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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

NASA explores God's handiwork

We (humankind) should all be proud of (and awestruck by) the breadth and depth of the exploratory missions that have been undertaken on our behalf by NASA scientists within our solar system. The scope of the images and information provided by these expeditions is truly astounding and should make all of us reflect on just how grand our small corner of the universe really is. Take a moment to consider the evidence presented to us within just the last few years. You can check them out for yourself here: https://www.nasa.gov/

The Curiosity Rover's images from the surface of Mars continue to surprise and amaze. The probe has confirmed that Gale Crater at one time contained a lake with liquid water and has sent back images of Mount Sharp. The rover has even drilled into the planet's rocks and performed tests on the resulting dust to determine their chemical composition! After studying older images provided by the Mars Global Surveyor and comparing them with information provided by other probes, scientists have recently determined that there is still a large amount of water (mostly frozen) on the planet. Moreover, they have been able to determine that seasonal warming and high salt concentrations continue to make it possible for liquid water to flow over/across the interesting geologic features on Mars (present tense).

Cassini has been exploring Saturn's moons. Thanks to this probe, we have beautiful and detailed images of the surfaces of Titan and Enceladus. The most recent images of Titan have even penetrated the thick atmosphere and cloud cover of that world, giving us a glimpse of the large lakes of liquid methane and ethane and the windswept hydrocarbon rich dunes that cover its surface. We now know that somewhere deep under the icy crust of Enceladus a liquid ocean exists (we're still trying to figure out just how extensive it is).

The Dawn spacecraft has been exploring Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Of particular interest to scientists and amateur observers (like myself), have been the prominent bright spots that Dawn has observed on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. These spots are generally associated with impact craters and appear to be indicative of the exposure of materials covered by a thin crust (a type of magnesium sulfate mixed with water ice). Hence, once again, water appears to be a common compound in our solar system.

And have you seen the spectacular images from the New Horizons mission to Pluto and Charon at the outer edges of our solar system? I was astounded when I beheld an image entitled "The Mountainous Shoreline of Sputnik Planum." This fifty mile wide view of the al-Idrisi Mountains that rise up to a mile and a half above the planetoid's surface and end abruptly at a windswept sea of nitrogen ice is magnificent.

What does all of this have to do with God? Doesn't all of this tell us something about the One [or Force(s), if you prefer] that shaped these worlds and produced the phenomena that occur on their surfaces? In short, NASA has allowed us to wonder at God's handiwork and to put our own position in the cosmos into better perspective.

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