© 1989, 2000 by Creation Research Society. All rights reserved.
Is The Sun An Age
CRSQ Volume 26(2) September 1989
Don B. DeYoung and David E. Rush
Questions on the age of
the sun necessarily hinge on how it produces its enormous energy. Long-age
evolutionists favor thermonuclear fusion, the only known process that
could last for billions of years. Young-age creationists counter that
the evidence for fusion is scanty at best, and many have readily adopted
data which seems to show that the sun is shrinking. If so, it could
be heating itself by gravitational collapse instead of fusion. However,
such data is probably in error, and, in any case is so much larger than
the rate actually necessary to produce the sun's heat as to be irrelevant.
The sun may be heated by gravitational collapse, by fusion, or a combination
of both - there is simply not enough evidence to tell. The sun is therefore
not an age indicator one way or the other.
In 1979, noted astronomer
John Eddy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and High
Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado, and Aram Boornazian, a mathematician
in private practice, made a dramatic announcement: the sun is shrinking.
By analyzing measurements of solar transits made at the Royal Greenwich
Observatory since 1836 and the U.S. Naval Observatory since 1846 (for
the original purpose of determining exactly when is high noon), they
calculated that the sun is apparently shrinking at the rate of 5 ft/hr
in diameter (0.1% per century, 2 arc-sec/century). When they considered
more tenuous data from observations of solar eclipses for the past four
centuries, they saw some evidence for a longer term solar contraction.
They pointed out that such a contraction could produce a significant
portion of the sun's luminosity (Eddy and Boornazian, 1979; Lubkin,
For those committed to
a view of the sun as several billion years old, and for those who accepted
Eddy and Boorzanian's interpretation of the data, this was seen as only
part of a long solar cycle or pulsation. Such a large rate of contraction
could obviously not be maintained for long, they reasoned, and so a
cyclic change was assumed. Actually observed solar cycles range from
five minute oscillations to, perhaps, several centuries in the case
of sunspots. Some are regular, but some are irregular coughs and sputters.
Eddy laments "I don't think that such irregularity is a mark of
health. I think it's the mark of a shaky, rickety machine" (Bell,
Some young-age creationists,
on the other hand, eagerly accepted the initial report, including Akridge,
1980; Hanson, 1981; Hinderliter, 1980a, 1980b; Steidl, 1980; Taylor,
1984; Chaffin, 1987; Barnes, 1987; Benton, 1987. They used it as evidence
that the sun generates its heat not by thermonuclear fusion but by gravitational
collapse, and hence cannot be more than 30 million years old (Appendix
A-C). Some (e.g. Akridge) also used the uniformitarian's favorite cliche,
"The present is the key to the past" to extrapolate the 5
ft/hr rate backwards to obtain a time when the sun would have engulfed
the earth. This was on the order of 20 million years ago, and would
also set an upper limit to the age of life on the earth that is obviously
much less than evolution requires. Had this been done merely to poke
fun at the evolutionist's most sacred principle, all would have been
fine. But using the data as serious evidence for a young sun, and hence
a young solar system and earth, is not valid.
There are three main problems
with placing undue emphasis on solar diameter measurements. Each of
these will be discussed in detail.
1. Eddy and Boornazian's
results are suspect.
A number of other observers
do not accept Eddy and Boornazian's conclusions. They do so on the basis
of other historical data (e.g. transits of Mercury), and a reanalysis
of the Greenwich data, which was gathered using several different instruments
by different observers at different locations (Gilliland, 1981; Brown,
1982; Labonte and Howard, 1981; Sofia, et al., 1985; Parkinson,
1983; Parkinson et al., 1980; Endal and Twigg, 1982; Krasinsky
et al., 1985; Dunham et al., 1980; Shapiro, 1980; Sofia
et al., 1979; Ribes et al., 1987; O'Dell and Van Helden,
1987). Some of these writers suggest a slight contraction of the sun,
but most see no real change. Eddy and Boornazian themselves have been
silent on the matter, neither retracting nor defending their results.
Accordingly, the controversy they stirred up seems to be settling down.
From 1984 through mid-1988, their original articles have been referred
to only four times in non-creationist scientific literature, according
to the Citation Index. These are articles by Dransinsky et al.
