Get Out and See the Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years (2.4×1019 km) from Earth. It contains some trillion stars, which is about 3 times more than our Milky Way galaxy.

Although it appears more than six times as wide as the full Moon when photographed through a larger telescope, only the brighter central region is visible to the naked eye or when viewed using binoculars or a small telescope.

Here is what this galaxy looks like through a large telescope:

All the regular stars we see are within our local Milky Way galaxy. Most of these visible stars are several hundred or several thousand light years away.

Now consider going outside to see the Andromeda galaxy in person, per directions below. First, prepare yourself that what you will actually be able to see is a small, faint glowing patch, like a tiny cloud of white mist.

Even though that appears unspectacular, I still am impressed every time I see the Andromeda galaxy that the light entering my eyes started on its way 2.5 million years ago. The first of the four major Pleistocene ice ages was starting about then. The main human ancestor that we know from that time was Homo habilus. His brain was about half the size of ours, and he was just figuring out how to chip stones into sharp tools.

Viewing the Andromeda galaxy

Here is a star chart, with two ways to hop to Andromeda galaxy from nearby constellations. The first method, using the constellation Cassiopeia (see yellow “(1)” and yellow arrows) is probably the easiest. Cassiopeia is shaped like a “W”, and is nearly overhead around 8:00 in Nov-Dec. The four corners of the big square of Pegasus (the stars Alpheratz, Scheat, Markab, and Algenib on the star map) are visible to the naked eye, as is Mirach and Almach. But I cannot see the other little stars labeled “…And” on this map.

The Andromeda galaxy itself is almost directly overhead in the early evening each year in November-December. Some people are able to spot it with their unaided eyes, though I cannot. It should work fine with binoculars, if you patiently scan around the correct area, and only expect to see a tiny fuzzy patch, not a giant spiral. You need a fairly clear night, without a bright moon, and away from bright lights. A suburban back yard can work. Now is a good time to try this, since the moon is in its dark phase for the next week.

You might want to lie down on your back or in a recliner for looking straight up. Younger children may not be able to handle and use binoculars well enough. Using a telescope takes more set-up than binoculars, but then the galaxy is locked in view. Low magnification power works better. I have introduced a number of neighborhood children to Andromeda this way, after showing them the glorious spiral image above, so they know what that fuzzy thing in the telescope really is.

Bonus viewing this month: Venus is visible, looking like a brilliant white star, after sunset near where the sun went down.

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About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 80 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
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4 Responses to Get Out and See the Andromeda Galaxy

  1. Jim Thinnsen says:

    “Even though that appears unspectacular, I still am impressed every time I see the Andromeda galaxy that the light entering my eyes started on its way 2.5 million years ago. The first of the four major Pleistocene ice ages was starting about then. The main human ancestor that we know from that time was Homo habilus. His brain was about half the size of ours, and he was just figuring out how to chip stones into sharp tools.”

    Still propagating your paradigm that the Bible ISN’T true but Satan’s Lie of Darwinism IS I see..
    God knew that doubters like you would come along and tell people that we don’t have to believe the Bible is true because YOU are arrogant enough to claim that YOU know better than God does about HIS Creation.. So he put in the qualifiers “And the EVENING AND THE MORNING WERE THE FIRST DAY, SECOND DAY, THIRD DAY etc.. So there would be NO AMBIGUITY..
    God wrote over 12 times that he “STRETCHED OUT THE HEAVENS” Yes, that means that the Creator of the Universe Added Photons to Light while he was Stretching it out, so what appears like “Billions of light years” Was merely God stretching out the heavens”

    God did not leave the length of the creation days open to question. He told us the exact length of each day. In Exodus 20:11, He said that in “six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day.” The context of the statement is an emphatic command. God tells the people, “remember” and “keep” the Sabbath. God then tells them how to keep the Sabbath in their daily lives. The people can tell whether they are keeping the Sabbath if they are resting on the seventh day. God then anchors the reality of the present days to the reality of the past days of creation. God has set the pattern of Israel’s work week. The “days” are the same kind of days that the people would have readily known. As it has been demonstrated previously, “day,” used with a number, means a 24-hour day. It seems obvious that all throughout Israel’s history, the people have understood this to mean a 24-hour day. Even those who hold to the long ages of Genesis 1 acknowledge the “days” of Exodus 20:8-11 to be 24-hour days.13 Therefore, the “days” of creation must also have been 24 hours in length.
    The usage of the word “day,” with a number, means a 24-hour period. The absence of the article does not alter that meaning. Further, the use of “evening” and “morning” indicates that normal time is meant in Genesis 1. God, Himself, said that the creation took only six days. We also must ask ourselves, did Moses and God deceive us by using the word “day,” when it really was a long period of time? If our answer is yes, then we should not use the Bible for any of our beliefs. For, if God can deceive us concerning the events of creation, He might have done that in regards to the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. The bottom line is that we then can have no confidence in God’s Word, if the long-day view is held. It is far better to believe God at His Word, and take the creation days as 24-hour days.

