Ankylosaur - photo credit, David Mikkelson, 2012.  Used with permission

SeaSick-Saurus

A type of hadrosaur (Corythosaurs) model at the Sternberg Museum. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, June 2016

A type of hadrosaur (Corythosaurs) model at the Sternberg Museum. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, June 2016

Wait -what?” The question echoed in my mind when I first glanced at the display back in one of the corners of the museum.  “Oh really? Now, That’s awfully interesting!”  I thought, my excitement rising and interest becoming more piqued as I continued to study the display.  There was something very different about this display at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas. Most of the other fossil displays were about sea creatures or pterosaurs that would have soared above the waters.   However, this display was about hadrosaurs and ankylosaurs – dinosaurs.  They were land animals, found in the Niobrara formation with fish, clams, mosasaurs, and pterosaurs . . .  the very same layers in which I was digging for fossils that week!

Why in the world would there be fossils of land animals buried together with all of those sea creatures? Using the viewpoint of evolution and an old earth (millions of years), the Niobrara rock formation in Kansas is thought to be an ancient sea in the middle of North America.  Supposedly, fossils of the creatures living in this sea formed when the creatures died and were covered by mud at the bottom of the sea, slowly preserving them over the course of many years. To explain why we have land animal fossils buried with sea creatures, the evolutionary model says that when the waters rose and flooded, some of the surrounding land it picked up and drowned some land-dwelling dinosaurs.  As the story goes, those dead dinosaurs would have floated farther into the sea, with their bodies full of gasses and made a nice snack for sharks and other sea creatures with a hearty appetite and been buried with the remains of sea creatures and the things they ate.

Corythosaurus (type of hadrosaur) skull - like one type of dinosaur found in Kansas

Corythosaurus (type of hadrosaur) skull – like one type of dinosaur found in Kansas

Fish Fossil from Kansas

Fish Fossil from Kansas

Taking into account all of the rock and fossil formations of the area, there are a number of problems with this evolution and long-ages model, and the Biblical global flood gives a much better explanation for what we see in Kansas and worldwide.  Yes, this area of North America would have been underwater during the global flood of Noah’s day.  Sea creatures would have lived and died in the drastically swollen waters created by the flood.  They probably would have enjoyed snacking on the decaying land animals, floating in the water above, like the small armored dinosaur, Niobrarasaurus (a type of ankylosaur).  Some of the land-dwelling dinosaur fossils from Kansas have been found with shark tooth marks.

Niobrarosaurus (type of ankylosaur) foot bones display at the Sternberg Museum. Photo opyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Niobrarosaurus (type of ankylosaur) foot bones display at the Sternberg Museum. Photo opyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Beginning with one of the first American dinosaur bone diggers, Othniel Marsh (more about him here), and continuing through 2007, eight different land dinosaur discoveries have been made in Kansas.    One of the first ankylosaur plate armor sections discovered was thought to be part of a turtle shell, but after being looked at in more detail, this case of mistaken identity was cleared up.  With the ideas of long ages and no global flood firmly set in the minds of people examining these plate armor fossils, it took them a while to figure out what the fossil really was. The ideas and starting points in their minds made it hard to come to the right conclusions about the fossils they saw. In a similar way, if we allow our minds and hearts to be influenced or swayed by the messages bombarding us every day in this world, we can set ourselves up for “mistaken identities” as well.  Be sure that you stay firmly grounded in the Truth of God and His Word so that you can properly identify the people, ideas, and circumstances you encounter.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, August 2016

References:

  • Mike Everhart. Niobrarasaurus coleii. Remains of a plant eating dinosaur from the Smoky Hill Chalk. Copyright © 2003-2014 by Mike Everhart. Last updated 03/08/2014. Last accessed 8-5-16 http://oceansofkansas.com/Dinosaur.html
  • Mike Everhart. New specimen of shark scavenged dinosaur (hadrosaur) remains from the Smoky Hill Chalk (Upper Coniacian) of western Kansas. Copyright © 2005-2014 by Mike Everhart. Oceans of Kansas Paleontology. Page created 06/19/2005. Updated 03/08/2014. Last accessed 8/5/16. http://oceansofkansas.com/New-dino.html
photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, February 2016

Pterosaur Touchdown

Blue Jay feather.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Blue Jay feather. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

The stunning, blue color made a dramatic contrast to the bright green summer grass.  It was just a single Blue Jay feather sitting on the grass. Feathers always remind me of the incredibly intricate and beautiful way our creator gave birds the ability to fly (more about flight and fossils here).  But, the beautiful birds we see today are definitely not the only creatures that have been given the special ability to fly, and there is a vast variety of ways that these creatures fly.  Hummingbirds fly differently from sparrows.  Bats use air travel in a different way than insects or birds.  Dragonflies and butterflies have different ways of flight, too (more on butterflies and dragonflies here).  And although you probably haven’t seen a pterosaur flying around your backyard bird feeder, they too, have a specially designed ability for air travel (read last week’s article introducing pterosaurs here).

