Product Review: Svbony SV410 9-27 x 56mm ED Mini Spotting Scope.

 

The Svbony SV 410 9-27 x 56mm ED Spotting Scope Package.

 

A Work Commenced October 29 2021

 

 

Product: Svbony SV410  9-27x 56mm HD

Place of Origin: Hong Kong

Magnification Range: 9-27 x zoom

Aperture: 56mm

Objective Focal Length: 189mm

ED Glass: Yes

Field of View: 36-78m@1000m,(2.1- 4.5 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 18mm

Close Focus: 2m(advertised), 2.16m measured

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes IPX5

Dimensions: 19.4 x 6.6 x 11.8cm

Weight: 580g(advertised), 561g measured

Accessories: Rubber objective and ocular caps, protective scope jacket, lens cleaning cloth, carrying strap, Instruction manual.

Warranty: 1 Year(limited) 

Retail Price: £179.99(UK)

Svbony is a relatively new Hong Kong-based optics firm that began supplying amateur astronomers and nature enthusiasts with a wide range of cost-effective but good quality instruments and accessories in 2014. A google search of Svbony products will reveal a large and international fan base of customers who have been pleased with their eyepieces, filters, night vision devices and more recently, the company’s extensive range of astronomical and terrestrial spotting scopes.

My introduction to Svbony came as a result of testing out a trio of high-performance binoculars from their SV 202 range. You can see those reviews here, here and here. What astonished me most about these binoculars was their excellent optical and mechanical performance at prices that were simply unbeatable in today’s market. These experiences collectively whetted my appetite to explore some more of their products, and in this review I will be sharing my thoughts on their newly launched mini-spotting scope that combines weatherproof ruggedness with good optical performance, in an ultra-portable package; enter the SV 410 9-27 x 56mm ED spotter, which first appeared on the market back in April of this year.

The scope was purchased from Amazon UK for a price of £179.99, and arrived a couple of days after ordering. Readers may also purchase the instrument directly from Svbony via this link, which will allow you to purchase the scope more cheaply if you can tolerate a longer shipping time(usually about 8 days)The instrument came well packed inside a long, white box with the blue and yellow Svbony logo, and with all of its accessories neatly packed inside. The little spotting scope was carefully placed inside a snugly fitting black foam bed, carefully cut to match the angled shape of the instrument. The accessories included a comprehensive multi-language instruction manual, a lens cleaning cloth, a nicely machined protective jacket and carry strap. The scope itself came with good quality and tightly-fitting rubber ocular and objective covers.

The Svbony mini spotting scope is very small and easy to carry, almost fitting inside a large pocket.

Ergonomics

Right from the get go, I was very impressed with the build quality of the SV 410 mini spotter. It feels very solid in the hand but only weighs about the same as a typical 8 x 32 binocular. The metal chassis (possibly a magnesium alloy or aluminium) is overlaid by a mild green rubber armouring. The helical focuser, located between the objective and the eyepiece moves nicely with a good deal of friction. There is no facility for fine focusing like on larger spotting scopes, which offer a larger range of magnifications, but in use I found that it was more than adequate to get precise focus since the highest power (27x) is not large enough to necessitate a fine focus knob.

The zoom eyepiece is clearly marked with magnifications from 9x to 27x which you can choose simply by rotating the eyepiece to dial in your preferred power boost.

The silky smooth zoom function on the eyepiece gives the user a range of magnifications from 9x through 27x.

The nicely machined aluminium eyecup is overlaid with soft, black rubber and twists upward to provide the necessary eye relief for non-eye glass wearers. It clicks into place- and you can hear it!– without any play, and holds its position very well. Another good design feature of the eyecup is its continuous motion from fully retracted to extended -that means you can dial in your preferred eye relief. I found, for example, that the eyecups pushed slightly down renders excellent results without glasses.

The nicely machined twist up eyecup on the SV 410 mini spotter.

The instrument is quoted as having an eye relief of 18mm, but I found it was a little shorter than this. I did however test the scope with the eyecup fully retracted with my eye glasses and I was able to see the entire field with no problems but it was fairly tight!

The objective and ocular lens coatings are different from those applied to their SV 202 binoculars, having a mild, greenish tint in broad daylight;

The anti-reflection lens coatings on the Svbony mini spotter are a subdued green.

The green anti-reflection coatings on the eyepiece lens.

Unlike larger spotting scopes, there is no lens hood on the Svbony SV 410 spotter, although the objective is quite deeply recessed. Having a hood would afford greater protection against stray light during use in bright daylight but if push come to shove, one can easily be made from a cardboard or plastic sheath. I guess Svbony decided against having a lens shade to keep the weight down to an absolute minimum.

The underside of the mini spotter has a brass screw socket to enable the user to quickly mate it to a monopod or tripod in field use.

The underside of the mini spotter has a socket to attach it to either a monopod or tripod.

Overall, I was very impressed with the build quality on this nifty little spotting scope from Svbony; so small it fits snugly in the palm of your hand.

I keep the tripod mounting bracket on the underside of the scope for quick release from a tripod or monopod.

Optical Evaluation

My first test looked for stray light and internal reflections when pointed at an extremely bright light source. So on went my IPhone torch set to its brightest setting. After focusing the beam from across a living room, I was able to establish that the unit displayed excellent suppression of internal reflections, but also very little in the way of diffused light and no diffraction spikes. Just like their SV 202 binoculars, this spotting scope was up there with them in terms of controlling bright light sources. I confirmed this after dark by looking at a bright sodium street lamp. All was well, as I expected, with a nice clean image of the lamp with no annoying internal reflections or diffraction spikes. Once again, good job Svbony!

Looking at the exit pupil as the scope was racked through its zoom magnification range showed a nice round light shaft throughout. The images below show the exit pupil at the 9x setting and the 27x setting for reference:

Exit pupil at 9x setting.

Exit pupil at 27x setting

Taking into the consideration the extremely fast focal ratio of this Porro prism spotting scope ( f/3.4), requiring four objective lens(one of which is an ED element) elements in three groups, I knew going in that the total elimination of chromatic aberration would be a tall order. But I was very pleasantly surprised when, after mounting the scope to a lightweight tripod, I racked it through its full range of magnifications, 9x through 27x, focused on a telephone pole set against a uniformly bright overcast sky. I noted that I could obtain a very sharp focus right up to 27x with only a modest amount of chromatic aberration seen around the edges of wires and the pole itself. Furthermore, any secondary spectrum seen was very sensitive to eye placement. I quickly learned to move my eye around to minimise it while observing my targets. In addition, moving off axis shows some lateral chromatic aberration in this scope.

