Searching for dark matter, the antiuniverse, and our cosmic roots
Space Shuttle Endeavour, soon to embark on its final flight, will deploy the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Mounted on the International Space Station, the device will search for anti-matter and dark matter.
Anti-matter consists of particles of the same mass but opposite charge as the subatomic particles we generally think of (like electrons and protons). We don’t encounter anti-matter in our everyday lives (unless we enjoy science fiction) because it is produced in particle accelerators and because it is explosively annihilated when it comes in contact with ordinary matter.
The dearth of anti-matter in the universe is a big problem for the big bang. The big bang should have produced equal quantities of matter and anti-matter. Yet the universe consists of mostly matter.
“If there’s matter, there must be antimatter. The question is, where’s the Universe made of antimatter?” asks AMS developer Samuel Ting. The search for “a realm of the Universe that few believe exists” has made the AMS a matter of controversy. Many physicists believe that if an antiuniverse existed, matter-antimatter collisions at the boundary between the two realms would have already been detected.
Dark matter, if it exists, is invisible matter which exerts a gravitational pull on visible objects. There is not enough mass in the visible components of galaxies to hold together, so astronomers have postulated the presence of dark matter to balance things out. While dark matter is needed to justify certain aspects of the big bang idea, creationist cosmology models work whether it exists or not.
The AMS will look for “telltale footprints” left by collisions of dark matter particles, “chunks of antimatter from the far Universe,” and whatever other particles are contained in the cosmic rays normally destroyed by our atmosphere. The AMS will bend cosmic rays around a magnet surrounded by particle detectors designed to identify particles by precisely measuring their energy, charge, and behavior.
Many discoveries in science have been made by hypothesizing that something unseen must exist to explain observable behavior and then looking for that mystery player. While the rather astronomical cost of the detector is not a subject for debate in this forum, a search for dark matter to explain the observable behavior of spatial phenomena “could reshape modern understanding of the universe” (NASA). But contrary to the expectations of many, no such discovery can peer back into time and determine “how our universe began and evolved” (CNN coverage).
Unisexual lizard species: evolutionary dead-end or created reproductive strategy?
A clone-capable lizard has been bred in the laboratory. A cross of two species of the whiptail lizard produced four hybrid females which have produced four generations of healthy cloned offspring.
Organisms which can clone themselves are common among plants and invertebrates, and more than 80 have been discovered among fish, amphibians, and reptiles (See www.cell.com/trends/genetics/abstract/S0168-9525(10)00229-5). Many have wondered how genetic diversity could be perpetuated in such species and how such a clone-capable species could arise in the first place. This study has demonstrated at least one way.
Genetic studies of the Aspidoscelis whiptail lizard, in which 7 of the 12 known species exist as unisexual cloned female populations, have suggested that certain hybrids were clone-capable and that others became so after acquiring an extra set of chromosomes from a male. “But for all the evidence of these historical hybridizations, it has been remarkably difficult to observe in the present.”
While some are hailing this accomplishment as proof of “how new parthenogenetic lizards could evolve in nature,” nothing evolutionary has happened here. No evidence that new genetic information was created has been offered. No progress has been made toward production of a new kind of creature. (Many species, generally capable of interbreeding, can be part of the same created kind.) This fine bit of lizard husbandry has succeeded in producing lizards from lizards. This is is variation within a kind, not evolution.
God evidently created certain creatures with the ability to reproduce in the absence of males. This ability would keep the population alive and allow the creature to continue filling its ecological niche during unfavorable times. Furthermore, by allowing a mechanism by which the cloning ability is enabled when certain hybrid species emerge, those hybrids are able to clone themselves to create a population group. Research with salamanders (see link below) has suggested that sexual reproduction may occur intermittently in these sorts of cloned populations, producing viable animals having multiple sets of chromosomes (polyploidy). It is possible that this may prove to be a way of adding genetic diversity to a cloned population.
Resistance to assimilation into the (eco)collective befuddles The Guardian.