One thing that makes pterosaurs especially interesting is that we know these creatures could walk on all-fours, based off the tracks and pterosaur bones in the fossil record.  Sometimes people question how some of the giant pterosaurs with forty-foot wingspans (about the length of a school bus) could take off.  Wouldn’t they be too heavy for those thin, delicate wings to carry?  Actually, the special way God designed the pterosaur would make it quite the graceful sky glider.  The way their weight compares to their wing size is ideal for gliding over long distances. Your normal backyard birds bear most of their body weight on their two feet (back limbs) and use those to take off.  However, the pterosaur would use all four limbs to help it take off.  Based off fossil footprint patterns, we can tell that pterosaurs had graceful landings.  They did not end in a running land like ducks, but continued at a consistent stride, walking after landing.

Let’s take a look at pterosaur wings.  Stretch out both of your arms with the palms of your hands facing down and imagine you are a pterosaur.  Your pinky finger would be extra long – that finger alone would be longer than your entire arm length, added to the end of your arm.  Your kite-like wings would stretch from the tip of that long pinky finger all the way down to your legs, ending at either your thighs or ankles. Instead of your normal thumbs on your hand, imagine moving those thumbs up close to your elbow and flipping them so they point toward your head, instead of away from your body like all the other fingers.  This “thumb” is a good way to imagine one of the key features of pterosaur flight – the pteroid bone.  Another section of thin wing stretches from this pteroid bone up to your shoulder or neck.  These special flaps of wings allowed the pterosaur to take off and fly with more ease and grace.  More sections of wing between the legs helped allow the pterosaur maneuver more gracefully.

Notice the pteroid bones on the wings of each pterosaur (circled in the picture)

Notice the pteroid bones on the wings of each pterosaur (circled in the picture)

The careful design and intricacy of flight in pterosaurs speaks beautifully of our caring, intelligent Creator.  Evolutionary ideas try to explain pterosaur evolution by telling us that there are still just lots of undiscovered ancestors in the fossil record, also called “missing links” or “ghost lineages”.  Thousands of pterosaur fossils have been found all over the world, but never one of a creature turning into anything like a pterosaur.  With all the different types of flying creatures, the ability to fly would have had to “evolve” many different times and places if evolution were true.  With no fossil evidence of these “ghost lineages” among pterosaurs and other flying creatures, perhaps it would be good to consider an alternative: that God delicately designed all flying creatures with their special abilities on the fifth day of creation week, just a few thousand years ago.  The flying pterosaurs draw our eyes upward, to the One who made them and us.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

Terrifying pterosaurs
Photo by Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Tackling Pterosaurs

The cheerful sunshine radiated through the large windows of the Kansas ranch-style chapel that warm June afternoon.  I was part of the team taking the last set of questions at a short creation conference after an exciting week of digging fossils.  Another hand went up from a group of curious boys in the audience.  He asked how we can know the difference between male and female fossils. A very good question and one I was glad to have the opportunity to answer, even if my answer at the moment wasn’t as helpful as the boy would have liked.  The same topic had come up earlier that week, when part of our group went to look at some of the fossils from around the area on display at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.  One of the most fascinating fossil displays I saw there showed some of the differences between male and female pterosaur fossils and other differences between young and adult pterosaurs (pronounced “tear-oh-sore”).

 

Pterosaur display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas. Shows some of the pterosaur fossils that are found in the same area where the author was digging fossils

Pterosaur display at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas. Shows some of the pterosaur fossils that are found in the same area where the author was digging fossils

Pterosaurs were flying reptiles, or dragons, commonly called “pterodactyls” or “flying dinosaurs”.  Although familiar, the name “pterodactyl” really isn’t quite right for what is usually shown in movies and books.  Pterosaur is the correct name for the broad category of familiar flying reptiles you usually see grouped together with dinosaurs.  A real Pterodactylus is fairly small – around the same size as common modern birds.  The large size of the scary-looking flying monster you see in movies is actually more like Pteranodon. Both Pterodactylus and Pteranodon fall under the broader category of pterosaurs, but one of their main differences is that pteranodons do not have teeth.  The general name “pterosaur” means “flying lizard” and the more specific name, “Pteranodon”, actually means it’s a toothless flying lizard.

