Throughout the past five decades, our scientific confidence in a hot big bang cosmic creation event that is perfectly consistent with what the Bible for more than two thousand years has taught about the origin and history of the universe1, has become progressively greater. Two scientific advances that could deliver even greater certainty in the biblically predicted hot big bang creation model would be a much more accurate measure of the distance to the center of our Milky Way Galaxy and an even more definitive test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Distance to the Galactic Center
The bottom and most foundational rung to the cosmic distance scale ladder is the distance between the Sun and the center of our galaxy. The cosmic distance scale ladder, in turn, is foundational for determining the cosmic expansion rate, the age of the universe, and precisely what kind of cosmic creation model best explains the origin and subsequent history of the universe.
At the center of our Milky Way Galaxy is a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*. Through measurements of “S-stars” orbiting the supermassive black hole, astronomers have determined that its mass equals 4.02 ± 0.16 million times the mass of the Sun.2
S-stars are young stars with masses greater than the Sun that have recently settled into their nuclear burning phase. They formed in star clusters more distant from the galactic center and migrated into close orbits around our galaxy’s supermassive black hole.
The biggest and brightest of the S-stars is a star with the colorful name, S0-2. S0-2 weighs in at 13.6 ± 2.0 times the Sun’s mass.3 S0-2 orbits the supermassive black hole closer than any of the other S-stars (see figure below), once every 16 years.4 This year S0-2 will make the closest approach in its orbit to the supermassive black hole.
Figure: S-stars in the Vicinity of Sagittarius A*, the Supermassive Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy. Image credit: M. Habibi et al., Astrophysical Journal 847, id. 120.
Astronomers have been accurately measuring the movement of S0-2 in its orbit about the supermassive black hole for the past 12 years. As S0-2 completes its passage through its closest approach to the supermassive black hole, astronomers then will possess a precision determination of the period of S0-2’s orbit. From Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation and laws of motion, knowledge of a body’s orbital period translates into knowledge of its mean orbital diameter in kilometers or any other length units. Then, through an application of the plane geometry theorem used universally by surveyors, an accurate measure of the angular diameter of S0-2’s orbit yields the distance from Earth to the galactic center in kilometers.
Already, in tracking the orbits of S0-2 and the next nearest S-star to the supermassive black hole, S0-38, astronomers have produced the most accurate and reliable distance to the galactic center. That distance is 25,640 ± 460 light-years.5 In a recently published paper, a team of eleven astronomers alerted the astronomical community that within months their measurements of S0-2’s orbit will produce an even more accurate distance to the galactic center.6 At an estimated 1 percent uncertainty, this distance measure will rank as the most accurate and reliable in the cosmic distance scale ladder. It will significantly improve our measure of the cosmic expansion rate, the age of the universe, and our understanding of the details of the cosmic creation event.
Testing General Relativity
On the assumption that general relativity reliably describes the dynamics of bodies of all different masses everywhere throughout the universe, astrophysicists have produced powerful space-time theorems establishing that the universe has a beginning, including a beginning of space and time, that implies a Causal Agent beyond space and time who created the universe.7 These theorems and their theological implications are so well established today that general relativity ranks as the most exhaustively tested and best-proven principle in physics.8 This exhaustive testing, however, is primarily limited to bodies experiencing relatively weak and moderate gravitational fields.
Astronomers presently lack tests on the reliability of general relativity for bodies experiencing extremely powerful gravitational fields, like the fields that exist in close proximity to supermassive black holes. Several months ago, a team of seventeen astronomers based on 19 years of observations of the orbits of S0-2 and S0-38 published “the first fully self-consistent test of the gravitational theory using orbital dynamics in a strong gravitational regime, that of a supermassive black hole.”9 The seventeen astronomers found no evidence for a hypothesized fifth force of physics that arises in certain unified field theories.10 They reported no deviation from the dynamics predicted by general relativity.11
The eleven astronomers continuing to measure S0-2’s orbit report that with the coming close approach of S0-2 to our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, they expect to detect the relativistic redshift on S0-2’s radial velocity.12 Such a detection will be the first measurement of its kind. They also claim that their continued monitoring of S0-2’s orbit beyond 2018 will enable them to test the advance of the periastron of S0-2’s orbit (the advance of the point in S0-2’s orbit where it is closest to the supermassive black hole) predicted by general relativity.13
These more exhaustive tests of general relativity will serve to strengthen our confidence in the biblically predicted big bang creation model for the universe. They also will strengthen our confidence even more in the space-time theorems and in the theological implications—namely, of a Causal Agent beyond space and time—of those theorems.
Featured image: The Center of the Milky Way Galaxy at Infrared and X-Ray Wavelengths. Image credit: NASA