Twinkle, twinkle, little . . . stars? Unless youʼve been living in a cave for the past decade, you’ve heard about the popular television competition Dancing with the Stars. Everyone loves a star. But the real stars are in the nighttime sky, and most of them have a dancing partner, too.
When you stare up at a twinkling point of light in the night sky, you might actually be looking at a system of stars, not just a single one. Systems of two stars, binary stars, orbit one another on a continual basis. More than 60% of the single points of light we observe at night are multiple star systems. Some are three or more stars, but such groups are usually unstable. As a professional stellar astronomer, my focus for the past 30 years has been the observation and analysis of binary stars that regularly eclipse each other (one star periodically passes in front of the other).
The variation in a binary star’s apparent brightness during an eclipse reveals helpful details about both stars, including their temperature, atmosphere, geometry, mass, and much more. Without binary stars, we could only guess what the nature of stars is! We find that they are suns similar to our own, burning in the heavens!
As a creationist who believes God created the universe only a few thousand years ago, I have discovered that these fascinating two-in-one stars shed light on another aspect of our vast, mysterious universe. These stars must be young . . . a finding that undermines deep time theories of binary star evolution!
Older Than the Stars?
Eclipsing binary stars are favorite targets of professional and amateur astronomers because their characteristics change so rapidly. Spots and other distortions—and even the time needed to complete an orbit (the orbital period)—vary fast enough to be observed well within the lifetime of a single observer, usually within months, years, or decades.
This constant change is surprising, however, if the universe is 13.8 billion years old and wearing down. Many of these changes should no longer be taking place or should be rarely or never seen by a single observer. This hints that something is wrong with dating schemes that indicate the universe is so old.
Contrary to the proposals of evolutionary astronomers, we have observed that short-period binaries lose angular momentum much faster than the big bang allows.
Here’s the problem specifically. It involves binary stars with stars like our sun (stars with magnetic activity—which cause the dark spots on the sun’s surface; most stars in the heavens are this type). When they orbit each other, a continuous change occurs.
As these stars dance together, they embrace tighter and tighter until their atmospheres combine and they are virtually indistinguishable. When they share a common atmosphere, they are called contact binaries. These are believed to be the “senior citizens” of the universe, requiring billions of years to reach this elderly condition. In fact, evolutionary astronomers believe that many contact binaries are in excess of 10 billion years old. Thatʼs nearly the age of the universe proposed in the big bang theory, which claims that the cosmos expanded from a “singularity”over the past 13.8 billion years.
These long ages are based on assumptions, not observations, about the evolution of star systems. What if these assumptions are wrong? What if observations could prove that binary stars collapse more quickly into contact stars than assumed?
If the change truly is fast, then the big bang theory would be wrong. Since most binaries with sun-like stars formed fairly early in the history of the universe, a large percentage should have become elderly contact binaries. But recent research indicates that the change really is fast. Our galaxy is filled with billions and billions of young, vibrant binary stars, which are still dancing together at a distance. So God must have created them recently!
Here’s how it works. As a sun-like star spins, protons (in the form of plasma) escape along the star’s magnetic field lines. In the process, they carry away the star’s spin or angular momentum, much as spinning skaters slow down when they spread their arms outward. Over time, fast-rotating, magnetically active stars become slow-rotating, less active stars like our present sun, which rotates only once every 25 days. This process is called magnetic braking. It happens in binaries also (except Kepler’s law tells us they spin up—the orbit becomes smaller and the period decreases).
During the past 29 years, my students and I have been observing binaries undergoing loss of angular momentum. From these observations we have obtained the average rate that their orbital periods decrease. I have surveyed the scientific literature to gather information on 124 binaries with a wide range of orbit speeds.
Contrary to the proposals of the evolutionary astronomy community, we document that the observed loss of angular momentum is much faster among the short-period binaries (rapid dual stars that orbit every 20 days or less). At this rate, they could remain as separate stars only 55–250 million years (80 million years on average) before collapsing into a contact binary. The top lifespan of 250 million years is at most only 1.8% (0.018) of the 13.8 billion years required by the big bang. So something is clearly wrong.
The astronomy community is starting to notice this discrepancy. A 2009 paper in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan noted that the rate of orbital decay of binaries is “1–2 orders of magnitude faster” than theory predicts. Although our estimate is 2–3 orders of magnitude faster (that’s around 400 times faster), the paper confirms our basic findings.
This finding is still a lot more than 6,000 years, but it is only a maximum possible lifespan. The orbits could decay in less than six days under certain conditions. If you take into account the unique physics at play during God’s creation of the universe, time may have passed faster at greater distances from earth. (But that is a different topic for another day!) Much of the orbital decay that we observe today in binary stars could have taken place during Creation Week, following the creation of the first stars on Day Four. This effectively collapses the 250 million (not 13.8 billion) years to within the six days of creation.
It appears that binaries (at least solar types—which comprise most of the stars in the universe) began their lives well detached, but their orbits are quickly decreasing through magnetic braking. Since our galaxy is still filled with rapidly rotating stars, the universe can’t be 13.8 billion years old. Otherwise, all of the binary stars would now be contact binaries or single stars (contact binaries that have coalesced into single stars). Instead, we can see that the universe is still young!
If we want to know the truth about
God’s universe, we need to begin our
investigation with the truths revealed
in God’s Word: “
In six days the LORD
made heaven and earth, the sea, and
all that in them is” (Exodus 20:11).