Surely every person at some time looks up at the sun and moon and the brilliant stars and asks, who positioned all these so perfectly on the face of the sky’?
People have always marvelled at the stars and planets. But they have not always realized that there is a harmony in their positions and movements, a law and order, as indeed in the whole universe. For example, seen from the perspective of the ancient Greek astronomers, celestial bodies in the universe are aimless objects. That seems to be the implication of the term ‘planet’ which means ‘wandering’. The Greeks may have thought the ‘wandering stars’ or ‘planets’ moved in unstable orbits, more or less randomly.
The ancient astronomers’ judgement was not founded upon the Oneness of the Creator Who orders everything in the universe. Inevitably they did not have a clear grasp of the orderliness of the macro-cosmos and did not seek it.
The Qur’an revealed many centuries ago that it is Allah who created the heavenly bodies and put them into their peculiar orbits. There is nothing in the Islamic teachings that argues the view that phenomena or events are random.
Do they not look at the sky above them, how We have built it and adorned , and there are no flaws in it. (50.6)
We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed therein a blazing lamp. (78.12)
The ‘blazing lamp’ referred to is the sun.
People have always been fascinated by the thousands of gleaming lights sprinkled across the night sky. Today many enjoy looking into the heavens and learning about the patterns and positions of the stars, and discovering what stars can tell us about our universe as a whole. From our planet, if very high buildings and city lights permit, we can see about 6,000 stars with the naked eye. They change in colour, size, and brilliance.
We are near enough to one particular star, the sun, to find out many details about what these celestial bodies are made of and how they function. A star is composed of gases and other substances compressed together under the force of gravity. The pressure at the core of a forming star is sufficiently intense to initiate nuclear reactions that begin generating energy. During this process, matter is converted into energy, releasing large quantities of heat and light.
The sun may not catch up the moon, nor may the night outstrip the day. Each one is moving smoothly in its own orbit ( 36.40). Here an essential fact is clearly stated, namely the existence of the solar and lunar orbits. At the time of the Revelation, it was generally believed that the sun orbited a motionless earth. This, the geocentric system, had held sway from the early second century (the time of Ptolemy). It continued to do so until the sixteenth century. Fourteen centuries ago, the Qur’an directed the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and, through them, all of mankind, towards the truth. The demonstration of the existence and details of the solar and lunar orbits is one of the recent achievements of modern astronomy.
Those who do not believe in One Creator maintain that everything comes about by chance. They do not realize that every creature in motion, from minute particles to the planets, displays on itself the stamp of the Eternal and of His Unity. Also, by reason of its movement, each of them, in some sense, takes possession of all the places in which it travels in the name of Unity, thus including them in the property of its Owner. As for those creatures not in motion, each of them, from plants to the fixed stars, is like a seal of Unity that shows the place in which it is situated to be the letter of its Maker. That is to say, each flower and fruit is a stamp and seal of unity that demonstrates, in the name of Unity, that its habitat and native place is the letter of its Maker. What all that inter-connectednes means is that one who does not have all the stars within his command does not have command over a single small particle either.
There are two other verses in the Qur’an about the sun and the moon and their usefulness to human beings, not only as light, but also as points of reference for space and time:
Allah subjected the night and the day for you, the sun and the moon. The stars are in subjection to His Command. Verily in this are signs for people who are wise. (16.12)
Allah is the One Who made the sun a lamp and the moon a light and ordained for it mansions, so that you might know the number of years and the reckoning (of the time).
Allah created this in truth. He explains the signs in detail for people who know (10.5)
The solar system comprises the sun and the nine planets that orbit it. The closest to the sun is the planet Mercury, at an average distance of 58 million km; the farthest, Pluto, is 5,900 million km from the sun. The closer a planet is to the sun, the shorter the time taken to complete its orbit. Thus, Mercury takes only 88 earth days to go round it, while Pluto orbits the sun only once in 248 earth years. Absolute time and distance are nowadays both measured in terms of light speed–a metre, for example, can be defined as the distance the light travels in a certain ‘space’ of time, in fact, 0.000000003335640952 seconds.