Display at the Sternberg Musuem showing differences between male and female pterosaur bones. Photo taken by Sara J. Bruegel, June 2016

Until recently, the differences between male and female pterosaur fossils were a mystery with little real evidence to confirm ideas people had about them.  Around 2010, a pterosaur fossil, nicknamed “Mrs. T”, was found preserved with an egg, showing that this one was definitely female.  Knowing that this one must be female, scientists have been able to see some similarities between this confirmed female and other pterosaurs they aren’t sure about.  The hip bones of females were farther apart than the males.  Males tend to have a crest on their head while females had no crest or smaller crests.  In general, female are smaller than the males of the same species.  Or at least, these are the differences that seem generally accepted by paleontologists.  Of course, they may change their minds later on, knowing that this is science and what we do in science is grow in knowledge.

Recently paleontologists have come to realize that the creature they were giving a whole new species name is actually just a female of a species that was already named.  While naming a new species is a pretty exciting idea, remember that scientists are people.  We all sometimes change our minds or make mistakes.  But our Creator and what He says about everything is reliable – including what He says about the flying creatures, like pterosaurs, that He formed just one day before people. Next week, we’ll learn more about pterosaurs and how they grow and fly.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

Tylosaur (type of mosasaur) fossil in the Sternberg Museum in Hays, KS, with Sara Bruegel

Making Mosasaurs

Mosasaur tooth tip found on the Kansas dig in June 2016

Mosasaur tooth tip found on the Kansas dig in June 2016

Sunlight gleamed off the dark, smooth surface of the object, revealing a depth of color that dramatically contrasted the light colored dirt it sat on.  It was a familiar, fascinating fossil . . . a mosasaur tooth.  Exploring the area around that tooth showed that it must have washed out from one of the layers above and the rest of the creature was probably long gone and scattered.  Three years ago, digging at a different site in the area, our team dug out what looks like part of the top of a mosasaur skull (read more about that here).  Mosasaur fossils are one type that is usually known to be found in the Niobrara rock formation of Kansas that I was digging in last month (more about the dig here).

After seeing what this creature might have looked like alive, most people would think of mosasaurs as dinosaurs that lived in the water.  For practical purposes, thinking of a mosasaur as a “water dinosaur” works, but technically only land-dwelling creatures are officially “dinosaurs”.   Probably the most accurate common name for them is “sea dragon”.   Although all creatures had vegetarian diets before the first people chose to rebel against God, we can tell from the fossil record that mosasaurs were eating other creatures by the time of the global flood.  Some ammonite fossils have been found with bite marks that match up with mosasaur teeth (more about ammonites here).

Tylosaur (type of mosasaur) fossil in the Sternberg Museum in Hays, KS, with Sara Bruegel

Tylosaur (type of mosasaur) fossil in the Sternberg Museum in Hays, KS, with Sara Bruegel

Mosasaurs lived in the water, but breathed air and gave live birth to their young, much like whales.  The dynamic tale of how whales supposedly evolved says that whale ancestors started out in the water, eventually moved to the land, and apparently changed their mind by evolving back into a watery home.  The evolutionary story of how a mosasaur came to be is quite similar. Komodo dragons and even snakes are said to be related to mosasaurs.  Just because mosasaurs existed does not mean there must be a wild evolutionary story to explain how they got here, why they are extinct, and what other things they might be related to.  Here’s an illustration to help you understand a problem with the evolution of whales, mosasaurs, and evolution in general.

Mosasaur model at the Sternberg Museum Photo taken by Sara J. Bruegel and edited by David P. Mikkelson

Mosasaur model at the Sternberg Museum
Photo taken by Sara J. Bruegel and edited by David P. Mikkelson

For college math courses, I remember “proving” different equations using different “identities” (things we already know are true) from trigonometry.  There was one homework problem I worked on for quite a while filling up an entire page of college-ruled notebook paper with each step in small handwriting, but couldn’t quite figure out.  I ended up asking my professor about it and the hint she gave me has really stuck with me ever since.  She said I was way over-thinking it, trying to use complex proofs, when the answer was actually very simple.  And that simple answer was rather profound. In math and science, the more complicated a theory or proof gets, the more likely it is to be wrong because there are more opportunities to make mistakes.