The image is bright and sharp, with excellent contrast. Autumn colours really showed up beautifully using this small spotting scope from the Far East. The eyepiece is not parfocal however, thus requiring a significant amount of refocusing moving from low to high power  The zoom is continuously variable however, from 9x through 27x

The image remained very sharp right out to the field stop, with only very minor field curvature and pincushion distortion; much less severe than the vast majority of binoculars I’ve tested over the last three years!  I took the liberty of capturing some images through the Svbony mini spotting scope using my IPhone and a digi-scoping adapter.  The reader will bear in mind that these images were captured during the most adverse conditions possible with leaden rainclouds, windy gusts and outbreaks of rain. All the images are entirely unprocessed and were taken directly from my IPhone.

First up, an image of some fence posts at just under 44 yards distant. The reader will note the magnification was set to 27x and shows extremely mild field curvature at the edges of the field.

A wooden fence located at a distance of 43.8 yards, captured during very inclement lighting conditions. Next up, an image of a wooden outhouse roof about 20 yards away, showing the brilliant autumn colours coming though in the spotting scope set at 27x:

A rooftop showing greens, reds and browns of autumn.

The image blow shows autumn leaves at 24 yards distance, power of 27x:

Autumn leaves at 27x, distance 24 yards.

 

In my most severe test conducted, I took a shot of a telephone pole at a distance of 35 yards at 27x, showing some secondary spectrum. The reader will note that the amount seen by the naked eye is much less than the IPhone 7 captures:

A telephone pole and wiring set against a grey, overcast sky. 35 yards distant, 27x.

Finally, I took a picture of a BlueTit at the birdfeeder in my back garden: 15 yards distance, 27x:

Further Notes from the Field

I measured the close focus on the Svbony SV 410 mini spotting scope to be 2.16m or 7 feet, just a little longer than the advertised 2m. That’s an excellent result, closer, in fact, than a raft of other spotting scopes I’ve looked at. The nearest I got was 2.5m for the Opticron MM4 50 ED, and even the closest product to the Svbony – the Celestron Hummingbird 9-27 x 56 ED – has a close focus of nearly 10 feet! That’s great news for those who would like to use their spotting scopes as long range microscope. It’s quite amazing to be able to look at flowers, fungi, rocks, insects, and a host of other things at very close range at powers up to 27x. That, in my opinion, greatly increases its versatility.

Because it’s so small, the little Svbony spotter can be carried in a wide jacket pocket or a rucksack. Stable handholding is eminently possible at a power of 9x, but at higher powers it does benefit from some sort of makeshift support such as a beanbag. I was able to stabilise the image completely by resting the spotter on the branch of a tree while viewing a pair of Mute Swans at one of my local patches, when I could exploit the entire magnification range of the instrument.

For more hassle free results, it pays to mount the spotter on a monopod, and because these are very lightweight and fold up to very convenient sizes, they can be carried about in a rucksack, with no hassle to the rambler.

The little Svbony Spotter mates effortlessly with a lightweight, collapsible monopod.

This would be a good place to compare and contrast some of the specifications of this Svbony mini ED spotting scope to an outwardly similar instrument – the Celestron Hummingbird 9-27 x 56mm ED. As well as having a significantly closer focus than the Hummingbird, it also sports a wider field of view. The Svbony has a field of view range from 2.1 to 4.5 angular degrees, as compared with the Hummingbird at 1.9 to 4.2  degrees. This makes object acquisition that little bit easier with the Svbony The eye relief is also better on the Svbony mini spotter (18mm as opposed to 15mm). Furthermore, the Svbony is about 30g lighter than the Celestron scope. But perhaps the best news of all is that the Celestron Hummingbird ED mini spotter retails for about £299.99. That’s a 66 per cent mark up in price compared with the Svbony! Is the Hummingbird really any better? I have my doubts!

Notes Gleaned from Looking at the Night Sky

Reviewers who only carry out terrestrial observations during daylight hours are prone to miss some important details about their subject instruments. As a case in point, I use my right eye for astronomical viewing through all my telescopes, and this little Svbony was no exception. At 9x I noticed the mild astigmatism in my own eye was showing up in images of bright stars in the spotting scope’s field of view. But when I cranked up the power to 27x, the astigmatism was noticeably less. Viewing with my glasses on effectively eliminated this astigmatism. Had I confined my viewing to daytime targets, I would be none the wiser to this aberration originating from my own eyes.

Star images remained nice and tight nearly all the way to the field stop at all magnifications, just as the photos above reveal. The instrument clearly has a very flat and well corrected field.

The Svbony SV 410 mini ED spotting scope proved to be an excellent instrument for observing the Moon, which I enjoyed doing over a couple of weeks in October. There are no annoying reflections and diffraction spikes in the images it served up. A great amount of detail was gleaned at 27x; craters, maria, valleys and mountains all showed up with beautiful sharpness and contrast. I detected some slight fringing at the lunar limb, but this was also sensitive to eye placement. In comparison to my 20 x 60 Pentax PCF binocular, the Svbony showed slightly less colour fringing on the Moon but was its equal for sharpness and contrast – a very good result indeed, as I rate the latter very highly as a Moon-gazing binocular.

Bright stars like Vega reveal a trace of secondary spectrum at the highest powers as does the bright planet Jupiter, but I was just able to make out two bands straddling the planet’s equator and the four large Galilean satellites were very clearly discerned as tiny stellar-like point sources. I was also delighted to see Saturn’s majestic rings with the little Svbony spotter, and even its largest satellite, Titan.

In the late evening of October 30, I enjoyed a long clear spell with the waning Moon out of the sky. Mounting the spotter on my tripod, I examined a suite of double stars to test the resolving capabilities of this pint-sized scope. My first target was Mizar & Alcor low in the northern sky, where I was able to prize apart the tight companion to Mizar at 27x. Albireo( Beta Cygni) was beautiful and easy at powers above 12x, but most compelling at 27x. The view of the celebrated binocular multiple star system Omicron^1 Cygni was gorgeously presented at 27x, the wonderful colour contrast of its components coming through clearly. The components of Beta Lyrae were also cleanly resolved, and an especially lovely sight at 27x. Perhaps my most challenging split came when I turned the instrument on the orange star Gamma Delphini, now sinking into the west south-westerly sky. Taking that little bit extra care focusing this system at 27x revealed the prize I had been looking for; its fifth magnitude companion being just resolved with a steady gaze. This will make an excellent instrument for observing traditional binocular doubles, allowing you to study them at significantly higher powers than regular binoculars!

