Minor Planet Helps Answer Comet Conundrum


It may not have an impressive name, but minor planet 2006 SQ372 has a big role to play. Could this be the answer to the old-age comet conundrum?

A research team, led by University of Washington astronomer Andrew Becker, has discovered an unusual object in the solar system. The object, a minor planet in the same class as demoted Pluto and recently discovered Sedna, is unusual because its orbit is so elongated that it will eventually take it 150 billion miles away from the sun in its 22,500-year journey there and back. Right now, however, the icy rock is around the same distance from earth as Neptune.

According to the team, this tiny rock, around 60 miles in diameter, is more than just a random speck in space: it’s a comet without the tail. “It's basically a comet, but it never gets close enough to the Sun to develop a long, bright tail of evaporated gas and dust,” Becker told the press.

But wait—there’s more. Although the research team has limited observation data to go on, this didn’t stop them from speculating about how the object formed and what it could mean. “It could have formed, like Pluto, in the belt of icy debris beyond Neptune, then been kicked a large distance by a gravitational encounter with Neptune or Uranus.” Or, “More likely . . . it came from the Oort Cloud, a distant reservoir of icy, asteroid-like bodies that orbit the Sun at distances of several trillion miles (km).”

Right now, the icy rock is around the same distance from earth as Neptune.

Let’s rewind for a moment. What did the team actually observe? An icy object with a measurable velocity in a long elliptical orbit around the sun. What does this prove empirically? An icy object orbits the sun with a measurable velocity in a long elliptical orbit. Look as closely as you like, and what you won’t find is any evidence whatsoever for the “extra facts” that the researchers give. Perhaps these are forthcoming in Astrophysical Journal, where it’s said that the researchers will publish their findings, although one would think more details would be given to support the more-sensational title of this piece.

But no flight of fancy through the solar system would be complete without a trip to the Oort cloud, that “distant reservoir of icy, asteroid-like bodies.” There’s only one problem. The Oort cloud is a hypothetical field that has never been shown to actually exist. The reason that secular astronomers want—and need—such a cloud of asteroids to exist is because they know that comets are a thorn in the side of the idea of billions of years. A comet, which is mainly dirt and ice, loses mass every time it draws close to the sun (that’s what gives it the tail we sometimes see from earth). This observable loss of mass gives an upper limit to the age of the solar system. If the solar system were billions of years old, there would be no comets left.

Knowing this to be an issue, secular astronomers have devised a means to sidestep the problem. We’ll let AiG astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle explain:

A new “minor planet” has been found.

Since comets can’t last that long [4.5 billion years], secular astronomers must assume that new comets are created to replace those that are gone. So they’ve invented the idea of an “Oort cloud.” This is supposed to be a vast reservoir of icy masses orbiting far away from the sun. The idea is that occasionally an icy mass falls into the inner solar system to become a “new” comet. It is interesting that there is currently no evidence of an Oort cloud.

This discovery is a great example of how different observational and historical sciences can be. The observations were clear and exciting: a new “minor planet” has been found. But the presuppositions and historical assumptions were plentiful: this object is likely from an unobserved, undocumented, hypothetical asteroid field around the solar system. While there is always a small possibility that an Oort cloud could exist, there’s no reason for invoking such an object except for the researchers’ prior commitment to a universe that created itself. Doesn’t it make more sense to trust the eyewitness account of the One who was actually there—and who said He made the universe in six days about 6,000 years ago?

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