Five planets (Gr: wanderers) were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. They named these "non-fixed stars" after their gods (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn); Uranus was found in 1781, Neptune in 1846 and Pluto in 1930.1
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) thought there should be an additional planet between Mars and Jupiter. A bit later Johann David Titius (1729-1794) noted the curious spacing of the planets-each was twice the distance from the Sun as its predecessor. Johannes Bode formulated this as a "law" in 1778, leading to an intensive search for the "missing" planet.
The Asteroid Belt
In January 1801 the mystery of the missing planet unfolded rapidly. However, only a broad belt of rock fragments-the asteroid belt-was. These rings of fragments averaged 2.8 AU from the Sun (AU stands for "astronomical unit," with the earth being 1 AU from the Sun). The first four asteroids discovered were Ceres, Pallas, Vesta, and Juno-the "named" list today numbers several hundred. The biggest are 200-480 miles in diameter.2
These asteroids are not ordinary pieces of rocks and clouds of dust that never quite coalesced to become a legitimate planet. There are enough asteroid pieces in orbit today to form an object less than a tenth the mass of the moon, but originally there may have been a planet at that location with a gravity two-thirds that of the earth, a 4.5 year orbit, and perhaps a 57.5 hour day.3 Another estimate is that the original planet may have been 15 times larger than the earth!4
Some asteroids do not lie in the plane of the ecliptic and many have highly elliptical orbits that endanger the earth from time to time. Because of their high relative velocities with respect to the earth, even a small asteroid would hit the earth with tens or hundreds of megatons of energy release. An exploding planet would heavily bombard, disturb, and crater planets and moons and that, of course, is what we observe in examining objects in our solar system. The dangers of future collisions by asteroids or comets to life on earth is a very real source of concern in government science circles these days, though it seems doubtful that an adequate warning and defense system will ever be built. Earth's atmosphere destroys or weakens most objects which fall from space. Thousands of meteors the size of a grain of sand burn up in the earth's atmosphere each day. "Fireballs," which may not burn up completely and sometimes weigh up to several tons, hit the earth as meteorites at a rate of perhaps ten per year. Now that investigators are searching with opened eyes, eroded and filled-in large impact craters have been found to dot the globe, testifying to many large (and probably major) impacts in the past. [See Personal UPDATE 12/95 p. 9.]
The moon and airless planets are all heavily cratered; in fact, the evidence points to most of these craters being "early" in the history of the universe. Probably most occurred at the same time. Slowly rotating bodies, such as Mercury for example, are much more cratered on one side than on the other. The Book of the Revelation, incidentally, describes what may in fact be two such future collisions during the coming judgment (Revelation 8:8-11). [For a relevant commentary, see http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/revelation/4200.html ]
Ancient Earth Impacts
Astronomer Tom Van Flandern (see endnote #4) considers several such collisions happened during earth's history. His hypothesis is based on different compositions of various asteroids and comets. Converting the atomic time scale (that is, the conventional old-earth geological time scale) to ordinary dynamic time would place these events within the framework of human history: the Flood, the breakup of the continents, the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs, Astronomer Dodwell's observed shift in the tilt of the earth's axis in 2345 B.C., Joshua's Long Day, and so on. For now we must postpone discussing such fascinating topics.
The Planet Vulcan?
The asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter gives every evidence that a planet was once there but somehow blew up! Following Greek mythology, the planet could have been named Hephaestus, had it been known to the Greeks, or Vulcan (see endnote #2) in equivalent Roman mythology.
Hephaestus is the god of smiths and fire. He was born lame and weak and was rejected by his mother, Hera (Juno), who threw him down from Mt. Olympus. Thetis, the gentle sea god, found him and nurtured him and returned him to Olympus, but he later disputed (along with his mother) against Zeus (Jupiter), who threw him out of Olympus a second time. He fell on the island Lemnos with a thump so hard the island shook. There, restored to health, he built robots of gold and silver to support his weak legs and went on to craft many wonderful artifacts, including the twelve golden thrones of the Olympians as well as their weapons and treasures. He married Aphrodite (Venus).
The Romans called Hephaestus "Vulcan" and said that his forge was beneath Mt. Etna. He has been identified by many scholars5 as associated with Cain's Antediluvian descendant Tubal-Cain (Genesis 4:16-22).
Is there a connection between the Greek and Roman pantheon of Gods, the Flood, and a planet that perhaps once exploded? Writing of the Nephilim-who sprang from the illicit union of fallen angels with Antediluvian daughters of Eve-Ray Stedman says:
It is clear that the result of this union...was a race of mighty men, "men of renown." Here, I think, is the explanation for the stories of mythology with which many of you are familiar, the demi-gods-half man and half god- such as Hercules, and others. Mythology is no mere invention of the mind of man; it grows out of the traditions, memories, and legends which were a corruption and perversion of primitive truths. We are told in this passage that this occurred "also afterward." This "also afterward" means that after the Flood a similar incursion of demonic beings took place. This second invasion resulted in the presence in the land of Canaan of certain gigantic races which are called in our Bible, the Canaanites. Many of you who have stumbled over those long lists of "ites" in the Old Testament are familiar with these various races-the Jebusites, the Geshurites, the Hittites, etc. All of these are divisions of the Nephilim (they are also called the Rephaim in the Old Testament) who were already in the land when Abraham came to the promised land. They represent an attempt on the part of demonic powers to derail the divine program of bringing a Redeemer into the world through the human race.6,7
If a planet did explode in ancient times, showering the earth with debris, it could well have caused the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs. The pioneering research of A-Bomb Physicist Luis Alvarez and his son, geologist Walter, about 15 years ago showed that a thin layer of the rare element Iridium apparently lies in the strata of the standard geological column known as the K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary.8 This transitional layer, 65 million years ago on the atomic time scale, was a time when massive extinctions, especially of the dinosaurs, appear in the fossil record. It is now widely believed that the earth was struck at that time by a large asteroid-the impact site probably at the Yucatan peninsula.
