I recently purchased a new telescope hoping to get my kids interested in astronomy. For those of you who know something about telescopes, I’ll tell you it’s an eight-inch aperture, Schmidt-Cassegrain and I can see the rings of Saturn with it. I can see the moons of Jupiter and very fine detail on the surface of our moon. What I found very interesting was that if I did not enable tracking on the telescope, the planets quickly move outside the view of the eyepiece, especially for the highest magnification level. We’re moving through space – and fast. All the planets in our solar system orbit the sun (technically they all orbit their mutual center of gravity which is near the center of the sun) traversing an elliptical orbit; however, the earth’s orbit is close to circular which means we can figure out how fast it’s going using the equation for the circumference of a circle. Circumference, C can be found by multiplying pi with the diameter of orbit: C = pi * diameter. The earth is 93 million miles from the sun, so the diameter is twice that, or 186 million miles. Since the earth orbits the sun once per year, the sun’s velocity is C miles per year: C = 3.14 * 186million miles = 584 million miles per year, or about 67,000 miles per hour. I googled it and got 66,000 miles per hour so my circular orbit approximation is pretty good. Jupiter is moving too, so our relative velocity may be even faster! How is it that we fly through space at 67,000 mph, orbiting a nuclear fusion reactor (the sun) no less, without breaking apart into little bits and being thrown into deep space? Moreover, the consistency of it all is amazing. Each year, around sometime in September, depending how far north you live, the leaves begin to fall and the days get shorter. Like clockwork, the planets follow their course, the multitude of them contributing to the gravitational stability of our relationship to the sun. Even our moon is precisely the right distance from earth given its size and mass, and it’s moving too. Newton’s classical mechanics formulated by Kepler describe an elegant model of planetary motion but then Einstein came along and told us that it was all wrong. He said the earth isn’t pulled toward the sun by a force, but rather the sun is warping space-time altering the path of the earth.
The precision, consistency and accuracy of the planets’ motion bears testimony to a designer. When I see Saturn cruising through the view of my eyepiece it really strikes me how much is going on out there. I get caught up in the goings on in my job and family activities and frequently lose sight of how much God is sustaining. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that God upholds all things by the word of His power so we don’t need to worry if we’ll spin out of orbit or fly too close to the sun. Yes, you could argue that the laws of physics describe all these things but I’m pointing out that someone had to create the laws and set them in motion. Who is the designer and what does the order and enormity of the universe say about Him? Next time you’re struck by the magnificence of the heavens, remember that God specifically intended for you to feel that way – He is revealing Himself to you. Grab a Bible and check out 1 John 1:8-9 (chapter 1 of First John, verses 8-9), Romans 3:23, and of course John 3:16 to know Him more.