It is hard to think of the sun as a passing event. Nevertheless, its ‘term’ is fixed–the Qur’an is explicit on this point: And the sun runs its course for a period fixed for it (36.38). So, how long has the sun left to run? Astronomers nowadays calculate about 4.5 billion more years in its present state. It will still have nearly the same surface temperature (6.000 Â°C) and yellowish colour that it has now but it will appear about twice as bright because it will be about 60 percent bigger. Its next 4.5 billion years will have begun to take their toll on the sun’s nuclear fuel supply. What then? We don’t really know. Any calculations we make can only be made on the basis of theory.
The sun is full of gases composed of two thousand trillion tons (2x103 kg) of matter,
with the remains of other elements. For every million atoms of hydrogen there are about 85,000 helium atoms and only about 1,000 of any other kind. Pressure from all that mass compressing into the centre of the sun is high enough for the hydrogen atoms to fuse in the core to form helium. This simultaneously creates new energy which keeps the sun from collapsing further and provides the energy that allows it to (or makes it) shine. A series of nuclear fusion reactions, whose end result is the conversion of hydrogen to helium, happen on a vast scale and release very great amounts of energy in the form of heat, light, X-rays and so on. A part of this reaction must be the release of so-called neutrinos. Neutrinos are particles that interact so little with other matter that they can probably float through entire galaxies without being affected. They exist but have no mass nor any other physical property, which is like saying that they simultaneously exist and do not exist: we know they must be around by the way the movement of other (‘real’) particles is affected. If the theory about the way that the sun shines is correct, the sun should be producing about 180x1036 neutrinos each second. Obviously, only a small portion of these neutrinos will come in the earth’s direction.
The sun generates magnetic fields deep in its interior. Through mechanisms not yet fully understood, some of these fields erupt periodically through the sun’s surface, the photosphere. The high temperature and structure of the corona are produced by energy pumped from the photosphere up into the outer layer of the sun’s atmosphere along these magnetic fields.
The sun has been fusing hydrogen into helium throughout its present lifetime of 4.5 billion years, using up less than half of the available hydrogen in its core. By another 4.5 billion years, 90 percent of the available hydrogen in the core will have been converted into helium. Serious questions about the fusion rate in the sun still remain, but according to one theory, the humans of the future will face a sun that is running out of core hydrogen.
When that happens, the gas temperature and pressure will drop and the interior of the sun will collapse under the weight of the surrounding mass. The pressure in the collapsing gas will build up sufficiently for a rind of hydrogen to start burning around the core, now helium. This fusion will provide an outward force on the outermost layers of the sun, pushing them farther out than they are now. The surface of the sun will expand outward until it reaches the orbit of Venus.
Finally, this hydrogen outside the core will run out. The core of the sun will continue to contract, trying to replace the heat no longer generated by hydrogen burning. When the internal temperatures reach 100 million Kelvins, the helium (generated by the hydrogen burning) will itself start to burn. This will happen quickly, forming a carbon-rich core. Around this burned-out core, helium burning will start, and then the rind of hydrogen also will start to burn. The vast energy released by both rinds will push the sun’s outer layers further out until they reach the orbit of Jupiter. Earth will then be ‘inside’ the sun. The temperature on the surface of earth, around 6.5 billion years from now, will be around 30,000 Kelvins, and everything organic will be burned to a crisp.
Intelligent beings on earth 5 or 6 billion years from now, if any, would face the pressure to leave earth and, indeed, the solar system. They would need to have colonized planets around younger (therefore more stable) stars in order to survive. It is likely that humans in the near future will move off the earth in search of mineralogical and economic gain, whereas the future beings of our speculation will move off in order to save the species. The ageing sun will give future life a focus and a goal. And then, if we may be permitted to use the expression, a sort of Doomsday will have happened: certainly, the sun will have run to the end of its appointed (muslaqarr) time.
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- By Dr Isa Sarac
- Category: Issue 3 (July - September 1993)
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