(1985), Sofia et al. (1985), Ribes et al. (1987),
and O'Dell and Van Helden (1987). Eddy has not referred to his articles
since their publication (again, according to the Citation Index). Even
if the initial report had been accepted by everyone, creationists would
still not be justified in applying the gross extrapolation the uniformitarian
principle entails to those results and then proclaiming "proof"
of a young earth.
Because of Eddy's prestige within the astronomical community, attention
has been given not only toward reanalyzing historical data but also
to gathering current measurements of the solar diameter (Lites, 1983;
Rosch and Yerle, 1983, Sofia et al, 1985; Morrison et al.,
1988). Methods of measurements are being standardized, special instruments
have been developed, and more accurate results should be available in
The sun diameter topic has been complicated by the efforts of some
to caricature creationists. For example, Van Till (1988) has titled
solar changes as a false "legend" which creationists alone
continue to believe and perpetuate. Three comments are in order: First,
the point is well taken, but it goes entirely too far. As the list of
references shows, discussion of solar changes still remains active both
in creationist and in secular science. The question of solar changes
has not been settled as completely as Van Till implies. A science topic
which is less than 10 years old certainly does not deserve the term
"legend." Second, creationists have always shown a
diversity of views concerning the solar diameter problem. Third,
it is unfair to connect the creation view with the word "legend."
This seems to reveal a hidden agenda of maligning the Biblical foundation
2. The suggested rate of solar diameter change is irrelevant to theoretical
If the sun were slowly shrinking, each particle as it fell inward would
release gravitational potential energy as heat. This heat would be radiated
away to space, thereby lowering the temperature, reducing the supporting
pressure, and allowing the cycle to begin again with more contraction.
The theoretical rate of gravitational collapse necessary to produce
the sun's current luminosity has been known for a long time. Its principles
were worked out by Helmholtz (1854) and Kelvin (1861). All the sun's
current heat could be produced by a contraction rate of only .02 ft
per hour (Appendix B), some 250 times less than Eddy and Boornazian's
rate. They were aware of this, and therefore suggested that only a thin
outer shell is contracting, with the massive interior staying at constant
diameter. Some creationists (Akridge, 1980; Hinderliter, 1980b; Steidl,
1979) have readily adopted this view. It enables them to keep the suggested
contraction rate (which throws the evolutionist's long time scale into
jeopardy) without overheating the sun. But it is plainly an ad hoc
hypothesis, since the only reason it is put forth is to reconcile Eddy
and Boornazian's interpretation of the data with the theoretical contraction
rate. It is certainly speculative to (1) extrapolate the questionable
5 ft/hr rate (2) in a straight line manner (it should vary inversely
as the radius) (3) for vast lengths of time, as Akridge has done (even
though he qualifies his reasoning).
The theoretical gravitational collapse rate of .02 ft/hr (at the present
value of the diameter) is much too small to be seen, if indeed it is
occurring. It will be centuries before a new generation of instruments,
sophisticated though they are, gather enough information to pass judgment.
The reason is that a rate of .02 ft/hr, or 3 miles/century amounts to
only .007 arc-sec/century, an extremely small change. The best ground-based
instruments are limited for this purpose to about .25 arc-sec of resolution.
Satellites may do somewhat better in the future, but there is probably
inherent uncertainty in determining the "edge" of a hot, active
ball of gas to preclude definitive contraction measurements of this
magnitude for generations to come. Even if the 5 ft/hr rate were true,
that is still only 2 arc-sec/century, a rate that would take many decades
to verify, especially if there really is an 80-year cyclic variation
in diameter, as Parkinson (1983) claims.
Creationists have always been justified in pointing out that
gravitational collapse could be providing the sun's heat. Theoretically,
it could have been doing so for up to 30 million years (Appendix C).
The creationist can easily live within this constraint, but the evolutionist
requires much more time. He must come up with another source of energy.
The question both must ask is, Is there any other possible source of
energy? The answer appears to be, yes, it is probable that hydrogen
fusion is energizing the sun.
3. Theory and observation indicates that thermonuclear fusion is probably
working in the sun.
