Making Sense of Light from Distant Stars
"What does Scripture tell us about the distance of galaxies and the time needed for light to travel between galaxies? Light needs millions of years to travel from a galaxy like Andromeda to the Earth, doesn't it?"
Scripture does not directly speak to the issue of light traveling from distant stars and galaxies. Neither does it say anything about the amount of time it takes for the light to reach Earth, but we do have some hints. For example, on Day 4 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:14-19), God calls forth the lights in the firmament. Adam was created on Day 6. He most likely saw many of the stars at that time, which is only two days later. This suggests that the starlight had to travel much faster than we would ordinarily think, assuming a uniform space and an apparent uniform speed of light.
So perhaps space is not uniform. Indeed, both Isaiah 42:5 and Isaiah 45:12 describe the heavens as being "stretched out" by God. If the heavens are stretched out, this is clearly not describing a uniform space but one that is stretched in at least parts of it. If the very fabric of space is stretched in parts, then light would travel much faster through these "stretchy" parts than through the non-stretched parts, such as around the galaxies. A simple analogy would be, for example, a guitar sting. Tightening a string produces a higher-pitched sound when plucked, but it also causes the sound wave to travel faster through the string. Thus, stretched (tighter) space would cause light to travel faster through it.
Einstein's Theory of General Relativity very accurately describes how space is distorted around matter – the heavier the matter, the more distorted space is around it. For example, his theory would predict that a massive object (say, a neutron star) between Earth and a distant light source (a bright star or galaxy, for example) should distort space enough for it to act like a lens. As the distant light source passed behind the massive object, at some point, instead of seeing one light source a person would actually see two – one on either side of the massive object. The distance between the two apparent stars is directly related to the lens effect (space distortion). This is, indeed, what is observed, and the distance between the two apparent stars is in perfect agreement with Einstein’s predictions.
This and other similar experiments prove that space is physically distorted by matter and is not uniform. Using Einstein's General Relativity equations, Mark Amunrud at the August 2013 International Conference on Creation suggested that light from the most distant galaxies (13.8 billion light years away) would reach Earth in just about one week.
So while Scripture doesn’t directly say that light travels much faster between the galaxies to arrive on Earth quickly, it gives us enough clues to piece together the puzzle.
Today's blog posting – an answer to a creationist puzzled by the light from distant stars – was written by Dr. Donald Clark, vice-chairman of Creation Moments.
Photo: Andromeda galaxy. Courtesy of Adam Evans. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.