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Math Moment: Math & Astronomy

astronomy

Did you know that math helps us explore outer space, learning more about the vastness of God’s creation–and how perfectly designed earth is for life?

Have you ever tried to count the stars? We can’t possibly count them all, but we can use math to estimate the number of stars. While there are different ways to do this, one way is to estimate the total mass of a galaxy (which in itself takes a lot of math) and then divide that total mass by the average mass of a star (which again takes math to estimate). So how many stars are there? Well, there’s an estimated 100 to 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone, which would then need multiplied by the number of galaxies (currently estimated to be in the trillions). That’s a lot of stars! Notice we just used math to approximate the stars in our galaxy, but we can’t fully count them all!

Yet God calls each star by name–and it’s because of His power that they continue.

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Psalm 147:4
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. Isaiah 40:26

Think about how much greater God is than we are! We can’t even count the stars, and He calls them by name and keeps them in their places. He is greater than we can even imagine.

Have you ever wondered how we know how far it is to the moon, sun, and stars? We can’t just stretch a tape measurer across these distances! Instead, we make the measurements that we can from earth and then use geometry to figure out the distances. When we do, we see that the earth is just the right distance from the sun. If it were closer to the sun, we’d burn up…if further away, we’d freeze.

Now, the earth and the other planets don’t just sit in space; they orbit around the sun in elliptical orbits. How do we know that? Again, men used math! Johannes Kepler used data that had been recorded about Mars to figure out what orbit around the sun would result in those readings. He discovered that planets orbit in ellipses, and that no matter where they are on the ellipse, if you were to go back the same amount of time and look at the resulting area formed between those two locations and the sun, it’d always be the same. So that means God governs creation so consistently that we can mathematically describe how a planet will orbit.

When Kepler shared some of his findings, he paused to praise the Creator.

"Crying out with the royal Psalmist: Great is our Lord and great His virtue and of His wisdom there is no number…To Him be praise, honour, and glory, wourld without end. Amen." [Stephen Hawking, ed. On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy. Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers, 2002, pg. 1157.]

Well, I hope that gives you a little glimpse into how math helps us explore outer space and how as we do, we see that truly, the Heavens declare God’s praises.

math history

Discover more about how we use math to explore the heavens–along with lots of other historical and present-day applications of math in Kate’s new Math History Timeline!

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