The Flood, too, might have been triggered by this collision from space, but possibly not.9 According to the Setterfield model describing the decrease in the speed of light since the fall of man [see Personal UPDATE 3/95, p. 10 for details on his controversial theory], 65 million years BP (Before Present) in atomic time corresponds to 3005 B.C. in ordinary Biblical (dynamical) calendar time. However, Setterfield's preferred (Masoretic text) date for the Flood is ~3500 B.C., or 600 million years BP in atomic time. For those who want a credible and professional theory of how one or more exploded planets could cause great catastrophes on earth, secular astronomer Tom Van Flandern has written an excellent and stimulating book on this subject. He believes that three significant disastrous planetary explosion events are associated with the birth of all asteroids and comets and with breaks in earth's geological record.10
What Caused the Explosion?
Ordinary planets don't explode, of course! They are all far too stable or too small for a runaway nuclear explosion to occur spontaneously. There is, however, one intriguing possibility.
The terrestrial planets contain about 19% water. When the velocity of light was very high just after creation, and after radioactive decay had commenced, short-lived radioactive elements in the terrestrial planets could have heated rapidly, leading to crustal fracture on a planet from superheated steam (more on this next month). But even so, one or more planetary explosions may have been caused by intelligent, sentient beings-namely, by mighty fallen angels!
C.S. Lewis did not think it out of the ordinary for each planet to be under the governmental jurisdiction of a single great angel.11 We know from Scripture that four amazing angels, the four-faced winged Cherubim surround the throne of God. The Archangel Michael is specially charged with the care and well-being of Israel; other angels (fallen and unfallen) oversee the affairs of the nations (Daniel 10). Lucifer, the present angelic "god" of our own planet, was once the virtual Prime Minister of the universe in the throne room of God before his fall.12
The universe we live in is a fallen universe, a dying world. The fall of Satan effectively wrecked and ruined the original creation, setting it spiralling downward to disorder and decay as described by what we now call the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Romans 8:20-22). Angelic conflict was involved in the original series of events that brought about the fall of man into sin and the initial devastation of the physical universe.
Although one group of fallen angels was removed by God and confined to Tartarus at the time of the Flood (Jude 6), this does not mean angelic conflict has by any means ceased! Angelic conflict continues to this day and hour! In fact, we followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are enjoined to enter into and take part in the ongoing conflict of the ages:
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm."
Angels apparently war against one another with impressive weaponry that would amaze even the best of our modern science fiction writers. Yet the Bible boldly declares that we, the followers of Christ, have more effective weapons than angelic planet-destroying laser cannons or matter/antimatter missiles.
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our (cosmic) warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete."
2 Corinthians 10:3-6
As C.S. Lewis vividly portrays in the third book of his trilogy, That Hideous Strength, the final showdown between good and evil is set to occur on our carefully protected but beleaguered planet Earth-as the Seed of the Serpent and his angelic hosts are thrown down and enchained by Yahweh Sabaoth, Jesus the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman Eve:
"Terror and pit and snare will confront you, O inhabitant of the earth. Then it will be that he who flees the report of disaster will fall into the pit, And he who climbs out of the pit will be caught in the snare; For the windows above will be opened, and the foundations of the earth will shake. The earth will be broken asunder, The earth will be split through, The earth will be shaken violently. The earth will reel to and fro like a drunkard, And it will totter like a shack, For its transgression is heavy upon it, And it will fall, never to rise again. So it will happen in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of heaven, on high, And the kings of the earth, on earth. And they will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, And will be confined in prison; And after many days they will be punished. Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, For the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, And His glory will be before His elders. O Lord, Thou art my God; I will exalt Thee, I will give thanks to Thy name; For Thou hast worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness."
Isaiah 24:17-25:1, "Little Apocalypse"
The Grand Finale
"Uniformitarianism"-that great neo-pagan philosophy which claims that there have been long stable ages, billions of years in extent, with unchanging environmental conditions and all the delicate balances needed for life to "evolve" by "accident" from simple to complex-is in full retreat in these latter days.
At the end of the age God is apparently making the true and brief history of our universe more clear for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. This final story is far more exciting than previous generations could ever have imagined. What is most amazing of all to me is that we are not bystanders but active agents on behalf of our Creator and King.
The final chapters are surely about to unfold before us. In the service of the coming King there is much work you can do. Do make yourself available to the Commander of the Armies of the Lord!
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