What in the world do trigonometry proofs have to do with mosasaur sea dragon fossils?  The tales of mosasaur and whale evolution are a lot like my math problem – a complicated answer that takes a lot of time, energy, and effort, but ends up not working out or making any sense.  All you really need to figure out where mosasaurs and whales came from are the simple, yet profound “identities”, those things we can already know are true about the origins of everything because they are in the Bible.  Yes, mosasaur evolution is way over-thinking  the simple (yet profound) origin of air-breathing sea creatures:

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

“Then God said, ‘Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.’ So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” ~ Genesis 1:20-21

Purple poppy mallow on the dash

Purple Poppy Mallow

20160603_141042

By the Kansas state sign – wildflowers are behind the camera

Captivated by the vibrant magenta color dotting the patchy grass, I gently plucked one of the roadside wildflowers by the Kansas state sign.  I had been admiring those colorful, cup-shaped flowers out the car window for at least the past twenty miles.    Back inside the car, I admired the way its five delicate petals folded around the pale center of my wildflower.  It sat on my dash for the next several miles . . .  until the intense afternoon sunshine coming through the windshield wilted the poor thing.  Sad to let it go so soon after finding my little treasure, I rolled down a window and let the air sweep it out of my fingers.

During the same trip, going to a fossil dig in western Kansas (more about the dig here),  I noticed many other patches of the same flowers, only a slightly different color.  These purple/magenta colored wildflowers are commonly called “purple poppy mallow” or “wine cups”, and their scientific name is Callirhoe involucrata.  The root system of these plants is designed with a single, deep taproot, allowing these flowers to grow well on rocky terrain and drought conditions.  In some plants that live for several years, these roots can grow big like a carrot and historically have been eaten by Native American people.

20160603_140955

Purple poppy on the dig in Kansas

Poppy mallow can be seen blooming from late spring through mid summer.  Like tropical hibiscus flowers, another type of “mallow” plant, poppy mallows thrive in warm conditions.  The flowers open in the mornings, two to three hours after sunrise, and close for the night around sunset.  They continue to open for six to eight days after first blooming.  A rarer Texas species of Callihoe that looks very similar to the Kansas flowers is called scabriuscula.  When this type of flower is ready to form the seeds that will start the next generations, the petals are permanently closed within ninety minutes of being pollinated.

The flower essentially has to give up its own dandy lifestyle by permanently closing so that seeds can form.  Speaking of those seeds, to plant your own poppy mallow, it’s recommended that you rub the seed between pieces of sandpaper to help grind down the hard outer coating of the seed.  Planting in the fall, you can leave that seed in the ground all winter.  There the seed waits, buried in the dark, cool, rough soil. When the spring time comes, that seed dies.  Or at least, so that poor, sanded seed seems to die, as it gives up everything it has ever known living life as a seed.  There’s no going back to that relatively safe, comfortable seed-life. It takes full commitment to becoming the plant it has always been destined by the Creator to become.   The plan for that seeds life, including the death it takes to become a plant, is written in its DNA – the set of instructions originally designed by God, built-in with a little room for variety.  By “dying” according to that plan, the seed can truly live the life it was meant to live . . . as a purple poppy mallow flower!

Seeing that our Lord dots the grass along highways with these stunning flowers and perfectly orchestrates their life cycles, how much more does He orchestrate the life cycles of His most precious creation – you, me, and all people?  Many of those poppy mallows that I saw in Kansas were gone the next week.  The life of the seed, as well as the flower that gives up its life for the seed, may look a little rough and painful.  Like the seed, choosing to be fully committed to new life in Christ will also require death – death to my own plans, will, desires, flesh, etc (see Romans 6 &7).    Choosing to let those things “die” doesn’t mean that they must not be “good”, merely that they are not necessarily the God’s best for my life plan. Seeds are good, but they were meant to become flowers that point people to God.  Dying to self merely means choosing to be fully committed to God’s plan, for you, too, were meant to bring glory to Him.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2016

Like a rose

References:

Plastering the Clam Fossil

Fossils in the Field

Storm in Kansas

Storm in Kansas

A snappy breeze broke the intense heat of the mid-afternoon summer sunshine.  Rolls of thunder sounded in the distance, now a little closer than before.  Looking up at the growing storm clouds, I knew it was time to wrap up working for the day and get back to shelter.  We got to just the right stopping point when the time came to head in before the storm hit.   Just like other paleontology digs, out in the field, working time goes by remarkably fast.  A couple of weeks ago, I got to spend some more time excavating fossils in Kansas (read about previous Kansas digs here).