The main body of the Pleaides was nicely framed in the 2.1 degree true field of the Svbony SV 410 ED spotting scope at 27x. Many dozens of stars filled the field from edge to edge, including many double and multiple star systems easily discerned at the highest powers available to me. What appeared very odd to me at first, was the orientation of the stars making up this most celebrated herald of autumn. Of course, it presents the view as the eye sees it(only magnified), but being very accustomed to viewing stars through Newtonians and (in a former life), small refractors yielding upright but mirror-reversed images, it took a bit of getting used to in this quirky little spotting scope. Pointing the scope much higher up in the night sky showed me a very nice view of the great Galaxy in Andromeda(M31), together with its fainter companions M32 near the core, and M110 about a degree off to the northwest of the core of M31. The Double Cluster in Perseus, now near the zenith, stood out beautifully at 23x against a jet black hinterland. The Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula was an awesome sight at powers between 15x and 23x. And while sinking quite low into the north-western sky, I enjoyed some very fine views of M13 and M92 in Hercules.

As local midnight approached, I began observing the trio of Messier open clusters in Auriga. At 27x, one can begin to resolve these celebrated clusters into dozens of individual stars.  Later on again, in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, October 31, I went in search of M35, that wonderful, sprawling open cluster in the northern foot of Gemini, and was rewarded by a very compelling sight at powers above 20x, when several dozen of its brightest luminaries began to be resolved in the spotting scope. That weekend night vigil convinced me that a great deal of astronomy can be done with such a tiny scope as this. It’s very easy to find objects at 9x before zooming in for a closer look.

 

Conclusions & Recommendations

My experiences with the Svbony SV 410 9-27 x 56 ED spotting scope have been very pleasing indeed. Its low cost, solid optical performance, ease of handling, outdoor ruggedness and very light weight will appeal to a great many individuals wanting to make a move into the high magnification world of sport optics. And while not a full-sized instrument with its larger aperture and magnification range, this pint-sized scope will fill a niche for many, serving multiple purposes as a rich field travel and spotting telescope, as well as a high-powered long range microscope that you can take with you anywhere.

Highly recommended!

 

 

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy, including one on refracting telescopes.

 

De Fideli.

Investigating the Potential of a Modified Newtonian Reflector as a Spotting Scope.

Plotina: the author’s modified 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector, with a Vixen Erecting Adaptor and two simple Plossl eyepieces used in the investigation.

A Work Commenced October 3 2021

 

In this blog, I’ll be demonstrating the potential of a small Newtonian reflector operating in spotting ‘scope mode. This follows on from a previous blog I conducted to find a suitable optical device that would give fully erected and correct left-right orientation, just like a conventional spotting scope.

First, a few words of introduction about the telescope. It’s a 130mm f/5 SkyWatcher Newtonian reflector, so has a focal length of 650mm. Because of its open-tube design, the instrument is surprisingly light; just 3.8 kilos(8.4 pounds) and 4.1 kg (9 pounds) with the mounting bracket attached. It acclimates fully in 30-40 minutes, even when taken from a warm indoors environment to the cold of a Winter’s day. But such thorough cooling is only necessary to coax the highest powers out of the instrument.

The instrument has mirrors treated with state-of-the-art Hilux coatings(applied by Orion Optics, UK), increasing its overall reflectivity to 97 per cent. The primary mirror is the original one supplied by SkyWatcher, while the secondary flat mirror was upgraded with an Orion Optics UK secondary, having a flatter surface and smaller semi-major diameter of 35mm. This provides a small 26.9 per cent central obstruction. This size of central obstruction is significantly smaller than a Maksutov or Schmidt Cassegrain (SCT) of the same aperture. Unlike the popular Maksutov, the 130mm Newtonian(aka Plotina), can deliver a significantly lower magnification. For example, using a 32mm Skywatcher Plossl, it delivers a power of just 20x and using another Plossl of focal length 10mm, the telescope provides an amplification of 65x. I used these two eyepieces to demonstrate the spotting scope potential of the Newtonian, as many conventional spotters provide magnifications in this range(20-65x), corresponding to exit pupils of 4.7 and 2mm, respectively.

The contrast transfer is provided by subtracting the aperture of the secondary from the primary(130-35 = 95mm), thus one can expect a degree of contrast equivalent to a 95mm apochromatic refractor. Its light gathering power and resolution(0.89″) are significantly higher than a 95mm refractor, however. This has been borne out in several years of observations of lunar, planetary, double star and deep sky observing. The reader will find several other blogs I have published on this instrument in the past by clicking on the ‘Telescopes’ link on the home page.

The Erecting Adapter: Purchased for £80, the Vixen erecting adapter is a rather long appendage but delivers an upright image with the correct left-right orientation, just like a conventional spotting ‘scope. The lenses in the adapter are fully multi-coated and truncates the field a little when employing longer focal length eyepieces. You simply insert the desired eyepiece into the adapter, focus the ‘scope, and you’re off to the races!

Plotina, with the erecting adapter attached.

The instrument was used in broad daylight outside on a cool, breezy autumnal day, between heavy rain showers. It was mounted on a simple non motorised alt-azimuth(Vixen Porta II). The instrument is equipped with Bob’s Knobs screws for quick and easy collimation using a Hotech laser collimator. Alignment of the optics takes just a few seconds to get precise alignment of the secondary and primary mirrors. All of the images were taken simply by pointing my Iphone 7 into the eyepiece and taking single images. The pictures presented here are the highest resolution I can load onto this website( ~200-750KB), so are not the highest quality that I can potentially show. All the images are completely unmodified, apart from cropping. All distances quoted were measured with a laser range finder, and all the images were taken on the same breezy afternoon of October 3 2021.

Results:

Image 1: Shows a TV satellite dish at a power of 20x located at distance of 27 yards:

Image 2 shows some autumn leaves at 20x and located at a distance of 18.9 yards

Image 3 shows the branches of a tree at 20x located 43.1 yards from the scope:

 

 

Image 4 shows a hill top located at about 2 km distance at 65x

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion:

I am very encouraged by the results I obtained this afternoon. Irrespective of the scepticism of arm chair theorists, the images speak for themselves! The instrument provides very nice, high contrast and colour pure renditions of a variety of targets. Chromatic aberration is particularly well controlled, as expected, given that the Newtonian is a truly apochromatic optical system, though some secondary spectrum is introduced by the eyepieces chosen. In addition, higher quality eyepieces will give better off-axis performance, and because those oculars are inter-changeable, a greater range of  magnifications can be explored. Visually, the images are considerably better when examined with the naked eye. The reader will note that these magnifications are somewhat pedestrian for such a large telescope. Visually, much higher magnifications can be utilised profitably. And although the formidable resolving power of the instrument is clearly in evidence, the images could be improved further by employing a higher quality phone camera. What’s more, the images could also be processed lightly to bring out even more details.

