over 800 objects, and scientists believe there may be billions. Catchpoole tries a “slight-of-hand” trick, by saying that these objects are also given the term ‘trans-neptunian objects.’ However, they are one in the same, thus his argument is an empty one.
Another complaint that Catchpoole presents (and Sarfati mentions in his article) is that the Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) contents (their physical makeup) do not correlate with the type of region proposed by Dutch astronomer Gerald Kuiper in 1951. That’s a fancy way of saying that no actual comets have been located in the Kuiper Belt. Of course we haven't located any comets there. Try finding an object 5 miles across, that is 2,697,000,000 miles away (to date, the smallest KBO discovered is thought to be about 6 miles).
In another article that Catchpoole references, Jonathan Sarfati says that “there must be billions of comet nuclei in the Kuiper Belt. But nowhere near this many have been found.” Of course not. Given the distance that we are from the Kuiper Belt, we are extremely lucky to have found 800 objects. Most comets are 10 km (6 miles) in diameter or less, and the smallest object found so far in the Kuiper Belt is about 10 km. Most known objects are greater than 100 km (62 miles).
We may eventually be able to see these objects, or even send spacecraft into the region to view them, but until then, we won’t have the solid proof that young earth creationists want, and thus they will continue to use this argument. This should be of no concern for old earth creationists. The science behind the explanations for comets is sound. In the end, this is merely another young earth example of “grasping at straws.” Yes, for now, we cannot show that comets come from the Kuiper Belt. However, the other evidences for the ancient age of the universe, and our earth, are irrefutable. Thus, the young earth creationist is looking at the handful of straw that he is holding, but he continues to ignore the 50-foot tall haystack in front of him.
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