Widmanstätten patterns in meteorites
Not a problem for the biblical timescale
Published: 11 January 2020 (GMT+10)
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formation of these grain patterns and concluded that some of the traditional mechanisms are not needed because they are no longer applicable.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
- 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.
- 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.