The set up, though admittedly bulky by conventional spotting scope standards, could quite easily be erected in the field or, better still, in a hide, where it could be used to gather video footage or still images with the right equipment. Observing from indoors, through a clean window is also a distinct possibility, especially at lower powers. The instrument is not weatherproof however, owing to its open-tube design, so may be prone to dewing up but a small, battery-operated fan would extend its longevity in field use.

I believe this provides a very cost effective way(the entire apparatus set me back just a few hundred pounds) of obtaining high quality images compared with a high-end apochromatic spotter.

Food for thought!

Thanks for reading!

 

Dr Neil English spent most of his adult life testing and observing through telescopes of all varieties and genres. He now enjoys a new lease of life exploring the terrestrial realm during daylight hours.

 

 

De Fideli.

Schooling Evolutionary Pond Scum Merchants : A Course On Abiogenesis.

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

                                                                                              Psalm 139:14

 

Preamble

Oculus Historiae 1

Oculus Historiae 2

 

In this series of lectures, world-leading synthetic organic chemist, Professor James Tour, takes on an internet troll who claims that scientists have discovered how life got started from simple chemicals on the primordial Earth. In this series of presentations, Dr. Tour explains, in exquisite technical detail, why scientists are really clueless about how life got started.

Indeed, abiogenesis is actually impossible!

So buckle up and enjoy the ride!

 

Aims of the Lecture Series

 

An Introduction to Abiogenesis

 

The Primordial Soup

 

 Hype

 

Homochirality

 

Carbohydrates

 

The Building Blocks of Building Blocks

 

Peptides

 

Nucleotides

 

Intermediate Summary

 

Lipids

 

Chiral-Induced Spin Selectivity

 

Cell Construction & Assembly Problem Part 1

 

Cell Construction & Assembly Problem Part 2

 

Summary & Projections

What I’m Reading.

“Escaping the Beginning? Confronting Challenges to the Universe’s Origin.

Did the universe have a beginning—or has it existed forever?

If the universe began to exist, then the implications are profound. Perhaps that’s why some insist it has existed forever.

In Escaping the Beginning?, astrophysicist and Christian apologist Jeff Zweerink thoughtfully examines the most prevalent eternal-universe theories—quantum gravity, the steady state model, the oscillating universe, and the increasingly popular multiverse. Using a clear and concise approach informed by the latest discoveries, Zweerink investigates the scientific viability of each theory, addresses common questions about them, and then focuses on perhaps the most pressing question for believers and skeptics alike: If the evidence continues to affirm the beginning, what does that imply about the existence of a Beginner?

About the Author: Jeff Zweerink (PhD, Iowa State University) is an astrophysicist specializing in gamma-ray astrophysics. He serves as a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe and as a part-time project scientist at UCLA. He has coauthored more than 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals and numerous conference proceedings.

 

Some Reviews Thus Far Garnered:

“In Escaping the Beginning? Jeff Zweerink leads the reader through a fascinating tour of the scientific development of the big bang theory as well as the theological and philosophical implications of the beginning of our universe. More importantly, he addresses some of the recent speculations by scientists that attempt to circumvent both a beginning and a Beginner and shows that the best current scientific evidence continues to point to an actual beginning of our universe. The hypothesis that the universe came into existence through the actions of a transcendent intelligent Creator is still arguably the explanation that best fits the scientific data.”

—Michael G. Strauss, PhD
David Ross Boyd Professor of Physics
University of Oklahoma

 

“As an atheist detective investigating the existence of God, I hoped the evidence would reveal an eternal universe without a beginning because I knew the alternative would be hard to explain from my atheistic worldview. . . . Escaping the Beginning? examines the evidence for the universe’s beginning and the many ways scientists have tried to understand and explain the data. I wish I had his important book when I first examined the evidence. If I had, I would probably have become a believer much sooner.”

—J. Warner Wallace
Dateline-featured Cold-Case Detective
Author of God’s Crime Scene

“There are few books I read twice. but this is one of them. Although understanding this book will take effort  for anyone untrained in the sceinces, the effort is well worth it. Dr. Zweerink answered many of my questions about the existence of the multiverse, evidence for the beginning of the universe, and problems for common challenges to divine creation. . . . Escaping the Beginning? deserves wide readership by believers and skeptics alike.”

–Sean McDowell, PhD, Author of Evidence that Demands a Verdict

 

“Jeff Zweerink has done something I might have thought to be impossible. He has made cosmology accessible to scientific laypersons like me. Whether it’s quantum fluctuations, inflation theory, or the various models of the multiverse, Zweerink explains things clearly and with good humor. Even more importantly, he shows that the findings of modern cosmology give Christians even more reason to worship and adore our great God who created all things.”

-Kenneth Keathley

Senior Professor of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Does the universe have a beginning, or has the physical realm existed forever? This is an ancient question and still hotly debated today. The interest in the subject is not just from its obvious scientific significance, but also from its religious implications. Since the first cosmological and theoretical evidence for a universe with a distinct beginning was discovered a century ago, some of the most intense opposition among scientists to the notion of a beginning has been primarily on religious grounds. In this engaging book, Jeff Zweerink reviews the state of the theory and experiment, and argues that far from having been escaped, a bginning to the universe is the likely outcome of the current lines of research.”

-Bijan Nemati

Principal Research Scientist, University of Alabama in Huntsville.

“Did the universe have a beginning? If so, what would that imply? Does the origin require an Originator? Does a creation imply a Creator? What would that mean for our lives?

Paul Valery once said, “What is simple is wrong, and what is complex cannot be understood.” Dr. Zweerink splits the horns of this dilemma by raising many of the issues surrounding a cosmological beginning in an enjoyable  and accessible format for a general audience. yet this is done without sacrificing the critical details that attend the state-of-the-art.

He draws on his training and expereince as an astrophysicist to unpack the history of the big bang, its blossoming into the universe around us, and otther topics of fascination, interest, and wonder. Dr. Zweerink then goes to the heart of contemporary cosmology to find out what today’s cosmologists – our secular priests -are saying about cosmic origins.

While I might believe the scientific case for a beginning and a Creator is a bit stronger than Jeff does, his grasp of the issues and presentation style will serve his audience well.”

-James Sinclair

Senior Physicist, United States Navy.

 

“I had the privilege of debating Jeff Zweerink on two occasions. As an atheist, I was surprised to see how much common ground there was between us. And that is because Jeff is an incredibly honest and thoughtful person and his writing reflects that. Escaping the Beginning? is a well-written and carefully researched work that doesn’t shy away from challenges to cherished belief and deserves to be widely read by the community. It does what a good book should do—educate and (I hope) stimulate thoughtful debate.”

