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Widmanstätten patterns in meteorites

Not a problem for the biblical timescale

Published: 11 January 2020 (GMT+10)
This polished section of a meteorite shows nickel-iron crystals forming Widmanstätten patterns in the metal. (Image from the article Nickel concentration indicates young oceans.)

Today’s feedback is from Troy J. from Canada asking about Widmanstätten patterns in iron meteorites and how long they take to form.


I recently picked up a slice of a meteorite fragment that shows Widmanstätten patterns in the metal. The argument goes that this pattern only forms as the meteor slowly cooled over millions of years, permitting the metallic crystal growth. What is a young earth counter argument for this? Thanks

CMI writer/speaker Dr Tas Walker responded:

Thanks for your email.

Widmanstätten patterns form in metal alloys as they crystallise, and they are dramatic and distinctive. See the accompanying picture and caption of Widmanstätten patterns in the metal of an iron-nickel meteorite.

There is no problem as these do not take millions of years to form. One practice I always stress to my grandchildren, when they encounter some scientific claim that seems to contradict the Bible, is to ask this question, “What did they actually see?” That is the basis of science—observation.

In the case of your question, you have observed the meteorite fragment and the Widmanstätten patterns in the metal. They are facts. But you did not observe the meteor cooling and the crystals growing over millions of years. As I tell my children, “If it was not observed then it is just a story, and we need to be sceptical about it.”

Calculations of the time taken for such alloys to cool requires many assumptions, such as where the meteorite came from, how it travelled to Earth, what happened as it entered the atmosphere, and the reactions that occurred within it as it cooled. In their paper “The formation of the Widmanstätten structure in meteorites”1 Yang and Goldstein examined the different physical and chemical processes previously assumed for the formation of these grain patterns and concluded that some of the traditional mechanisms are not needed because they are no longer applicable. All these assumptions affect the resultant time calculated for the process. And these changes illustrate that we are considering processes that happened in a remote location in the past and are therefore not able to be observed. In other words, the time taken is all based on speculation.

If you Google “Widmanstätten pattern” you will discover that the same patterns have been observed to form with other metal alloys, including brass and carbon steel, when they cool slowly. These cases are based on observational science and reveal that these patterns do not need millions of years to form.

In researching your query, I came across the work of Phyllis Budka,2 a mechanical engineer who has published research on meteorites for more than twenty years. Her work challenged the then-current theories of nickel-iron meteorite formation. For example, it was thought that the meteoritic Widmanstätten structure is an equilibrium structure formed on slow cooling, but this is not correct. This idea of long ages is based on those old theories.

Budka’s research has revealed that the geometrical pattern of the Widmanstätten structure is the result of a new metal phase forming along certain crystallographic planes of the parent solid solution. Although this structure was originally observed in meteorites, it is readily produced in many other alloys, such as titanium, by appropriate heat treatment. Her radical research concluded that the structure in meteorites was due to non-equilibrium solidification under very low gravity (microgravity) conditions.

In other words, the idea that the Widmanstätten structure needs long ages is based on incorrect ideas. Specifically, Budka says that the old metallographic cooling rate theory, derived from this structure, is based on circular reasoning and incorrect assumptions, and that there can be no such thing as a “metallographic cooling rate.” That is, the thermal history of a metal cannot be calculated in reverse.

Whenever someone claims that some feature would take millions of years, the wrong response is to conclude that the Bible is not true. We need to recognise that these questions are worldview issues, and the appropriate response is to ask, “How are we to explain this feature within the historical events of the biblical worldview and within its corresponding time constraints.” That question leads to new research initiatives that almost always result in remarkable new discoveries, which reveal that time is not the problem that was claimed.

All the best,

Dr Tasman Walker
Scientist, Writer, Speaker
Creation Ministries International (Australia)

References and notes

  1. Yang, J. and Goldstein, J.I., The formation of the Widmanstätten structure in meteorites, Meteoritics & Planetary Science 40(2):239–253, 2005. Return to text.
  2. Budka, P., The Case for a New Metallurgy for Meteorites, Technical Communications Unlimited, 1 September 2005; https://meteormetals.com/Case_for_New_Meteorite_Metallurgy.pdf. Also, Interview with Phyllis Budka, Meteorite Times Magazine, 2009; https://www.meteorite-times.com/Back_Links/2009/february/Meteorite_People.htm Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Nathan G.
Good answer, Tas.
My teenage son and I had a similar discussion about the "molten earth" idea promoted by evos. I always tell him to ask himself two questions: 1) What details AREN'T they telling you? That's usually more important than what is explicitly presented. 2) Are there examples of contradictions in other scientific disciplines?
If the evos want you to doubt your worldview and abandon it due to one question you can't answer, then the same should apply to them, too. (It never does!) The big picture and body of evidence is always more important than one alleged "knock-down" argument, regardless of which worldview you hold.
In the case of meteorites there are several similar fairy-tale stories to keep in mind. For example, the oxygen isotope ratios in comets, which also come from space and are allegedly millions of years old, don't match the water in the ocean. The moon's chemical make-up doesn't match that of the earth's crust, but allegedly plopped out of the earth after an asteroid impact.(To be fair that is only one of roughly seven unobservable, untestable moon formation fairytales.) Finally, the "long, slow cool" idea doesn't work for the earth's magnetic field, either. The dynamo theory of an old earth falls flat, because iron would need sulphur to create a dynamo effect. But a hot, molten earth without an atmosphere or magnetic field would boil off all the necessary sulphur and lose it to space. No sulphur, no dynamo. No retention of water, oxygen, etc. in the atmosphere.
Finally, a totally unrelated field often helps to raise doubts. Perhaps the best example is the missing mechanism to explain soft tissues and DNA in dinosaur fossils. Or mummified dinosaurs. Or colored, fresh-smelling, burnable leaves and wood that are allegedly "millions of years old".
Seth C.
Yet another item to add to the list of things that they tell us take millions of years, but actual science experiments have proven that they don't.
Norman W.
Why is it so difficult for people to understand that God can create what we see without the need to explain it in human or worldly wisdom. God created life, instantaneously, so why would he need long periods of time to create these metal crystals?
After examining the last page of Reference 2, Budka certainly has done her research, 40 + years of it, and fighting the established assumptions of "necessary" deep time. The Achilles' Heel of most Creation-Flood objection is in the details. (The Creator is in the details.) Two of my own areas of research, the recrystallization or redeposition of quartz, and the "slow", low temperature formation of hematite also suddenly make sense when I realize most all of the previous assumptions are wrong.
The Widmanstätten structure formed at "micro gravity". It formed not under the influence of Earth's gravity field, but before the earth's atmosphere was entered and therefore says nothing about its time on earth..

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