The Faint Sun Paradox

Then and now

About 3.86 billion years ago, around the dawn of life, the Sun was a massive 30% less luminous than it is today. Since the nuclear engine of the sun started, it's initial  core temperature of 17 million degrees Centigrade has been steadily increasing since then and so has the brightness. The vastly improbable miracle is that life began at all, since with the present atmosphere, a drop of only 1-2% in the Sun’s brightness would transform Earth into a lifeless frozen wasteland—and a 1-2% brightening would boil away the oceans and cook all life. So how did this come about?

Life began on earth about 3.86 billion years ago and though the Sun was  much colder back then the Earth’s surface temperature was about the same as it is today. The explanation for how the surface of the planet remained at a life sustainable temperature is beautifully simple and elegant but involves a vastly improbable convergence of events. Though the Sun’s radiation was 30% fainter, the level of greenhouse gases was much higher. The Earth’s atmosphere compensated for the lower solar output by trapping more heat,. This precise balancing act continued as the greenhouse effect decreased, always by just the right amount, always at exactly the right time, as the brightness of the sun increased. In itself this is stunning, but the fact that it continued for almost 4 billion years leaves you awestruck. If at any time the quantity of greenhouse gases had dropped too far or too fast or stayed too high for too long, no one would be here to make measurements and marvel at the precision.

The Ploughman and the Gardener

The whole process involved a continual dance between silicon  and oxygen rich minerals (silicates), that comprise more than 90% of the Earth's crust (quartz and mica, for example), and the continuous burial of carbon rich organic matter.

The silicates reduce carbon dioxide gas in the presence of water through chemically trapping it via the generation of carbonates. In addition to this, green plants, contribute in the reduction of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and bacteria contribute through the generation of complex carbon molecules such as sugars. For effective reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the silicates must be exposed to the atmosphere. This happens by "ploughing" the Earths crust and turning it over through plate tectonics and erosion. On the other hand bacteria and plant life needs to be buried at the right rate, before it decays or is eaten by other organisms, to contribute to the removal of greenhouse gases. It's as if a ploughman and a gardener were at work seeding and tilling.

There are other incredible "coincidences necessary for plate tectonics and the presence of silicates themselves - that's another story in itself.



Prayer Reflection

For a moment, think about the great care and forethought God the Father put into the ordering of the enviroment, so that life could emerge, not just any random life, but your life in particular. He formed the earth and tilled the soil and from this garden He brought you forth (Genesis 2:7). He continues to till the soil for you providing you with food through the labor of others, with shelter through the labor of others, and with energy through the labor of others. Have you thanked Him for what He has done?... is doing?...,will do?. Have you remembered your brothers and sisters who serve you? Do you pray for them? Hope for them? He brought them forth also.

Now place yourself in the presence of God the Father, and become aware of how He is looking upon you with unfathomable love. Reflect on how God rejoiced when you came into being, as a master artist rejoices at His finished work.

You are greater than the  Earth because you are made in His image and likeness. The Earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35) but you are made for eternal life. The Earth obeyed His will and formed exactly as He desired. But you, how will you form. You have the capacity to say no to God or to say yes. How will you respond to the invitation to become like His son Jesus, to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit?, to share in His Divine nature. If you choose life, you can become a source of life for others.

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