—Skydivephil
Popular YouTuber and Producer of the Before the Big Bang Series
Featuring Exclusive Interviews with Stephen Hawking, Sir Roger Penrose,
Alan Guth, and Other Leading Cosmologists

 

De Fideli.

 

A Brief Commentary on the Holy Scriptures; Tree of Life Version(TLV).

Seeing Scripture through Jewish eyes.

A song: a psalm of Asaph.
God, do not keep silent.
Do not hold Your peace, O God.
Do not be still.
For look, Your enemies make an uproar.
Those who hate You lift up their head.
They make a shrewd plot against Your people,
conspiring against Your treasured ones.
“Come,” they say, “let’s wipe them out as a nation!
Let Israel’s name be remembered no more!”
For with one mind they plot together.
Against You do they make a covenant.

                                                                                  Psalm 83: 1-5

 

Are you looking for a brand-new Bible experience? Are you searching for a translation of the Bible that restores some of the Hebrew names and terminology found in the original manuscripts? Perhaps you are looking for a Bible that will help you rekindle an interest in the sacred words of Scripture seen from a Messianic Jewish perspective? If so, I have just the recommendation for you; enter the Tree of Life Vesion(TLV).

The brain child of this ambitious project was Daniah Greenberg and her Rabbi husband, Mark Greenberg, who assembled a cadre of Messianic Jewish Bible scholars to create an all-new translation of the Holy Scriptures that gives the reader a solid flavour of the original Hebraic overtones of the Bible, with a decidely Jewish accent. But it was no small feat, given the proliferation of English Bible versions flooding the global market. Daniah had the courage and conviction to raise the funds to pay for soild scholarship within the Jewish cultural tradition, which culminated with the first edition of the TLV Bible in 2011. Daniah Greenberg now serves as President of the Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Greenberg is also CEO of the newly established TLV Bible Society.

It pays to remember that all the Biblical writers, with the possible exception of the author of the Book of Job, were Jews. Jesus Christ was Jewish. The earliest Christian meetings took place in synagogues and despite the attendant evils of anti-semitism throughout history, and its giving rise to unbiblical ideas such as replacement theology,  it is undoubtedly the case that unique insights into much of the Biblical narrative has come from the Jewish mindset. Seen in this light, it is not at all surprising that a new Bible translation made by the original people to which the Lord of all Creation first appeared should find a place on the bookshelves of many Christians in the 21st century.

The first thing you will notice about the TLV is the unfamiliar ordering of the books of the Bible, which have been re-presented in the order rendered in the Jewish tradition, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament. In Jewish parlance, these are the books of the Tanakh.

As you can see from the table of contents below, the Tanakh is further divided into three sections; the Torah (Law of Moses or Pentateuch), the Neviim (The Prophets) and the Ketuvim (The Writings).

 

The unique ordering of the books of the Old Testament(Tanakh), as experienced by Orthodox Jews.

The books of the New Testament(Good News) are presented in their traditional order. The reader will note that the Book of James is titled ‘Jacob,’ and Jude is titled ‘Judah, which  represent their transliterated Jewish names.

The New testament books are presented in their traditional order, with two transliterated names, Jacob(James) and Judah(Jude).

A sizeable number of words are presented in the original Hebrew. For example, YHWH God’s covenant name, is often referred to as Adonai,  but also as Elohim (Creator). Jesus is denoted as Yeshua, Mary(the mother of Jesus) is given her original name, Miriam; Spirit is presented as Ruach, the Levitical priests, Kohanim, the children of Israel, B’nei-Israel and Sabbath is translated as Shabbat. All Hebrew terminology can be referenced at the back of the Bible in the form of a tidy glossary. There is even a section which helps the reader pronounce these Hebrew words correctly. That said, once you get into the TLV, most of the terms sink in very easily and naturally and so provide the reader with an education in basic Hebrew religious terminology. The addition of original Hebrew words also adds to the poetic beauty of the language of the Scriptures, which are readily appreciated while reading through.

Each book of the Holy Scriptures is accompanied by a short introduction written by Messianic Jewish scholars, which provides a concise overview of the most important ideas developed in the texts. The translators intentionally chose to produce a translation that is at once respectful to more traditional translations of the Bible such as the Authorized King James Version (KJV), and more modern translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB), retaining some classic Biblical terminology such as “Behold“, “lovingkindness” and “Chaldeans.” For example, in the opening verses of the Book of Esther, the TLV refers to the Babylonian King as Ahasuerus and not Xerxes ,as you will find in looser translations such as the NIV and NLT.

This is what happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia.

Esther 1:1

In keeping with the original customs of the first Christians, the word ‘baptism‘ does not appear in the TLV, being replaced by the more appropriate term, ‘immersion.’ This is entirely justified as infant baptism was not practiced by the earliest followers of Yeshua. Consider this passage from Acts 2;

Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the removal of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

Acts 2:38

John the Baptist is likewise referred to as “John the Immerser”

Unlike virtually all other Bibles in the English language, the Adversary’s name is presented in lower case, ‘the satan‘; a most appropriate demotion to honour the ‘father of lies.’ Consider, for example, the opening passages of the Book of Job:

One day the sons of God came to present themselves before Adonai, and the satan also came with them.  Adonai said to the satan, “Where have you come from?”

The satan responded to Adonai and said, “From roaming the earth and from walking on it.

Adonai said to the satan, “Did you notice my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth—a blameless and upright man, who fears God and spurns evil.”

Job: 1:6-8

Another interesting aspect of the TLV is that it quite often departs from the usual preterite, or imperfect tense one normally experiences in traditional translations. Consider this passage from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 4 in the NASB:

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;

Matthew 4:8

Now consider the same passage in the TLV:

Again, the devil takes Him to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

Matthew 4:8

These occasional departures add to the immediacy of the situation as if it were happening right now! This is a powerful linguistic tool that the TLV scholars used to evince the poignancy of certain passages of Holy Scripture.

The poetic books of the Holy Scriptures, such as the Psalms, are most beautifully rendered and retain traditional  terms like Selah (an uncertain word thought to refer to an interlude in a musical performance). Consider, for example, Psalm 24 in the TLV:

A psalm of David.
The earth is Adonai’s and all that fills it—
the world, and those dwelling on it.
For He founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.
Who may go up on the mountain of Adonai?
Who may stand in His holy place?
One with clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not lifted his soul in vain,
nor sworn deceitfully.
He will receive a blessing from Adonai,
righteousness from God his salvation.
Such is the generation seeking Him,
seeking Your face, even Jacob! Selah
Lift up your heads, O gates,
and be lifted up, you everlasting doors:
that the King of glory may come in.
“Who is this King of glory?”
Adonai strong and mighty,
Adonai mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates,
and lift them up, you everlasting doors:
that the King of glory may come in.
“Who is this King of glory?”
Adonai-Tzva’ot—He is the King of glory! Selah

Psalm 24

 

The reader of the TLV Holy Scriptures will note that the word “church” does not appear in this translation. Instead, the scholars chose to use the words “Messiah’s community.” This is an acceptable change, as the word they were probably translating was the Greek term ecclesia, which appears in the New Testament 115 times and was often associated with a civil body or council summoned for a particular purpose. The nearest the Greek language gets to “church” is kuriakos, which is best understood as “pertaining to the Lord,” which probably morphed into the Germanic “Kirche” or “Kirk,” which is still used in northern England and Scotland to this day.