Calculations show that the interior of the sun experiences an extremely
high temperature and pressure which should force nuclear fusion to occur
(Appendix A). In addition, a "laboratory experiment" that
shows fusion actually is possible is the hydrogen bomb. These two lines
of reasoning can be used to say the sun could be burning hydrogen. But
is there any evidence that it actually is? The answer is a fairly
It is generally conceded by creationists and evolutionists that a byproduct
of fusion reaction, the neutrino, is detected on earth. However, the
evidence is equivocal, since the neutrino signal is barely above the
background noise, and is only a fraction (usually put at 1/3) of what
it should be. These well known "missing neutrinos" are seen
as a major problem of modern solar physics (DeYoung, 1987 p. 64; Zeilik
and Smith, 1987 p. 276; Waldrop, 1985; Gingras, 1987). In addition,
the faint signal is nondirectional. Sensitive experiments are now underway
to determine if the signal is indeed directed from the sun. Results
are expected within two or three years.
Of perhaps greater promise is the proposed test to detect low-energy
neutrinos (Hudson, 1987; Perkins, 1988), which the present experiments
cannot detect. By conventional theory, they should be produced by nearly
all of the basic proton-proton chain reactions, whereas the high-energy
ones actually detected are produced by only .02% of the reactions. There
should therefore be more of the low-energy variety, and their detection
from the sun's direction would be virtual proof that hydrogen fusion
is powering the sun. Conversely, their lack of detection would be strong
evidence that fusion is not powering the sun. Low-energy neutrinos will
occasionally interact with gallium to produce germanium, so scientists
have gathered much of earth's meager supply of gallium and concentrated
it in two detectors. One is in the Soviet Union and the other in Western
Europe. Both are due to start in 1989. Another type of neutrino detector,
using heavy water is in the planning stage (Aardsma, 1987). The instrument
will be able to measure the direction of incoming neutrinos, an important
factor in the solar neutrino question.
The missing neutrinos have obviously sparked a great deal of international
interest. Maddox (1988) comments, "However this tale turns out,
it will remain a marvel that so much work, experimental as well as theoretical,
has been stimulated by a single discrepant observation." As if
the present data has not already caused enough trouble with standard
solar theory, there has recently emerged yet another intriguing speculation
on the mysterious neutrinos. Maddox (1988) writes,
Now there has arisen a further source of distraction in a field already
sufficiently confused - the possibility that some of the conversion
of chlorine to argon nuclei observed originally by Davis may be driven
not by neutrinos from the core of the Sun, but by solar flares. The
suggestion appears to have been made last year by Davis himself, based
on an apparent correlation between records of the Homestake equipment
and the presence of flares on the sun . . . Evidently, if this speculation
were correct, the discrepancy between the and measured fluxes of neutrinos
from the sun would be further magnified.
However, Maddox goes on to say that other detectors have found no such
correlation between solar flares and neutrinos.
There may be a correlation between sunspot number, apparent semidiameter
of the sun, solar irradiance, and neutrinos. If so, ". . . then
it is almost inevitable that the nuclear reactions rates in the core
are varying with the cycle" (Gough, 1988). What further modifications
in fusion theory this may require has apparently not yet been explored.
The neutrinos that are now detected, then, are evidence for both sides
of the solar energy question. The evolutionist says they show at least
some of the sun's heat is produced by fusion, while the creationist
says that , if they even exist, they only show that some other source
, i.e. gravitational contraction, accounts for most of the sun's energy.
It is worthwhile to note in passing what the evolutionist considers
his strongest evidence for fusion: ". . . gravitational contraction
can sustain the Sun at its present luminosity for only 15 million years;
some other energy source must be sought if we are to account for billions
of years of sunshine" (Zeilik and Smith, p. 274. italics theirs).
Now, life has existed on Earth for more than three billion years
. . . and during that interval, at least, the Sun must have been shining
more or less stably with a luminosity close to its present value (Shu).
Geological evidence, however, indicates that the terrestrial crust
has an age of several billion years, and it is surely to be expected
that the Sun is at least as old as the Earth . . . We must conclude
that, although gravitational contraction may play an important role
during short phases of stellar evolution, another source must be responsible
for most of the energy output of a star (Novotny, p. 248).
Other Solar Energy Considerations
As further evidence against fusion, and for contraction, Steidl (1980)
mentions what is now famous in solar physics as the 160 minute oscillation.