    • Jim,
      I agree with you that the simplest, most literal reading of Genesis 1-3 points to a recent creation and to the special creation (not macroevolution) of humans. But we must also ask ourselves: Was God intending to teach us physics and biology here, or was He simply working within the categories of ancient science (NOT correcting them) to bring the message of what He is like, in a form that the ancient Hebrews could relate to?

      DOES GOD TELL STORIES THAT ARE NOT TRUE?
      First, is there a pattern of God telling stories which did not actually happen, in order to communicate spiritual truths? Yes, there is. Jesus did that constantly. Indeed, “He did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Mk 4:34).

      In I Kings 20 a prophet, a spokesman for God, wants to rebuke King Ahab for sparing an enemy king. The prophet does so by disguising himself with a headband and telling a made-up story about having let a captive escape. After he got the king to agree that that sort of irresponsibility deserved judgment, the prophet whipped off his headband and revealed that this story was really about the king’s actions. But note, the story itself, like the Genesis creation narrative, was not literally true.

      When the prophet Nathan confronted David over killing Uriah and taking Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, Nathan started off with telling a story about a rich man robbing a poor man of a lamb. Nathan presented it as a true story, even though it was not. After David himself pronounced judgment on such behavior, Nathan rounded on him and said “You are the rich man in this story!” It would have been inappropriate for David to brand Nathan as a false prophet for telling a story that was not literally true. Likewise, it is inappropriate to criticize Genesis for being factually inaccurate or to criticize evolutionary creationists for pointing out this inaccuracy.

      THE FIRMAMENT

      The clear, literal reading of Genesis 1 and related passages is that on Day 2 of creation, God made a solid “firmament” or “expanse” (Hebrew raqia) that separated the primordial waters into an upper part (“waters above the firmament”) and a lower part (“waters under the firmament”), where both the upper and lower waters are ordinary liquid water:
      6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. (Gen. 1:6-7)

      The Hebrew language is quite plain on this. The folks best placed to understand the meaning of the ancient Hebrew text would be the ancient Hebrews themselves. The Septuagint translation of Genesis into Greek was done by Jewish scholars around 300 B.C. The Septuagint was an authoritative version; typically the New Testament uses the Septuagint rather than the current Hebrew texts when citing the Old Testament. The Septuagint translators rendered raqia as “stereoma” which connotes solidity. The Latin translations of this passage followed the Septuagint’s lead in rendering this word as “firmamentum,” which again connotes solidity. The Jews of Jesus’ time, followed by practically everyone up through the Renaissance, all understood the raqia to denote a solid dome or sphere above the earth. The Jewish literature of that era includes discussions, for instance, of whether this dome was made of clay or copper or iron (3 Apoc. Bar. 3.7-8).

      The rest of the Old Testament is consistent in treating the firmament as a stretched out solid sheet which separates the liquid waters above from the world below. (“raquia” denotes something that is beaten out or spread out, like a sheet of metal). The great flood of Noah was sourced by the opening of windows or floodgates in the heavens (Gen 7:11), allowing the waters above to pour through, as well as by “fountains of the deep” bringing up water from below. These floodgates were closed (Gen 8:2) at the end of the Flood to stop the water from pouring down, indicating the water is still up there.

      In Isaiah 40:22 it says that God “stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” A tent, of course, is a domed structure with a flat floor, made of relatively thin sheeting. At some point the sky will be “rolled up like a scroll” (Is. 34:4). This comports with the firmament being a relatively thin solid layer of some sort, rather than empty space. So if you actually take the Bible literally, your verses that speak of God “stretching out the heaven”s have nothing to do with creating photons in intervening space, but refer to God stretching out the sheet of the firmament “like a tent”.

