New Evidence for Solar System Design: Fine-Tuning the Late Veneer

Astronomy research yields increasing evidence for the solar system’s unique formation history.

The more we learn, the more its features appear fine-tuned to enable the eventual existence of advanced life on Earth. A recent study, for example, shows a residual population of planetesimals (small, primordial solar system bodies, in this case measuring no larger than 20 meters across) with a total mass just-right for life’s sake. This total mass played an essential role in dampening the eccentricities and inclinations of Venus, Earth, and Mars from their initially high values to their current near zero values, as well as in sufficiently enriching Earth’s crust with siderophile (iron/arsenic/sulfur-loving) elements so that advanced life eventually would be possible on Earth.

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Good mental health critically depends on the recognition of self-worth. Self-worth comes from the discovery that one is uniquely designed to fulfill a specific and valuable purpose. Recognition that each human being is distinctly special represents a strong argument for the existence of a powerful, intelligent, knowledgeable, and loving Creator.

Increasingly, astronomers are discovering that what is true of human beings, also appears to be true of the Sun’s suite of planets and particularly planet Earth. When planets outside of our solar system were first discovered in 1995,1 most astronomers presumed that the discovery of additional exoplanets would prove that the solar system planets are in no way special but, rather, ordinary. Since this article’s publication, 777 planets outside of our solar system have been measured in sufficient detail as to be included in the Paris Observatory’s Exoplanet Encyclopedia. Currently, astronomers are examining an additional two thousand candidate planets to determine whether or not they are true planets.

Not one of the 777 planets in the Exoplanet Encyclopedia matches the characteristics of any one of our solar system’s planets.  Upsilon Andromedae e comes close. Its mass compared to Jupiter’s is 1.06+. (Because the inclination of Andromedae e’s orbit is not known, only a minimum mass has been determined2). Its distance from its host star compared to Jupiter’s distance from the sun is 1.01.3

Upsilon Andromedae e, however, is accompanied by two much larger planets, upsilon Andromedae c and d, with masses = 14.57+ and 10.19+ times greater than Jupiter’s, respectively. These two planets orbit the system’s host star 6.1 and 2.1 times closer, than does upsilon Andromedae e. Their orbits are also highly eccentric. Moreover, the host star is 1.28 times more massive and 3.4 times more luminous than the sun. The characteristics of both the main star and the two heavy planets accompanying upsilon Andromedae e rule out the possibility that another planet in the same system could possibly support advanced life.

Thus far, the discovery of hundreds of exoplanets has increasingly demonstrated just how specially designed each of the Sun’s eight planets and Earth’s Moon are for making the existence of advanced life possible on Earth. This remarkable design evidence has been accumulating, as seen in our books, DVDs, and at speaking events, for more than two decades.4 Now, the evidence is so compelling that even committed nontheistic scientists are acknowledging the dozens of unique solar system features  that make our existence on Earth possible. The latest work on this topic can be found in the book, Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique by famed British physicist John Gribbin.5 Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, and the last chapter are correspondingly titled What’s So Special about Our Place in the Milky Way, What’s So Special about the Sun, What’s So Special about the Solar System, What’s So Special about the Earth, and What’s So Special about Us.

As Gribbin repeatedly points out in this new book, the more astronomers and physicists learn about the solar system and exoplanetary systems, the more evidence they accumulate for the special, fine-tuned design of the Sun, Earth, and Earth’s planetary partners to make humanity’s Earthly existence possible. The Astrophysical Journal comes out with two issues every ten days. In every issue I count one, if not several, articles that add to the weight of evidence for the unique and purposeful design of the solar system for our specific benefit. Here I’ll describe just one such article.

Three astronomers, Hilke Schlichting of UCLA and Caltech, Paul Warren of UCLA, and Qing-Zhu Yin of UC Davis, published a paper titled, “The Last Stages of Terrestrial Planet Formation: Dynamical Friction and the Late Veneer.”6 Therein, they point out just how critically important a late stage of terrestrial (rocky) planet formation is for life on Earth.

The final stage for the formation of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars occurs after the formation of the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) and after the giant impact phase (the phase during which Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are bombarded by large planetesimals). During this final stage, the solar system’s four rocky planets “clean up” the remaining small planetesimals residing in their vicinity. This residual population of small planetesimals must survive late enough to dampen the high eccentricities and inclinations that Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars garnered as a result of the giant impact phase. If the orbits of Venus, Earth, Mars, and to a lesser degree Mercury had not been dampened to near zero values, advanced life never would have been possible on Earth. (Because Mercury’s mass is only one nineteenth than that of Earth’s and because it orbits so closely to the Sun, its orbit was not as circularized and disinclined as much by the residual planetesimals as were the orbits of Venus, Earth, and Mars. However, because Mercury is so small and so close to the Sun, its gravitational perturbations of Earth’s orbit are negligible.)

In their paper Schlichting, Warren, and Yin demonstrate that a residual population of small planetesimals containing a total mass of 0.01 Earth masses is necessary to dampen—after the giant impact phase—the initially high eccentricities and inclinations of Venus, Earth, and Mars down to their currently observed values. Furthermore, the majority of the “late veneer” accreted by Earth, Moon, and Mars during the final planetary formation stage must consist of bodies with radii less than or equal to 10 meters. As the three astronomers show in their calculations, this exact late veneer accretion explains the high siderophile element (HSE) abundances for Earth, Moon, and Mars and the high Earth/Mars and Earth/Moon mass accretion ratios during the final planetary formation stage, inferred from the observed HSEs of Earth, Moon, and Mars.

Schlichting, Warren, and Yin derive no fine-tuning arguments from their research. However, the fine-tuning is implied. If the total mass of the residual planetesimal population were much less than 0.01 Earth masses, then the orbits of Venus, Earth, and Mars would not have been sufficiently circularized and disinclined  for advanced life to  exist on Earth. On the other hand, if the total mass of the residual planetesimal population were much greater than 0.01 Earth masses, Earth would have accreted too much mass to allow for the future existence of advanced life. In the same manner, the average size of the residual planetesimals must be fine-tuned, as must the timing of the late veneer accretion event.

For a documented list of several hundred other solar system features that must be fine-tuned for the possible existence of advanced life on Earth click here. This list—together with the new results reported by Schlichting, Warren, and Yin—demonstrate the still accumulating evidence for the rare-Earth and rare-solar-system doctrines. These doctrines state that while planets the size and mass of Earth may prove abundant in the cosmos, planets with the just-right host stars, the just-right planetary partners, and the just-right characteristics, including physical and chemical composition, to enable the support of advanced life will prove either extremely rare or non-existent. Such doctrines are consistent with the Bible’s message that God supernaturally designed Earth (and, by implication, its star, its planetary partners) as well as its various life forms—all for the specific benefit of human beings.

The Sun is special. Earth’s planetary partners are special. The Moon is special. Earth is special. Earth’s life and human inhabitants are special. As Psalm 104:24 put it, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”

References:

  1. Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, “A Jupiter-Mass Companion to a Solar-Type Star,” Nature 378 (November 23, 1995): 355–359.
  2. Jean Schneider, accessed February 9, 2012, http://exoplanet.eu/.
  3. Ibid.
  4. See examples in my books, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd edition (Glendora, CA: Reasons To Believe, 2001, reprinted 2012) and More Than a Theory (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009).
  5. John Gribbin, Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011).
  6. Hilke E. Schlichting, Paul H. Warren, and Qing-Zhu Yin, “The Last Stages of Terrestrail Planet Formation: Dynamical Friction and the Late Veneer,” Astrophysical Journal 752 (June 10, 2012): id. 8.
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