This was detected via Doppler shifts of the solar surface which were
interpreted as radial pulsations. The long period implies conditions
in the sun's interior which do not fit into modern solar theory. (Deep
shock waves would efficiently transmit energy, setting up a lower temperature
gradient.) The discoverers say bluntly, "The interpretation of
this phenomena seems to cause much theoretical difficulty" (Severny
et al., 1976).
However, the 160 minute cycle is not universally acknowledged. Woodard
and Hudson (1983) and van der Raay (1980) have not found it, and Hudson
has recently said, "Following its initial apparition . . . the
160 minute oscillation has remained elusive both theoretically and also
observationally" (Hudson, 1987). The following papers form the
majority who do accept the 160 minute oscillations and attempt to explain
it will aid those interested in pursuing this new science of "helioseismology"
and its implications: Severny et al., 1976; Hill et al.,
1986; Grec et al., 1980; Isaak, 1982; Claverie et al.,
1981; Delache and Scherer, 1983; Scherer and Wilcox, 1983; Ando, 1986.
Steidl (1980) lists "one final consideration," which is important.
He sites Cameron, an astrophysicist with Harvard University and the
Smithsonian Institution, who calculated the maximum temperature obtainable
by the standard evolutionary collapsing gas cloud theory of star formation
as one million degrees Kelvin, or much too cool to initiate hydrogen
fusion (Cameron, 1976). Steidl has a valid point. Whenever and wherever
evolutionists start talking about origins they are quickly in deep trouble.
But with their sacred philosophy, they usually just shrug their way
out of it, as Cameron does here:
The existence of this large uncertainty about the way in which nuclear
reactions turn on in the sun is an indication that the pre-main sequence
evolution of the sun is not presently understood.
This natural origin problem is a strong testimony to the supernatural
creation of the sun. The question we are addressing however, is not
one of origins but one of operation. For that we need only do some simple
calculations to arrive at a solar core temperature of 12 million K,
which (with the help of quantum mechanics) should be enough to sustain
hydrogen fusion (Appendix A).
The evidence, whether from analysis of historical data, theory, or
observation, is not conclusive as to how the sun heats itself. We can
say that the sun may be shrinking, not that it definitely is.
The following theoretical analysis of the sun's interior follows that
given in introductory astrophysics texts; for example, Astrophysics
(DeYoung), Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics (Zeilik and
Smith) and Introduction to Stellar Atmospheres and Interiors
Calculation of the sun's central pressure (Pc):
a) The ideal gas law applies throughout the sun. This seems reasonable
since the surface, which is certainly much cooler than the interior,
is 6000 K, well above the boiling point of any element. In addition,
hydrogen and helium make up 98% of the sun's mass.
b) The equation of hydrostatic equilibrium applies. This is the basic
equation for any atmosphere, and it seems reasonable to assume it describes
the balance between the inward gravitational force and the outward gas
pressure force. For a star the size of our sun, the outward radiation
force may be neglected for an order of magnitude calculation.
P = pressure
R = radial distance
r = density
g = gravity acceleration
As an approximation, let
Pc = pressure at core of sun
R = radius of sun = 7 x 108 meters (m)
Surface gravity, =
M = solar mass = 2 x 1030 kilograms (kg)
G = 6.67 x 10-11
Solar density, r = mass/volume = 1410 kilograms/meter3
Core pressure, Pc = rgR = 3 x
1014 nt/m2 = 3 x 109 earth atmospheres
Once the pressure is known, it may be used to estimate the temperature
Ideal gas law P = nkT
n = number density of particles = particles/m3 = r/m
m = average particle weight @
.5 amu, since the sun is mostly ionized hydrogen
k = Boltzmann constant
T = absolute temperature
12 x 106 K
Calculation of the theoretical (Helmholtz-Kelvin) gravitational contraction
1. Potential Energy, PE
The total solar PE may be estimated by imagining each solar particle
as falling from infinity to the solar surface:
3.8 x 1041 joules
M = solar mass
m = particle mass
2. Solar power per unit mass
2 x 10-4 j/sec.kg
L = solar luminosity = 4 x 1026 joules/sec
3. Solar contraction rate, v
v, a constant contraction rate
7 x 10-7 m/sec. = 0.01 ft/hour, radially
Maximum age of the sun considering gravitational contraction only.
Maximum age = =
1015 sec @ 30 million years
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