      Martin Luther recognized that the Hebrew of Genesis 1 showed that the firmament here was a solid surface, with the celestial ocean above it and with the sun and moon attached to it. By the early 1500’s, some scholars (“philosophers”) were questioning this physical picture. Luther’s response was identical to the response of today’s YE creationists to evidence for an old earth. He took a firm stand on defending the plain, literal meaning of the Bible: “the Bible says it, I believe it, phooey on the scientists, and anyone who doesn’t agree with me is wicked or presumptuous”. He wrote:

      Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters… It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.
      [ Luther’s Works. Vol. 1. Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan, Concordia Pub. House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1958, pp. 30, 42, 43 ]

      See Was the “Expanse” Overhead in Genesis 1 a Solid Dome? https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/was-the-expanse-overhead-in-genesis-1-a-solid-dome/ for details on the Hebrew wording and on related verses.

      THE STATIONARY EARTH

      The literal, obvious meaning of Biblical passages such as Psalm 104:5 (“He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved”), as well as Ps. 93:1, I Chron. 16:30, Isa. 66:1, Eccl.1:5, and Josh. 10:13, is that the earth is fixed and the sun and moon move around it. Christians of Galileo’s time (both Catholics and Protestants) saw this as an important theological issue. According to Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (1615), “…to affirm that the sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and the earth revolves swiftly around the sun is a dangerous thing, not only irritating the theologians and philosophers, but injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.” Note well: “…injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.” That is what today’s YE creationism say about an old earth.

      THE USE OF SCIENCE IN CLARIFYING THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE

      I expect that you would disagree that the Bible teaches that there is a solid dome above the earth or that it teaches that the sun moves past a fixed earth. Is that because your understanding of Hebrew is superior to that of Luther or Calvin or the Jews of Jesus’ day? No, it is because you have accepted the results of modern science, and therefore you have sought some other way to understand these passages.

      There are multiple lines of physical evidence which show beyond reasonable doubt that the earth is far older than indicated in the Genesis story, e.g. angular unconformities in rock layers, and tens of thousands of annual layers in glaciers and lake sediments. ( see https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/some-simple-evidences-for-an-old-earth/ )

      If you choose to deny all that evidence and cling to a literal, young earth interpretation of Genesis, that is your choice. But recognize your inconsistency. You would accuse God of “deceiving” us by giving a creation account which transpired in six days a few thousand years ago, if in fact the earth is much older than that. Then by your logic God also “deceived” us by describing the formation of a vaulted separator with liquid waters above it, and by describing the earth as immobile, and therefore (using your words) “we should not use the Bible for any of our beliefs”.

      But if we recognize that God in his wisdom choose to speak to the Israelites within their existing scientific worldview (fixity of species, recent creation, solid dome overhead, fixed earth) without trying to correct that worldview, all these problems go away. For what Jesus was trying to convey with his story about the prodigal son, it does not matter whether there really was a prodigal son. For what God revealed about himself as sovereign, gracious Lord in Genesis, it does not matter whether there really is a solid dome up there or whether he created mankind in an instant from dust or whether he used natural processes over the course of millions of years.

      FAILED YOUNG EARTH ATTEMPTS TO DEAL WITH DISTANT STARLIGHT

      Most young earth creationists recognize that if God simply created all the intervening starlight between distant stars and us to make the universe look old, that would indeed be deceptive. Therefore they turn to solutions such as Humphreys’ Time Dilation model or Lisle’s Anisotropic Synchrony Convention. But these have been examined by competent physicists and found to be at odds with physical reality. See http://www.reasons.org/articles/the-unraveling-of-starlight-and-time
      And http://biologos.org/blogs/deborah-haarsma-the-presidents-notebook/light-matters-is-einstein-a-friend-of-young-earth-creationism/ .

      I recognize that you are trying to honor God and his word the best you are able.
      I wish you a happy Thankgiving.

      • Jim Thinnsen says:

        DOES GOD TELL STORIES THAT ARE NOT TRUE? First, is there a pattern of God telling stories which did not actually happen, in order to communicate spiritual truths? Yes, there is. Jesus did that constantly. Indeed, “He did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Mk 4:34).

        A very deceptive analogy.. Jesus made it clear when he was talking in parables and when he wasnt..