An amusing aside: Has anyone ever referred to Kirk Douglas as ‘Church Douglas’, who just happens to be an orthodox Jew?

These translative nuances matter little in the scheme of things however. Acts 11 provides a good illustration of these translation choices:

Then Barnabas left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met together with Messiah’s community and taught a large number. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christianoi.”

Acts 11:25-26

Note also that the TLV translation team used the Greek term for Christians, ‘Christianoi‘. This is also perfectly acceptable, as there was no Hebrew word for ‘Christian’ in those early days.

The scholars who created the TLV chose to use the latest manuscript evidence, which included much older texts found in the modern era compared with the King James or New King James, for example(which are based on the Textus Receptus). It thus follows a similar translation ethos to other popular Bibles in the English language such as the NIV and ESV.  On the spectrum of modern English Bible translations, which vary from the highly literal, so-called ‘word for word’ renderings, through the less literal ‘thought to thought’ translations, I would categorise the TLV as adopting a ‘middle of the road’ approach. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to look at the same passage of Scripture in a few translations. Consider, for example, the highly literal NASB rendition of Matthew 9, verses 1 through 8:

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Matthew 9:1-8(NASB)

 

Next consider the TLV equivalent:

After getting into a boat, Yeshua crossed over and came to His own town. Just then, some people brought to Him a paralyzed man lying on a cot. And seeing their faith, Yeshua said to the paralyzed man, “Take courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the Torah scholars said among themselves, “This fellow blasphemes!” And knowing their thoughts, Yeshua said, “Why are you entertaining evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to pardon sins…” Then He tells the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your cot and go home.” And he got up and went home. When the crowd saw it, they were afraid and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Matthew 9:1-8(TLV)

 

Finally, consider the same passage from a thought for thought translation like the NIV:

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home.  When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

Matthew 9:1-8(NIV)

I think it is reasonable to conclude that the TLV is a good compromise between both translation philosophies, distinguishing itself by means of introducing some Hebrew words and names but also in the way that the translators have chosen to alter the tense of some passages, as discussed previosuly.

The TLV  also follows many of the newer Bible versions in adopting a more gender neutral approach to terms such as ‘Brethern’ or ‘Brothers’. For example, the TLV renders Galatians 1:11 thus:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Good News proclaimed by me is not man-made.

Galatians 1:11 (TLV)

Compare this to the more conservative ESV:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

Galatians 1:11 (ESV)

And the NIV:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.

Galatians 1:11(NIV)

Some commentators have expressed concern that the Bible should never be altered so as to express political correctness, as in this case, where ‘brothers’ is altered for the sake of inclusiveness to read, ‘brothers and sisters.’ I understand their concerns but I have no strong opinion either way on this issue, so long as the context of the particular verse is not altered.

The TLV does have a couple of errors which I picked up while reading through the translation. The first appears in Jeremiah 34:14

At the end of seven years you are to set free every man his brother that is a Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you are [to] let him go free from you.’ But your fathers did not obey Me, nor inclined their ear.

I have inserted the missing word in bold brackets that makes the sentence comprehensible.

In addition there is a printing error in my Large Print Personal Size TLV on page 902 and 903, the heading of which reads “Obadiah 9” and “Obadiah 1,” respectively. Since these headings are meant to illustrate the chapter numbers, they are clearly unecessary as the Book of Obadiah only has a single chapter.

The typographical error niggled me at first (as an avid reader, I’m very tolerant of typos in general but view Holy Scripture in a more exalted light), but I understand that these things happen. I have written to the TLV Bible Society informing them of these issues which I hope they will be able to resolve in due course.

Some comments on the physical presentation of the TLV Holy Scriptures

The author’s TLV large print copy of the Holy Scriptures.

I was very impressed with the quality of the giant print personal size TLV that I acquired back in January 2018. It has a beautiful leathertex cover, which is soft and durable. Indeed, the current selection of faux leather Bibles(in many translations)are amazing value for money, and are superior to the cheap, bonded leather found on premium Bibles just a decade ago. The TLV also has a Smyth-sewn binding for greater durability even with prolonged use.

The Personal Size Giant Print TLV is about 9 inches long and 2 inches thick.

It has a paste-down liner, a highly readable 12.5 font size, beautiful gold gilded pages and comes with a single ribbon marker. I especially like the paper used by Baker Books(the publisher of the TLV), which is a more creamy white than the usual white pages seen n many other of my Bibles. As seen below, the text is presented in a double column format and has a generous number of cross-references. The text is line matched and shows minimal ghosting, which annoys some people more than others.

The paper in the TLV is an off white(creamy), the text is double columned, shows little bleed-through, with clear 12.5 sized font.

The back of the TLV has an extensive concordance, a short glossary explaining the Hebrew terms used in the translation, as well as a short section of prayers (including the Aaronic benediction and the Lord’s Prayer) and other  blessings for those who wish to learn a little more Hebrew. A couple of maps show Yeshua’s travels in the 1st century AD as well as a modern map of Israel. Best of all, you can acquire all of this for a very modest price: I paid about £25 for my copy but you can also get it at discounted prices from smaller retailers. See here for just one example.

I would highly recommend the TLV to avid readers of the Bible. It will come in especially handy when witnessing to Jews but can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates the deep Hebrew roots of the Christian faith.

 

Dr Neil English shows how the Christain faith has inspired visual astronomers over the centuries in his new historical work; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

Post Scriptum: You can also read the TLV(or indeed any other Bible translation) online by visiting BibleGateway.com

 

De Fideli.

For the Record: My Telescope & Binocular Collection.

Duodecim:

Duodecim: 12″ f/5 Newtonian.

12″ f/5 Revelation Dobsonian with ultra-high reflectivity coatings on original mirrors, 23 per cent central obstruction. Used regularly.

 

Octavius:

Octavius; optimus.

8″ f/6 Skywtacher Dobsonian wth ultra-high reflectivity coatings on both mirrors. Original Skywacher primary mirror, original secondary replaced by a 44mm semi-major diameter unit from Orion Optics, UK. 22 per cent central obstruction. Now retired to garden.