Pointing to the insidious role of “pulpit power” in preventing Americans from jumping aggressively onto the environmentalist bandwagon, The Guardian seeks to portray the Cornwall Alliance as the culprit. The author is perplexed that “among evangelicals, you often see a vitriolic reaction aimed towards environmentalism.” He complains that the strict environmentalist agenda is not commonly preached in churches. And he is seemingly distressed that many conservative Christians don’t accept the politically correct version of man-made global warming. In the wake of the recently enacted United Nations resolution announcing a new era for Mother Earth’s rights, Christians who refuse to jump on the bandwagon risk appearing to be a danger to the world.
Resisting the Green Dragon, produced by the Cornwall Alliance, warns Christians that radical environmentalists base their agenda on an evolutionary interpretation of earth’s history. They consider human beings of no more value than any other life form. Their policies threaten life, liberty, the economy, the poor, the unborn, and the minds of children. As Bible-believing Christians we see the “dominion mandate” of Genesis 1:28 as a call for a balanced view of environmental stewardship. We are responsible to care for our world, administering resources wisely for the good of mankind. But The Guardian considers Genesis 1:28 “one of the most contentious verses in the Bible.”
“Nutcracker Man” was neither man nor nutcracker.
Paranthropus boisei, an extinct non-human primate, has undergone dental work to determine what it ate. Long thought to be a nut-eater because of its massive jaw and big molars, studies in 2008 failed to find the scratches nuts should have left on its teeth. Now carbon isotope analysis adds credence to the idea that the creature munched grass. Researchers drilled P. boisei’s teeth to collect enamel and assayed the enamel for carbon isotopes left over from its meals. The proportion of carbon-13 isotope found was more consistent with tropical grasses than with nuts.
Most carbon in nature is carbon-12. A tiny amount is carbon-13, a non-radioactive form having one extra neutron per atom. Plants utilize carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, but the first step varies. Most plants, including those that make nuts, first form a three-carbon compound. Others, such as tropical grasses, start with a four-carbon compound. Plants utilizing the three-carbon approach discriminate against carbon dioxide containing carbon-13.
The findings defy the conventional view of “early hominid diets.” “Frankly, we didn’t expect to find the primate equivalent of a cow dangling from a remote twig of our family tree,” said researcher Matt Sponheimer. Another paleoanthropologist, Peter Ungar, commented that this study “reminds us that in paleontology, things are not always as they seem.”
On the evolutionary version of the human family tree, P. boisei is considered a distant relation, an evolutionary dead-end that branched off of the australopithecines and became extinct. (The surviving Homo branch supposedly progressed to evolve into humans.) This study claims therefore to give us insight into the diet of “early human lineages.”
Increasingly, research on hominid skeletal remains has revealed that some (like Nutcracker Man and Lucy) are fully apes, whereas others (like Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal) are fully human. The shared ancestral branch has not been found. This does not surprise us, since God made man in His image rather than from ancestral primates.
In fact, the word hominid is actually an evolutionary term used to group humans and our supposed primate relatives. But no matter how much we anthropomorphize primates, they’re not people. Indeed, “in paleontology, things are not always as they seem.”
Carboxydotrophs—microbes that derive their energy from carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide—are said to be a clue to the earth’s early atmosphere.
Microorganisms which subsist on carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide have been found near deep-sea thermal vents, in the soil, and even in chimney scrapings. LiveScience reports on some in the Uzon-Caldera hot springs on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Investigators say that these microbes are not only consuming carbon monoxide but also producing it. No further details are provided about this as-yet-unpublished study.
Plenty of inferences are provided, however. Evolutionary scientists claim that earth’s “early atmosphere” prior to 2.5 billion years ago consisted of primarily “carbon dioxide and possibly methane.” Because of this study, the researchers conjecture that microbes like these could have increased atmospheric carbon monoxide, forcing other microbes to “develop strategies for coping with the high concentrations” of this toxic gas.
Carboxydotrophs are known to subsist on carbon monoxide, turning it into carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas. Most of these can also live on carbon dioxide and hydrogen, essentially running the same chemical reaction in reverse. Thus, the actual discovery here is not unique. The proposal that these organisms drove evolution by creating a toxic atmosphere, however, is pure conjecture.
Creationists are not shocked to find exotic life-forms thriving in unusual places. When God created the earth and filled it with living things, He created fully functional creatures suited for many environments and with the capacity to adapt to others. The “extremophiles” may well have occupied a crucial ecological niche from the beginning.
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