While it would have been neat to discover something big or beautifully complete this year, finding fossils is only part of the process of a fossil dig.  Today, I’d like to walk with you through part of the fossil excavation process that happens in the field.  Sometimes it takes a while to get familiar with how the fossils in different areas look, and tell what distinguishes them from rocks and minerals of the region.    Once you find a fossil, don’t just pick it up.  First you need to mark the spot you found and scan the area for other pieces of the fossil and collect any loose, broken pieces on the surface and keep them in a labeled bag.

Finding interesting pieces of fossil washed out with the gravel

Finding loose pieces of fossil and other interesting things washed out with the gravel

Once you have searched for and collected loose pieces, you are ready to really start digging.  Ideally, it’s best to keep as much of the original dirt on top of and around the fossil while you are out in the field.  Uncovering the entire fossil can be done later, in the lab where it is being prepared.  Your goal in the field is simply to find the edges of the fossil so that you know how big of an area to take out of the ground.  In the picture below, you can see part of either the tail or fins of a fossil fish sticking out between the rock layers of a small hill.    Part of our team worked on finding the edges of this fossil so that we could cut out an entire chunk of rock with the fragile fossils still intact, called a fossil “field jacket”(more about field jackets here).

Exposed part of a fish tail or fin sticking out of a hill

Exposed part of a fish tail or fin sticking out of a hill. Circled in the picture

Finding the edges of a fossil

Finding the edges of a fossil

To make a field jacket, you have to leave a little extra space beyond the edges of the fossil and start digging a deep trench to create a pedestal- like chunk of rock.  Once you have a nice, deep trench dug, you are supposed to undercut the fossil by digging underneath the rock pedestal.  This is so that the whole field jacket (fossil and rocks included) will break off easily when the time comes to load it up and take it to the lab.  To create a field jacket around your fossils, you need to use tin foil to cover the fossil and all the rock you are taking out with it.

Clam fossil - at the stage after the trench has been dug and it's in a pedestal. Notice the penny for size reference

Clam fossil – at the stage after the trench has been dug and it’s in a pedestal. Notice the penny for size reference

Trench dug around the clam fossil

Trench dug around the clam fossil

Putting foil on top of the clam

Putting foil on top of the clam

After it’s protected with foil, you’re ready to get to the messy business of mixing wet plaster.  Loosely woven burlap cloth is used to strength and structure to a field jacket.  You make the field jacket by dipping pieces of burlap into the wet plaster, then covering your tin-foil layer with that plaster-soaked burlap.  Once the plaster is set and other details in place, your field jacket is ready to be turned over and taken to a lab.  Fossil field work can be messy, hot, cold, windy, elusive, and sometimes exhausting, but it’s totally worth it (even enjoyable) because you know that you are seeking something valuable.  Sometimes life can be a lot like working on a dig – exhausting, elusive, stormy, and downright messy.  But as long as you are seeking what is most valuable, as long as you are seeking the face of Jesus Christ, our Creator and Redeemer, you will discover that it’s totally worth it. You may even find it enjoyable . . . a thrilling adventure with the dearest Friend you could ever have.

Article and Pictures © June 2016, Sara J. Bruegel

Plastering the Clam Fossil

Plastering the Clam Fossil

Plastering the clam fossil

Plastering the clam fossil

Turning over the clam fossil field jacket

Turning over the clam fossil field jacket

Flipping the clam fossil field jacket

Turning over the clam fossil field jacket

Amethyst  is the purple variety of the mineral quartz.  Photo copyright Sara J. Breugel, February 2016

Magnificent Minerals – Part 2

“Is this a fossil?  Or petrified wood?”, I was asked during a fossil dig in Kansas last week.  After looking at the item of interest, I explained that the find was not a fossil, but the mineral, gypsum.  I showed how scratching it with my fingernail left a mark.  One of the handiest ways to recognizing gypsum is that it can be scratched with a fingernail.  This is because gypsum is a very soft mineral.  In “Part 1” of this article, we talked a little bit about the Mohs’ Scale of Hardness, ranging from 1-10 (diamonds are the hardest at a 10).  Relatively harder things can scratch softer minerals.  Since your fingernail is about a 2.5 on the Mohs’ scale it will scratch gypsum, which is slightly softer, as this mineral is ranked at a 2 on the Mohs’ scale (more about the mineral gypsum here).