 

Plotina:

Plotina: 130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector.

130mm f/5 Newtonian reflector, with ultra-high reflectivity coatings, secondary mirror replaced by a slightly smaller (26.9 per cent central obstruction) by Orion Optics UK. Most frequently used grab ‘n’ go telescope.

 

Tiberius:

Tiberius: 5″ f/12 neoclassical achromat refractor.

5″ f/12 IStar sourced neo-classical refractor with R 30 objective. Subject of much former work. Now retired to garden.

 

Gaius:

Gaius, my 80mm f/5 short tube achromat.

80mm f/5 ShortTube achromatic refractor. Skywatcher objective in Opticstar tube assembly. This is the subject telescope of a new book dedicated to the ShortTube 80.

 

The Traveler:

The AstroPhysics Traveler; 80mm f/11 doublet achromat.

80mm f/11 Astrophysics labelled achromatic refractor. Orginally donated to local school but returned to me after it was found in a sad state of neglected use. School instrument replaced by a smaller, shockproof instrument. Now seeking a new home.

 

Achromatic Binoculars:

9 x 28mm roof prism Pentax DCF LV pocket binocular (2009 vintage).

The Pentax DCF 9 x 28mm LV pocket binocular.

 

8 x 42mm Barr & Stroud Savannah roof prism  super wide angle. Most used, general purpose binocular.

The Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 wide-angle binocular

 

10 x 50mm Barr & Stroud Sierra roof prism. General purpose, astronomy binocular.

The Barr & Stroud 10 x 50 roof prism binocular.

 

Pentax PCF 20 x 60 WP II: Large porro prism instrument, used on a monopod for specialised deep sky observing/solar viewing.

Pentax 20 x 60 PCF WP II porro prism binocular.

 

Future plans: converting my two Newtonian telescopes in active use to binoviewing mode. Currently investigating options.

 

De Fideli.

Origins of Life: A Closer Look Part I

Some life scientists believe they can present a truly naturalistic scheme of events for the origin of life from simple chemical substrates, without any appeal to an intelligent agency.

Here is one such scenario, presented by Harvard professor, Jack Szostak.

I invite you to study the video at your leisure.

In this work, I wish to critically appraise each of the steps Dr. Szostak presents in light of the latest research findings that show that any such scheme of events is physio-chemically untenable from a purely naturalistic perspective.

 

Video Clock Time 00.00 -10.00 min

Here Dr. Szostak sets the scene for this thesis, exploring the varied landscapes and environments under which we find life on Earth. Dr. Szostak reasonably suggests that when life first appeared on Earth, it must have done so in an extreme environment with higher temperatures and in aqueous environments with extreme pH values and high salinity. What Dr. Szostak does not acknowledge is that life was already complex when the Hadean environment first cooled enough to permit life to gain a footing. For example, there is solid isotopic evidence that the complex biochemical process of nitrogen fixation was already in place at least 3.2 Gyr ago and possibly earlier still.

References

Eva E. Stüeken et al., “Isotopic Evidence for Biological Nitrogen Fixation by Molybdenum-Nitrogenase from 3.2 Gyr,” Nature, published online February 16, 2015, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14180.html.
“Ancient Rocks Show Life Could Have Flourished on Earth 3.2 Billion Years Ago,” ScienceDaily, published online February 16, 2015, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150216131121.htm.

In a more recent study conducted by a team of scientists headed by Professor Von Karnkendonk, based at the University of South Wales, solid evidence for complex microbial ecosystems in the form of stromatolite colonies were established some 500 million years earlier at 3.7 Gyr ago.

Reference

M..J Van Krankendonk et al, Rapid Emergence of Life shown by the Discovery of 3,700 Million Year Old Microbial Structures, Nature Vol 537, pp 535 to 537, (2016).

Dr. Szostak claims the origin of life must have occurred via a Darwinian evolutionary mechanism, but the self-evident complexity of the first life forms strongly argues against this assertion, as there would not have been enough time to have done so. In other words, the window of time available for the emergence of the first forms of life on Earth is too narrow to entertain any viable Darwinian mechanism.

Dr Szostak continues by considering the vast real estate available for potential extraterrestrial life forms. Szostak presents the emerging picture; the principle of plenitude – that of a Universe teeming with planets. That is undoubtedly the case; there are likely countless trillions of terrestrial planets in the Universe.  However, new research on the frequency of gamma ray bursts (GRB) in galaxies suggests that such violent events would greatly hamper any hypothetical chemical evolutionary scenario. In December 2014, a paper in Physical Review Letters, a group of scientists estimated that only 10 per cent of galaxies could harbour life and that there would be a 95 per cent chance of a lethal GRB occurring within 4 kiloparsecs of the Galactic centre, and the likelihood would only drop below 50 per cent at 10 kiloparsecs from a typical spiral galaxy. What is more, since the frequency of GRBs increases rapidly as we look back into cosmic time, the same team estimated that all galaxies with redshifts >0.5 would very likely be sterilised. These data greatly reduce the probability that a planet could engage in prebiotic chemistry for long enough to produce anything viable.

Reference
http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.231102#abstract

In addition to GRB induced sterilization events, Dr Szostak completely ignores the remarkable fine tuning that is required to produce a planetary system that could sustain life for any length of time.

References

http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-on-earth-june-2004

http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-the-ratio-of-small-to-large-stars

Dr. Szostak entertains the possibility that lifeforms with fundamentally different chemistry may evolve and that our type of life might be the exception rather than the rule. This reasoning is flawed however, as the latest research suggests that carbon-based chemistry in a water-based solvent is overwhelmingly more likely to sustain any biochemical system throughout the Universe. Ammonia has been suggested as an alternative solvent to water but there are some(possibly insurmountable) issues with it.

References
http://www.reasons.org/articles/water-designed-for-life-part-1-of-7

http://www.reasons.org/articles/weird-life-is-ammonia-based-life-possible

Summary: Dr Szostak’s introduction presents a gross oversimplification of the true likelihood of prebiotic chemistry becoming established on Earth and other planets. Szostak does concede that our planet could be unique but is unlikely to be. The emerging scientific data however supports the view that life will be rare or unique to the Earth.

Video Clock Time; 10:00 – 32:00 min
The RNA World
In this section, Dr. Szostak presents the central dogma of molecular biology: DNA begat RNA and RNA begat proteins. Origin of life researchers were completely in the dark about how this scheme of events came into being, but in the mid-1980s, Thomas Cech et al discovered that RNA molecules could act catalytically.
Reference:
Zaug, A. J & Cech, T. The Intervening Sequence of RNA of Tetrahymena is an Enzyme, Science, 231, (1986).

