“By the sky which returns.” (Quran 86:11)
“[He] who made for you the earth a bed [spread out] and the
sky a ceiling…” (Quran 2:22)
In the first verse God swears by the sky
and its function of ‘returning’ without specifying what it ‘returns.’ In
Islamic doctrine, a divine oath signifies the magnitude of importance of a
special relation to the Creator, and manifests His majesty and the supreme
Truth in a special way.
The second verse describes the Divine Act that made the
sky a ‘ceiling’ for the dwellers of earth.
Let us see what modern atmospheric science has to say
about the role and function of the sky.
The atmosphere is a word which denotes all the air
surrounding the earth, from the ground all the way up to the edge from which space
starts. The atmosphere is composed of several layers, each defined because of
the various phenomena which occur within the layer.
This image shows the average temperature profile through the
Earth’s atmosphere. Temperatures in the thermosphere are very sensitive to
solar activity and can vary from 500°C to 1500°C. Source: Windows to the
Universe, (http://www.windows.ucar.edu), the University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research (UCAR). ©1995-1999, 2000 The Regents of the University of Michigan; ©2000-04 University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
Rain, for one, is ‘returned’ to Earth by the clouds in
the atmosphere. Explaining the hydrologic cycle, Encyclopedia Britannica
“Water evaporates from both the aquatic and terrestrial
environments as it is heated by the Sun’s energy. The rates of evaporation and
precipitation depend on solar energy, as do the patterns of circulation of
moisture in the air and currents in the ocean. Evaporation exceeds
precipitation over the oceans, and this water vapor is transported by the wind
over land, where it returns to the land through precipitation.”
Not only does the atmosphere return what was on the
surface back to the surface, but it reflects back into space that which might
damage the flora and fauna the earth sustains, such as excessive radiant heat.
In the 1990’s, collaborations between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA),
and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) of Japan resulted
in the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) Science Initiative. Polar,
Wind and Geotail are a part of this initiative, combining resources and
scientific communities to obtain coordinated, simultaneous investigations of
the Sun-Earth space environment over an extended period of time. They have an
excellent explanation of how the atmosphere returns solar heat to space.
Besides ‘returning’ rain, heat and radio waves, the
atmosphere protects us like a ceiling above our heads by filtering out deadly
cosmic rays, powerful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the Sun, and even
meteorites on collision course with Earth.
Pennsylvania State Public Broadcasting tells us:
“The sunlight that we can see represents one group of
wavelengths, visible light. Other wavelengths emitted by the sun include
x-rays and ultraviolet radiation. X-rays and some ultraviolet light waves are
absorbed high in Earth’s atmosphere. They heat the thin layer of gas there to
very high temperatures. Ultraviolet light waves are the rays that can cause
sunburn. Most ultraviolet light waves are absorbed by a thicker layer of gas
closer to Earth called the ozone layer. By soaking up the deadly ultraviolet
and x-rays, the atmosphere acts as a protective shield around the planet. Like
a giant thermal blanket, the atmosphere also keeps temperatures from getting
too hot or too cold. In addition, the atmosphere also protects us from
constant bombardment by meteoroids, bits of rock and dust that travel at high
speeds throughout the solar system. The falling stars we see at night are not
stars at all; they are actually meteoroids burning up in our atmosphere due to
the extreme heating they undergo.”
This is an image of
Earth’s polar stratospheric clouds. These clouds are involved in the creation
of Earth’s ozone hole. Source: Windows to the Universe, (http://www.windows.ucar.edu/)
at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). ©1995-1999,
2000 The Regents of the University of Michigan; ©2000-04 University Corporation
for Atmospheric Research.
Encyclopedia Britannica, describing the role of
Stratosphere, tells us about its protective role in absorbing dangerous
“In the upper stratospheric regions, absorption of
ultraviolet light from the Sun breaks down oxygen molecules; recombination of
oxygen atoms with O2 molecules into ozone (O3) creates the ozone layer, which
shields the lower ecosphere from harmful short-wavelength radiation…More
disturbing, however, is the discovery of a growing depletion of ozone over
temperate latitudes, where a large percentage of the world’s population
resides, since the ozone layer serves as a shield against ultraviolet
radiation, which has been found to cause skin cancer.”
The mesosphere is the layer in which many meteors burn
up while entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Imagine a baseball zipping along at
30,000 miles per hour. That’s how big and fast many meteors are. When they
plow through the atmosphere, meteors are heated to more than 3000 degrees
Fahrenheit, and they glow. A meteor compresses air in front of it. The air
heats up, in turn heating the meteor.
This is an image which shows the Earth and its atmosphere. The
mesosphere would be the dark blue edge located on the far top of the image underneath
(Image courtesy of NASA)
Earth is surrounded by a magnetic force field - a bubble
in space called “the magnetosphere” tens of thousands of miles wide. The
magnetosphere acts as a shield that protects us from solar storms. However, according
to new observations from NASA’s IMAGE spacecraft and the joint NASA/European
Space Agency Cluster satellites, immense cracks sometimes develop in Earth’s
magnetosphere and remain open for hours. This allows the solar wind to gush
through and power stormy space weather. Fortunately, these cracks do not expose
Earth’s surface to the solar wind. Our atmosphere protects us, even when our
magnetic field does not.
rendition of NASA’s IMAGE satellite flying through a ‘crack’ in Earth’s
How would it be possible for a fourteenth century desert
dweller to describe the sky in a manner so precise that only recent scientific
discoveries have confirmed it? The only way is if he received revelation from
the Creator of the sky.