Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The amount of dust on the Moon does not show a young solar system

There isn’t much dust on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and the other lunar astronauts left footprints indicating that there is but an inch or two of dust where they walked.

Though that isn’t much dust, the amount that is present is completely consistent with an ancient Moon.

Here’s how we know.

Quite understandably, throughout most of human history, no one gave any thought to the question of how much dust that there might be on the Moon. It’s difficult to conceive of any impact that the amount of Moon dust would have on any living thing on Earth.

Then, in 1959, a scientist named Hans Pettersson decided to try to find out how much dust was flying through space. In order to do so, he went to the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. He ran some air through a filter designed to measure air pollution. He then measured the dust in the filter. He did some calculations and concluded that at the very most, 15 million tons of dust was arriving yearly from outer space. He chose Hawaii as the location for collecting dust because it was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and, particularly 50 years ago, was far away from much industrial pollution. Nonetheless he really had no way of gauging how much of the debris was terrestrial in origin and admitted as much. However he guessed that about 2/3 was generated from the Earth itself so that speculation led him to claim that 5 million tons was a more likely figure for the stellar component of the debris.

He wrote an article about his research which was published in the February, 1960, issue of Scientific American[1].This sounds like a great deal of debris - and it is - but it works out to be only about a shoebox full of debris per acre per year on the Earth. This is negligible when compared to the amount of erosion that occurs on the Earth.

However, there is no such erosion on the Moon. If you assume a similar amount of dust landing on the Moon, and adjust for its smaller size and gravitational pull, you have to conclude that there should be a very large dust layer (about a hundred feet thick) if the Moon is several billion years old.

Five years after Neil Armstrong walked in the Moon in 1969, Henry Morris the founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), in his book "Scientific Creationism" started the Moon Dust argument. On pages 151-152 in that book, he says:

"The best measurements have been made by Hans Pettersson, who obtained the figure of 14 million tons per year."

Morris also added parenthetically:
"(Before the moon landings, there was considerable fear that the men would sink into the dust when they arrived on the moon, but no comment has apparently ever been made by the authorities as to why it wasn't there as anticipated)."

This would seem to be a compelling argument in favor of a young Moon and, therefore, presumably a young solar system.

But let's look a bit deeper.

The year that Dr. Pettersson's article was published (1960) was also the year of President Kennedy's promise to put a man on the moon. NASA got a lot of money, and startedup a lot of committees. One of the committees pointed out that they really should make a measurement *IN SPACE* of the amount of space dust. After all, if there's 100 feet of dust on the Moon, then the Lunar Lander will have to look considerably different than ifthere is only an inch or two.

Such measurements were performed using satellites *IN SPACE*. McCracken and Dublin announced (at the 1963 Lunar Surface Layer conference) that the earth gets a piddling 18,000 to 25,000 tons per year. (That's roughly 1/1000 of the amount that Pettersson speculated came from space.)

At the 1965 conference, the photographs taken by the Ranger probe were shown, and it was agreed that the moon didn't look dusty.

In May 1966, Surveyor I landed on the moon and the issue was settled.

The engineers designing the Lunar Lander were told to give it short legs. A landing spot was chosen in the rocky uplands, partly in case lowlands and valleys had pools of dust.

The issue of how much interstellar dust there is affects more than just how old the moon is and what a lunar landing station should look like. NASA and the USSR continued to do research in this area as they have a vested interest in knowing the actual value. It is, after all, relevant to the health of satellites and space stations. (In 1998, there were more than 600 satellites orbiting the Earth.) The more space debris that there is, the more robust (and expensive) that the satellites have to be. To that end, there have been theoretical calculations. There have been measurements done by shining lasers into space. There have been measurements based on the chemistry of deep-sea sediments. And NASA put up a satellite, the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) to measure space debris. It went up in 1984. All of these independent tests show the rate to be on the order of tens of *thousands* of tons per year, rather than tens of *millions* of tons as Pettersson hypothesized. Therefore instead of a hundred feet of lunar dust, we should see about 1/1000 of that amount: about 1/8 of a foot, or a little over an inch.

This, of course, is EXACTLY what the astronauts did see. (Note that the Moon has what you would have to call moon quakes. These have been recorded by instruments left on the moon. The Moon also has gravity even if it is quite a bit less than that on Earth. Moon quakes, along with gravity, cause the dust to accumulate at the bottoms of mountains. Therefore the amount of dust does vary to some degree from place to place on the moon.)

The amount of data supporting this lower rate of stellar debris is so extensive that even creationists are impressed. At the “Christian Answers” web site there is a creationist technical paper on this topic which admits that the depth of dust on the moon is consistent with the mainstream age and history of the solar system[2]. Their abstract concludes with:

"It thus appears that the amount of meteoritic dust and meteorite debris in the lunar regolith and surface dust layer, even taking into account the postulated early intense bombardment, does not contradict the evolutionists' multi-billion year timescale (while not proving it). Unfortunately, attempted counter-responses by creationists have so far failed because of spurious arguments or faulty calculations. Thus, until new evidence is forthcoming, creationists should not continue to use the dust on the moon as evidence against an old age for the moon and the solar system."

Two points are worth emphasizing.

First, the amount of dust on the Moon is consistent with a multi-billion year solar system. If the solar system is just a few thousand years old, then the extra dust must have been planted there by God! Since the amount of moon dust surely can have no affect whatsoever on anything on Earth, living or otherwise, what possible reason would God have to plant that extra dust on the Moon? It seems to be incomprehensible.

Moreover a somewhat higher dust level in the past is not a valid argument when trying to reconcile the amount of dust. The amount of dust on the Moon is about a million times higher than what it would be if the Moon was just a few thousand years old. That is six orders of magnitude. Moreover it begs the question: why would God need to have so much dust around as He created the universe?

Second, this example shows outright fraud on the part of creationists, it especially demonstrates fraud from that creationist icon Henry Morris.

Morris’ book that described his moon dust argument was published in 1974, well after measurements were made in space showed the lower values for space debris. Yet Morris calls Hans Pettersson's readings the "best measurements", which is surely an incorrect statement since Petterson himself admitted using equipment not designed to measure space dust and also admitted guessing at the percentage of dust that came from space.

Morris also talks about the "considerable fear" of the astronauts sinking into the space dust. But his book was published eight years after Surveyor I had actually exploredthe surface of the moon and taken pictures of the amount of dust! Regardless of any debate as to the age of the Earth or the Moon or the amount of interstellar dust raining down on the Moon, surely there was no basis for any such fear. That statement is at best incredibly ignorant, and at worst is an obvious lie.But, of course, the average person in the street has no idea whatsoever how much space dust is landing on the Moon.

So this is exactly the sort of argument that will convince someone who WANTS to believe in a Young Earth. You simply have to tell lies...

[1] Hans Peterson, "Cosmic Spherules and Meteoritic Dust," Scientific American, Vol. 202, February, 1960, p. 132.
[2] www.christiananswers.net/aig/creation/s93news.html, referenced on June 18, 2008

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