This immediately suggested a way forward; perhaps RNA was the first genetic material and over the aeons, it gradually gave up these activities to its more stable cousin, DNA. Szostak gives some examples of how this ‘fossil RNA’ has been incorporated into structures like ribosomes, the molecular machines that carry out the synthesis of polypeptide chains. His interpretation of these examples as ‘fossils’ is entirely speculative, however.

Szostak then explores hypothetical loci where prebiotic synthesis of biomolecules could have taken place, including the atmosphere, at hydrothermal vents and on mineral surfaces. For the sake of clarity, let’s take a closer look at RNA nucleotides, and in particular, the pentose sugar, ribose. Dr. Szostak mentions the Urey-Miller experiments where supposed prebiotic molecules were produced when an electric discharge was passed through a reducing atmosphere including water vapour. Though widely cited in college textbooks, its validity has in fact, long been discounted by serious researchers in the field. Urey and Miller assumed the atmosphere to be reducing in nature, but it is now known that it was neutral, consisting of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and water vapour.

Reference:
The Early Setting of Prebiotic Evolution, Shang,.S
From Early Life on Earth, Nobel Symposium No. 84, Bengtson, S. (ed.), pp 10-23, Columbia University Press (1994).

unnamed

Even in the complete absence of molecular oxygen, this atmosphere could not have sustained the production of prebiotic molecules, including ribose. Only in the presence of significant quantities of molecular hydrogen has some synthesis been demonstrated.

Reference:
Schlesinger, G, & Miller, S. Prebiotic synthesis in Atmospheres containing methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Journal of Molecular Evolution, 19, 376-82 (1983).

The problem with this scenario though is that molecular hydrogen would rapidly escape from the Earth’s gravitational field and thus is entirely irrelevant to the question of prebiotic synthesis.

An Aside:

Video Clock Time: 20:00 min: The Narrow Time Window:  Reconciling Dr. Szostak’s timeline for prebiotic chemical evolution with impactor bombardment history.

At 20.00min on his video, Professor Szostak envisages the time during which prebiotic chemical evolution took place on the primitive Earth. He dates it to a period between 4.2 and 3.8Gyr ago (the supposed time of the beginning of the RNA world). Szostak presents a warm, aqueous environment during which all these reactions were taking place. But the planetary scientists modelling the impact history of the inner solar system have revealed a violent early history for the Earth. Extensive isotope analysis of terrestrial and lunar rocks, as well as cratering rate analysis indicate that the inner solar system was subjected to intense bombardment from the debris left over from the formation of the planets, which occurred between 4.5 and 3.9 Gyr ago. The cratering intensity declined exponentially throughout that era, except for a brief episode of increased bombardment between 4.1 and 3.8 Gyr ago. This is known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. One study has estimated that the total accumulation of extraterrestrial material on Earth’s surface during this epoch added a mean mass of 200 tons per square yard over all the surface of the Earth. Thus, Dr. Szostak’s relatively ‘gentle’ scenario is untenable. Realistically, the only oceans to speak of during this epoch are those of magma.

Reference:

Anbar A.D. et al, Extraterrestrial Iridium, Sediment Accumulation and the Habitability of the Earth’s Surface, Journal of Geophysical Research 106 ( 2001) 3219-36.

http://www.reasons.org/articles/no-primordial-soup-for-earths-early-atmosphere

Back to Ribose (a key component of RNA nucleotides discussed by Dr. Szostak). The only plausible mechanism for the synthesis of ribose is the so-called Butlerow reaction (also referred to as the formose reaction) which involves the coupling of the single carbon molecule, formaldehyde (methanal) in spark-ignited reactions, forming sugars of varying carbon numbers, including ribose. However, many side reactions dominate formose chemistry, with the result that the atom economy with respect to ribose is very low; up to 40 other chemical products being typically produced. This is the case in carefully controlled laboratory synthesis (read intelligently designed!), where the reaction is protected from contamination. Experimentally though, the presence of small amounts of ammonia and simple amines (which should be permissible in Szostak’s scheme) react with methanal to bring the formose reaction to a grinding halt.

Reference:
Chyba, C. & Sagan,C., Endogenous Production, Exogenous delivery and Impact Shock Synthesis of Organic Molecules: An Inventory for the Origins of Life, Nature 355(1992): 125-32.

The concentrations of ribose would have been far too low to sanction any RNA world envisaged by Dr. Szostak. Compounding this is the added problem that ribose and other simple sugars are subject to oxidation under alkaline and acidic conditions, and since Szostak presents both hot and cold scenarios on the primitive Earth, it is noteworthy that ribose has a half life of only 73 minutes at 100C (near hydrothermal vents) and just 44 years at 0C.

Reference:

Oro, J., Early Chemical Changes in Origin of Life, from Early Life on Earth, Nobel Symposium No. 84, Bengtson, S. (ed.), pp 49-50, Columbia University Press (1994).

But there are more serious reasons why Szostak’s scheme of events could ever have happened on the primitive Earth. This is encapsulated in the so-called Oxygen-Ultraviolet Paradox.
Szostak envisages prebiotic synthesis in warm aqueous environments, but on the primordial Earth, some 3-4 Gyr ago, the presence of much higher levels of radionuclides such as uranium, thorium and potassium-40 would have presented another proverbial spanner in the works. These would have been more or less evenly distributed over the primitive Earth and when the radiation they emit passes though water, it causes its breakdown into molecular oxygen, hydrogen peroxide and other reactive oxygen species. Oxygen and the associated reactive oxygen species easily and quickly destroy organic molecules; not just ribose and other sugars, but the other biomolecules mentioned by Dr. Szostak too, including fatty acids and purine & pyrimidine bases required for the production of micelles(see Part II) and nucleotides, respectively .

The other part of the paradox pertains to the produce of stratospheric ozone, which requires ultraviolet light. The ozone layer was not present during the epoch in which Szostak’s scheme of events would have occurred. The intense UV irradiance on the primitive Earth would have sundered any exposed prebiotics, further compounding the problem.

References:

Draganic, I.G., Oxygen and Oxidizing Free Radicals in the Hydrosphere of the Earth, Book of Abstracts, ISSOL , 34 (1999) .

Draganic, I, Negron-Mendoza & Vujosevis, S.I, Reduction Chemistry of Water in Chemical Evolution Exploration, Book of Abstracts ISSOL, 139 (2002).

Dr. Szostak appears to be completely unaware of Draganic’s work (though citing Hazen and Deamer’s hydrothermal synthesis work @ 31 minutes) and indeed, in and of itself, would preclude any further discussions of his scheme of events. But we shall nonetheless persevere with this analysis.

 

This work will be continued in a new post (Part II) here.