Amethyst is the purple variety of the mineral quartz. Photo copyright Sara J. Breugel, February 2016

Amethyst is the purple variety of the mineral quartz. Photo copyright Sara J. Breugel, February 2016

There are a number of other ways to solve the mystery of what mineral you have found.  Often, the best thing to do is just play around with it and test what different things do to your special find.  Of course, the simplest place to start is by looking at the mineral.  You will want to keep an eye out for what shapes its crystals are in (if there are visible crystals), what color it is, and how shiny or dull it looks.  Sometime the minerals quartz and calcite can look very similar, but when you look at the crystals, you can notice that calcite crystals have more slanted look than quartz.  If you still can’t tell, put some drops of vinegar on your mineral.  The chemicals that make up calcite will react with the acid in vinegar, causing it to bubble, but quartz will not do anything.  The same idea applies to some other minerals, too.

You may have to slightly damage your find to really identify it.  The way it breaks apart can tell you a lot about a mineral.  One of my favorite minerals is biotite.  Biotite comes in super thin, flaky, transparent black sheets.  Because of the way it breaks apart in regular sheets, all stacked in the same direction, biotite is said to “cleave”.  Minerals that break apart in less perfect, regular directions are said to have different types of “fracture”.  For example, if you break a mineral and it shows a circular pattern, that means it has “conchoidal fracture”.  Looking at the way glass chips, whether in a car windshield or somewhere else, you can see this circular pattern showing up in those chips.

Biotite - flaky and black. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, March 2016

Biotite – flaky and black. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, March 2016

Identifying different types of minerals and rocks is a great example of observational science in action.   Observational science is when we use our own senses and other tools to do repeatable tests, come to conclusions, and apply those conclusions to the future.  Knowing what minerals we have can help us know how to put those God-given resources to use in everyday life.  Many people will point to all the amazing discoveries and scientific breakthroughs like curing diseases and using minerals to advance technology and ask why young earth creationists challenge the “science” of evolution. But, this observational science is very different from historical science which tries to explain where things came from (evolution, creation, age of the earth, etc.).  We can’t do repeatable experiments to observe things that happened in the past – that is history.  Any historical science should be taken with a grain of salt, remembering that only people who there can really tell us what happened. The problem with evolution and and old is not so much a question of science, but one of history.  Who do you trust for your history – the Lord of all, or the changing winds of current dominant opinion?

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, June 2016

"Berries and Cream" - fluorite and quartz.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Magnificent Minerals – Part 1

Captivated by the wonder of the rows upon rows of colorful minerals, I enjoyed slowly looking over each one.  It was like slowly eating a favorite dessert, savoring one bite at a time. After several days of busily going about on “sensory overload”, trying to process all the activity, new people, and information, it was nice to have a few uninterrupted minutes just to appreciate the minerals that my paleontology-focused group had a tendency to overlook. Here at the annual mineral, gem, and fossil show in Tucsan, Arizona, there were more minerals than I had seen anywhere else before.

"Berries and Cream" - fluorite and quartz. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

“Berries and Cream” – fluorite and quartz. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

It’s important to understand the difference between a mineral and a rock. A rock can be a bunch of minerals clustered together, like granite, which includes three minerals (read more about granite here).  However, a mineral is more exclusive, as each one has a specific chemical composition.  In its most common form, the mineral pyrite, familiarly known as “fool’s gold”, is iron sulfide (The chemical formula is FeS2).  That special chemical identity gives each mineral certain ways that it can be recognized. Patterns in the way crystals of each mineral form and how they break often give away their identity pretty quickly to a trained eye.  Some minerals fizz when you put vinegar on them, reacting to the acid.  The things that tell us which mineral is which relates back to their chemical formulas.

Thinking back on my first college geology class, the minerals I saw in Tucson were so much more diverse than the ones in my lab tray I had learned to identify.  One of the most memorable minerals I saw looked exactly like juicy blueberries within peaks of a delicious cream.  Odd as they looked, they were made of quartz and fluorite, which were two of the minerals we studied pretty seriously in that class. Quartz is a common mineral, and fluorite, though more rare, is very collectible.  Both of these minerals can be seen in a number of different colors and forms.  Blue fluorite like the “blueberries” I saw is one of the more rare colors.  The blue color comes from trace amounts of the chemical yttrium inside the fluorite.