        Does THIS sound like a parable to you? Exact names and specific details

        …37As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. 39And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. So will be the coming of the Son of Man.…

        WordPress.com ScottBuchanan commented: “Jim, I agree with you that the simplest, most literal reading of Genesis 1-3 points to a recent creation and to the special creation (not macroevolution) of humans. But we must also ask ourselves: Was God intending to teach us physics and biology here,”

    • Jim,
      I did not say that every story Jesus told was a parable. My point was that he constantly told stories (whether parables or not) and made other statements which were not literally, physically accurate, in order to communicate spiritual truths. His use of parables was only one facet of that teaching mode.

      As I noted to you earlier ( in comments on https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/big-daddy-chick-tract-the-most-widely-distributed-anti-evolution-publication/
      ) , Jesus most certainly did NOT always make it clear whether he was speaking figuratively or not.

      His disciples were frequently puzzled by his utterances, (e.g. Mat 16:7, regarding the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees) and were relieved when he occasionally spoke “plainly, and using no figure of speech.” (John 16:29). Thus, if we take the witness of the gospels seriously, we should EXPECT that Jesus is normally speaking in figurative, illustrative, analogical terms when he tells or refers to a story, NOT that he intends the story to taken as literally true.

      When Jesus cleared the courts of the great Temple in Jerusalem, saying “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market”, the Jews demanded a sign to prove his authority to do this. Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Note that their question had to do with his actions regarding the physical Temple, and they were presumably standing there looking at that specific Temple, located in time and space right there. Obviously, he must be referring to that literal Temple. That is what the Jews thought, and that is where your logic leads. But, as usual, he was speaking in figurative terms: “But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (2:21).

      In the course of telling the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus makes a blanket, apparently factual statement that the mustard seed is “smaller than all the seeds on earth.” (Mk 4:31). As I see it, the point of this parable was not to make a statement about botany, but to illustrate the growth of the kingdom of God from small beginnings. Thus, I can make use of the God-given extrabiblical evidence to assess whether Jesus’s statement about seed sizes was literally true or not (it was not). And that is what I and millions of Christians do with the other statements of Jesus which seem to bear on the physical world, including Noah, the Flood, and human origins.

      The fact that Jesus referred to Noah as a specific person with specific details on the Flood has no bearing on whether the Noah story is literally true. Jesus gave a specific name (Lazarus) to the poor man in the story of the rich man and Abraham’s bosom in Luke 16:19-31. In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) Jesus provides a specific location (the road from Jerusalem to Jericho). In both that story and the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) there are far more details given than in the Noah passage you cited. So we cannot use the presence of specific names, locations, and many details to claim that a certain story is literally true, whether or not we would classify it as a parable or not.

      Jesus, as the Word and God the Son, was presumably involved in some measure with the divine initiative to give the ancient Israelites a creation story (including Noah’s Flood) which met their spiritual needs by accommodating within their physical worldview (fixity of species, relatively recent creation, etc.). Since Jesus was speaking to Jews with that same worldview and who had a high regard for the Scriptures, it was the wise and loving thing for him to do to continue to work within that physical framework, rather than teaching them modern science.

      Jesus’s point in the passage you cited was not to teach that Noah’s Flood actually happened. His point was to urge his hearers to “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Mat 24:42). Jesus wisely and effectively drew on a dramatic story (Noah’s Flood) which all his hearers were familiar with, as an illustration of unexpected and catastrophic judgement.

      Jesus did not take it upon himself to correct every misconception that his hearers had. He focused on the essentials of his identity and his mission, and left a lot of things for his followers to sort out later (e.g. do Christians need to maintain circumcision).
      As I noted up top, we are going round the same issues again and again. For any given saying, I don’t presume to know whether Jesus was speaking literally or otherwise, so I try make use of all the God-given information available. And He has provided fully adequate evidence in His creation that there was no global flood which deposited vast sedimentary rock layers and killed off all but a few pairs of terrestrial animals. If you choose to ignore or distort that evidence because it does not fit into your interpretative scheme, that is your choice. But that is not an approach I can embrace in integrity.

      And it is worth noting that plenty of conservative Christians have come to opposite conclusions from yours as to the interpretation of Genesis. A century ago, nearly all fundamentalists held that the world was millions of years old: W.B. Riley, editor of The Christian Fundamentalist and president of the Anti-Evolution League of America, stated in the 1920s that there was not “an intelligent fundamentalist who claims that the earth was made six thousand years ago; and the Bible never taught any such thing” [The Creationists, p. 45].

      I wish you well.

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