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Galactic Supernova Remnant Disproves Young-Earth Creationist Prediction

Not only can new scientific discoveries put to the test whether or not God exists and performed the role of Creator, they can also discriminate between competing models for creation, including models that claim to be biblically based. On December 1, 2007, a dramatic example of such a discovery appeared in the Astrophysical Journal.

Since 1994, scientists within the young-earth creationist community have insisted that the scientists and theologians at Reasons To Believe must be wrong about their interpretation of the Genesis 1 creation days as consecutive long time periods. They cite a certain set of observations of the Milky Way Galaxy (MWG) as running counter to what one would expect from an old-universe perspective. The anomaly to which they refer is the lack of greatly expanded supernova remnants (see here and here) in the MWG.

The young-earth creationist argument proceeds as follows:

When a massive star nears the end of its burning lifespan it undergoes an enormous explosion. As a consequence of that explosion, remnants of the star’s material expand outward from the site of the explosion. This expansion is driven by forces powerful enough to sustain it for a few hundred thousand years. Thus, the failure of astronomers to observe widely expanded supernova remnants (SNRs) in the MWG demonstrates that Earth’s galaxy has existed for less than a few hundred thousand years.1 In the words of Jonathan Sarfati, young-earth creationist author and physical chemist, the lack of widely expanded supernova remnants “is an excellent test of whether the universe is old or young.”2

As I pointed out in my book A Matter of Days 3 the very existence of supernova remnants proves that our galaxy and other galaxies must be at least several million years old. Supernova eruptions occur only when massive stars have burned up nearly all of their nuclear fuel. This burning process requires anywhere from a few million to hundreds of millions of years.

As for the supernova remnants, the more the remnant expands, the more difficult it is for astronomers to distinguish that remnant from the background of the ripped up remains of previous supernova eruptions. In all galaxies powerful tidal and magnetic forces operate to tear apart supernova remnants once they reach a certain size. For this reason alone, regardless of how many millions or billions of years old the MWG may be, astronomers will experience great difficulty in detecting widely expanded supernova remnants. However, astronomers do not need to discover a lot of these remnants to disprove the young-earth argument. The discovery of even one such widely expanded remnant is sufficient to establish that the universe must be older than a few tens of thousands of years.

Not all galaxies have had as many past supernova eruptions as the MWG. Dwarf irregular galaxies, like the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, for example, consequently show a much lower density of supernova remnants. A few years ago, after an initial search of these two galaxies, [one team of astronomers found two supernova remnants] whose expansion rates and remnant diameters established that the remnants were 95,000 and 25,000 years old respectively.4 Since then, [other such supernova remnants], provably older than the bounds of the young-earth creation model, have been found in those galaxies.5

Even in Earth’s own galaxy, the young-earth claim is proving to be false. Within the halo of the MWG, supernova remnants stand out more prominently against the background because supernova eruptions occur there more infrequently than in the galaxy’s disk. Two astronomers, Jeroen Stil and Judith Irwin, measured the age of the supernova remnant, GSH 138-01-94, located in the far outer edge of our galaxy and discovered it to be 4.3 million years old.6

In 2002, astronomers found a structure just a few hundred light-years away primarily located in the constellation Antlia, subtending nearly 24 degrees across the night sky, whose radio and X-ray features appeared to perfectly match the profiles of supernova remnants. Given that the structure is indeed a supernova remnant, those features demonstrated that the structure must be at least one million years old.

Thanks to a new study of the Antlia structure performed by seven astronomers from South Korea and three from the United States, there is no reasonable doubt that it must be a supernova remnant.7 These researchers obtained far-ultraviolet observations of the structure with the Far-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (known as the FIMS or the SPEAR satellite) that show the unmistakable radiative cooling features of a supernova remnant. Furthermore, the Antlia supernova remnant is not the only disk remnant in the MWG proving to be far older than what the young-universe model can tolerate. Three American astronomers measured the age of the supernova remnant G65.2+5.7 to be about 300,000 years.8 Therefore, even in the disk of our own galaxy, the young-earth prediction that widely expanded supernova remnants indicative of ages in excess of tens of thousands of years do not exist has proven incorrect.

  1. Keith Davies, “Distribution of Supernova Remnants in the Galaxy,” Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, 1994, Technical Symposium Sessions (Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 1994): 175-84; Danny R. Faulkner, “The Current State of Creation Astronomy,” Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Creationism, 1998, Technical Symposium Sessions (Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 1998): 210; Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati, and Carl Wieland, The Revised & Expanded Answers Book (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2000), 87; Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Evolution (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1999), 113; Jerry Williams, Geochronology: The Other Side of the Story (Greeley, CO: “For the Sake Of” Publishing, 2000), 28-30; Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004), 346-50.
  2. Sarfati, Refuting Compromise, 347.
  3. Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004), 203-4.
  4. R. M. Williams et al., “Supernova Remnants in the Magellanic Clouds. IV. X-Ray Emission from the Largest Supernova Remnant in the Large Magellanic Cloud,” Astrophysical Journal 613 (2004): 948-55; R. M. Williams et al., “Supernova Remnants in the Magellanic Clouds. V. The Complex Interior Structure of the N206 Supernova Remnant,” Astrophysical Journal 628 (August 1, 2005): 704-20.
  5. Sean P. Hendrick, Stephen P. Reynolds, and Kazimierz J. Borkowski, “An Fe-Ni Bubble in the Small Magellanic Cloud Supernova Remnant B0049-73.6,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 622 (April 1, 2005): L117-L120; F. D. Seward et al., Chandra Observation of the Magellanic Cloud Supernova Remnant 0454-67.2 in N9,” Astrophysical Journal 640 (March 20, 2006): 327-34; R. M. Williams and Y.-H. Chu, “Supernova Remnants in the Magellanic Clouds. VI. The DEM L316 Supernova Remnants,” Astrophysical Journal 635 (December 20, 2005): 1077-86; R. M. Williams, Y.-H. Chu, and R. Gruendl, “Supernova Remnants in the Magellanic Clouds. VII. Infrared Emission from Supernova Remnants,” Astronomical Journal 132 (November 2006): 1877-89; Rosa N. Williams et al., “The N19 HII Complex in the SMC: Multiple Supernova Remnants Forming a Proto-Superbubble,” Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society 38 (2006): 1114; R. N. Williams et al., “New High Resolution X-ray Studies of Magellanic Cloud Supernova Remnants,” Proceedings of the ‘The X-ray Universe 2005’ September 26-30, 2005 in El Escorial, Madrid, Spain. A. Wilson, ed. Vol. 1, (Noordwijk: ESA Publications Division, 2006): 375-76.
  6. J. M. Stil and J. A. Irwin, “GSH 138-01-94: An Old Supernova Remnant in the Far Outer Galaxy,” Astrophysical Journal 563 (December 20, 2001): 816-27.
  7. Jong-Ho Shinn et al., “Far-Ultraviolet Cooling Features of the Antlia Supernova Remnant,” Astrophysical Journal 670 (December 1, 2007): 1132-36.
  8. R. L. Shelton, K. D. Kuntz, and R. Petre, “G65.2+5.7: A Thermal Composite Supernova Remnant with a Cool Shell,” Astrophysical Journal 615 (November 1, 2004): 275-79.