Fluorite. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Fluorite. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Fluorite is where we get fluorine, which is a common ingredient in toothpaste and drinking water, and is used in a number of other places.  It’s thought of as a fairly soft mineral.  We use the Mohs’ Scale of  Hardness  to compare how hard or soft minerals are.  The hardest mineral, diamonds, are a 10 on the Mohs’ Scale, while gypsum (used in the sheetrock walls of houses – more about gypsum here) is a 2 on the Mohs’ Scale.  Fluorite is about a 4 on the Mohs’ Scale.  Since both fluorite and quartz can come in purple colors, one way you can tell the difference is by testing how hard the mineral is.  Since fluorite is a 4 on the Mohs’ Scale, it’s soft enough to be scratched by a metal nail, but quartz, being a much harder 7 on the Mohs’ Scale, cannot be scratched with a nail.  If it keeps the scratch, you know you have fluorite and if it doesn’t, you know you have quartz or something else harder.

Quartz - photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Quartz – photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Just as we can test minerals to tell what their true identity is, it’s important that we examine ourselves and test our hearts to make sure our identity is right with Christ.   Second Corinthians  13:5-6 says, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified.  But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified”.  Next week, we will talk more about minerals and how to identify them.

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, May 2016

References:

Hobart King.  Fluorite (also known as Fluorspar).  Minerals.  Geology.com. Last accessed 5-27-16 http://geology.com/minerals/fluorite.shtml

 

Rainbow amethyst geode section.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Glorious, Glistening Geodes

A large geode with a slightly taller than average man.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

A large geode with a slightly taller than average man. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Late in the afternoon, the sun finally began to break through clouds that chilly February day in Tucson, Arizona.  Sunlight glistened off the many rows of purple crystals lining the giant shells.  These enormous crystal-lined geodes were large enough for me to fit inside.  Just a few decades ago, giant geodes like this would have only been available to well-funded museums, but now they could be seen for sale on just about any street corner of downtown Tucson during the annual gem, mineral, and fossil show.  It was almost mesmerizing to see their perfect crystalline patterns and the way they glisten in the sunshine.  I saw many different types, sizes, and colors of geodes while at the Tucson show this year – some were just small balls, a couple inches in diameter, while others were gigantic enough to swallow me whole.  They look like plain balls of rock from the outside, but contain sparkling wonders on the inside.

Seeing these incredible geodes often makes people wonder how they were formed.   While there is a lot that scientists have learned from studying geodes, these gleaming underground wonders are still somewhat elusive.  Probably part of the reason why they are so elusive to geologists who believe in long ages is that these scientists try to explain everything with their belief that the “present is key to the past”.  In other words, they assume that things we see from the past were made by processes similar to what we see today.  But not everything can be explained with processes we see today.  This goes against Biblical history, including a global, catastrophic flood that forever changed our planet.  There were many things happening during the flood that are very different from what we usually see happening today.  Sometimes small-scale catastrophes, like the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens, can give us hints as to what may have been happening, large-scale, during the flood.

The author with a large, egg-shaped geode.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

The author with a large, egg-shaped geode. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

We do know some things about the formation of geodes.  They grow in bubbles inside of rock formations through chemical precipitation.  Chemical precipitation happens when something that has been dissolved in water turns back into a solid, basically making it fall out of the water.   If you have ever made rock candy, you can see how this happens by making a sugar-water solution and watching the crystals form over the course of several days.  True geodes are fairly rounded in shape.  A similar type of formation that happens in the more irregular shapes of cracks in rocks, but is technically not a geode, is called a vug.  Vugs also do not have a hard outer shell.  On the other hand, the tough outer shell of a geode is usually harder than the rock it formed it, which is why the rock around it wears out before the geode, leaving the rounded rock with its hidden beauty. You have to break open that shell to see the magnificent crystals inside.

Sulfur  and iron nodule from Niobrara formation, western Kansas.  Photo copyright 2014, Sara J. Bruegel

Sulfur and iron nodule from Niobrara formation, western Kansas. Photo copyright 2014, Sara J. Bruegel

Another mineral formation similar to a geode is called a nodule.  While on fossil digs in western Kansas (more about the Kansas digs here), I have seen tons of pyrite nodules all over the place.  A nodule forms from the core, growing outward, while a geode does the opposite, starting with a thin outer shell and growing inwards. While many geodes are hollow, some are solid because the crystals have grown all the way to the center.  The crystals closer to the center of the geode are much larger than the crystals closer to the edge of the shell.

The next time you see a beautiful geode remember how important it is to keep on growing inwardly.   Like the geode, we all start out with a rough outer shell (we have all sinned and all fallen short of the glory of God), but as we allow our Creator to change our hearts and grow us on the inside, something beautiful starts to happen.  Like the geode, sometimes the wonder of the beauty that God is transforming on the inside is only revealed when we are broken.  You may be broken, but you do not have to be shattered and ugly.  Choose to let the Lord transform your heart into something beautiful, so that, though it is broken, it glistens with His glory.

© May 2016, Sara J. Bruegel

Rainbow amethyst geode section.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Rainbow amethyst geode section. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

References:

  • Brian J. Witzke. “Geodes”. Posted on August 13th, 2014. Iowa Geological Survey.  University of Iowa Hydroscience and Engineering (IIHR).  Last accessed 5-20-16.  http://www.iihr.uiowa.edu/igs/geodes/
Blue Morpho.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Brilliant Blue

Blue Morpho.  Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Blue Morpho. Photo copyright Sara J. Bruegel, 2016

Kneeling on the floor with bated breath and camera in hand, I waited for the butterfly to move.  The large, stubborn Blue Morpho butterfly kept its wings tightly shut as it stood on the plant.  While the butterfly rested, all that was visible was the dull brown/gray pattern on the bottom side of the wings.  Looking the creature with closed wings, you would never guess what a brilliant, iridescent blue colored was on the other side of the wings.  Some of the other butterflies resting on the same place would slowly open and close their wings as they rested, but not the Blue Morpho – their wings were kept tightly shut.   Without even a second’s notice, the butterfly took off and fluttered in circles around my head.  It was joined by two others who fluttered away and then back to where I was.  Most of the other butterflies were much more cooperative models, but not the Blue Morpho that I found so very spectacular.

Holding an injured Morpho

Holding an injured Morpho

Watching their hyperactive fluttering and circling made me laugh as I tried to chase down these shy, beautiful insects with my camera.  At one point, a group of three flew straight towards me and ran right into my camera, probably drawn to the bright blue color on part of the camera.   Later on, I held an injured Blue Morpho on my finger.  It’s the incredible iridescent blue color of their wings that make these tropical butterflies especially fascinating and drove me to continue trying to capture the shy creatures on camera.  While the flat orange and black colors of monarch butterfly wings are made by the pigments (dyes) of their scales, this iridescent blue is instead made by the way light waves interact with the intricate structure of the scales.

Biologists have been able to look at the wing scales of a Morpho at 20,000 times magnification (seeing them 20,000 times larger than normal) and noticed some very precise grid-like pattern of ridges made in miniscule structures of the scales. The color of a Morpho butterfly is made by the way light bends and reflects through these microscopic structures in the scales.  This is called diffraction grating.  Even the black patterns on the wings of this type of butterfly are colored differently from the black of a monarch.  To make it twice as intricate, another type of butterfly, classified as Lamprolenis nitida actually has two diffraction gratings (giving it two colors) on the same scales.

   

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2015

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, July 2015

             Were these intricate butterfly wings made by random chance accidents of evolution? I think they are better explained by a Divine Designer – God.   Their design is surprisingly precise and their beauty breathtaking. Scientists have tried (and are still trying) to copy many aspects of the design of butterfly wings and scales.  It takes brilliant minds and high-tech equipment to even try to copy what we see in butterfly wings.  To top it off, the spectacular beauty of these butterflies really isn’t necessary.  We can see some marvelous aspects of the character of God illustrated here: He cares about even the tiniest details of a short-lived creature and loves graciously giving beautiful gifts for us to appreciate. (Read previous articles on butterflies here)

Copyright Sara J. Bruegel, May 2016

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.” ~ Isaiah 40:28

 References:

  • Jonathan Sarfati. Butterfly brilliance: Dual diffraction gratings produce two colour signals. Published: 1 January 2009. Creation Ministries International.  Last accessed 5-13-16  http://creation.com/butterfly-brilliance
  • Frank Sherwin, M.A. 2006. Blue-t-ful Beetles, Birds, ‘n Butterflies. Acts & Facts.  35 (6).Institute for Creation Research.  Last accessed 05-13-16  http://www.icr.org/article/blue-t-ful-beetles-birds-n-butterflies
  • Butterflies Alive: live butterfly exhibit.  Science Spectrum Museum, Lubbock Texas.  As seen on Friday, April 29th, 2016.