Quranic Miracle Lost in Translation: Celestial Origin of Iron

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SHAFAQNA – The Quran states: “…and We gave [mankind] iron, in which there is great mightand uses for mankind…’ (57:25) The problem with this translation is that the Arabic uses the term anzalna which means sent down. Thus, Allah is stating that “We sent down iron…,” not we gave mankind iron. This becomes significant because there is some evidence that Iron has celestial origins. If that evidence is accepted this would be considered to be another scientific miracle of the Quran because the knowledge of the celestial origins of iron was unknown to mankind 1400 years ago. The following are two articles about this issue. This first is an article published on OnIslam by Dr. Zaghlool El-Naggar, a member of the Geological Society of London and the Geological Society of Egypt, amongst other important bodies. The second article is about iron meteorites and was originally published on Geology.com

The Celestial Origin of Iron by Dr. Zaghlool El-Naggar

The Glorious Qur’an contains a distinct Surah (Chapter) entitled “Al – Hadeed” (= The Iron) which emphasizes in one of its verses (Verse#25) the following two facts:

  1. That iron was sent down to Earth i.e. it is of a celestial (extra-terrestrial) origin, and
  2. That iron is strong and has many benefits for mankind. This Qur’anic verse reads: “…and We (Allah) sent down iron wherein there is mighty strength and many benefits for mankind…*) (LVII: 25).

We now know that iron is the most abundant elementinthetotalcompositionoftheEarth(>35% of its total mass) and the fourth abundant element in its crust (5.6%). This observation has led to the logical conclusion that the majority of the Earth’s iron must be hidden below its crust (i.e. within both its cores and mantles). If this is the case, how could this element be sent down to Earth as stated in the above-mentioned Qur’anic verse? And how could it have penetrated from the outer crust of the Earth to its inner zones of mantle and core?

To answer these questions, the Earth must be treated as part of the total cosmos from which it was separated, not merely as an isolated entity. In this context, recent cosmological discoveries have proved that:

  1. Hydrogen (the simplest and the lightest know element) is by far the most abundant element in the observed universe.
  2. This predominant, universal hydrogen is followed in abundance by helium (the second in the periodic table of elements), which is less abundant than hydrogen, by a factor of ten.
  3. These two, simple nuclei of hydrogen and helium constitute the greatest percentage of the observed universe, while heavier elements are only represented by traces that do not exceed 1-2% of its total mass, and are locally concentrated in certain heavenly bodies.

These fundamental discoveries have led to the important conclusion that hydrogen nuclei are the basic building blocks from which all the other elements were and are currently being created by the process of nuclear fusion. This process (the nucleosynthesis of elements by nuclear fusion) is self-sustaining, highly exothermic (i.e. releases excessively large quantities of energy) and is the source of the very hot and glowing nature of all stars.

Nuclear fusion within our sun mainly produces helium, with a very limited number of slightly heavier elements. The percentage of iron in the sun is estimated to be in the order of 0.0037%. Knowing that the Earth as well as all other planets and satellites in our solar system were actually separated from the sun, which does not generate iron, another question was raised:

Where had the immense quantity of iron in our Earth come from?

One second after the “Big Bang”, the temperature of the early universe is calculated to have been in the range of ten billion degrees Celsius.

Our sun is a modest star, with a surface temperature of 6,000°C, and an inner core temperature of about 15,000,000°C. Such figures are far below the calculated temperatures for the production of iron by the process of nuclear fusion (which exceeds 5 X 109 K). Consequently, other sources much hotter than the sun were sought for as possible sites fort the generation of iron in the observed universe. One of the suggested sources of excessive heat was the “Big Bang” explosion of the initial singularity from which our universe was created (cf. Bott, 1982). However all speculations about this event suggest that shortly after the “Big Bang”, matter was in such and elementary stage that only hydrogen and helium (with possible traces of lithium) could have been generated. Again, if any traces of iron were produced at that stage, iron would have been more evenly distributed in the observed universe, which is not the case.

One second after the “Big Bang”, the temperature of the early universe is calculated to have been in the range of ten billion degrees Celsius. At this stage, the early universe is visualized to have been in the form of a steadily expanding, huge cloud of smoke, mainly composed of elementary forms of both matter and energy such as neutrons, protons, electrons, positrons (anti – electrons), photons and neutrinos. Radiations in the form of photons from this very hot early stage of the universe had been predicted by Gamow and others (1948) to be still in existence around the observed universe, coming from all directions with equal intensity. This prediction was later proved to be true by both Penzias & Wilson (1965) through their discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation coming from all directions in the observed universe with equal intensity, together with a remnant temperature reduced to only a few degrees above the absolute zero (- 273°C).

The Life Cycle of the Stars

During the first three minutes of the history of our universe the neutrons are believed to have either decayed into protons and electrons, or combined with other neutrons to produce deuterium (or heavy hydrogen), which could combine to form helium. In its turn, helium nuclei could partly fuse to produce traces of lithium (the third element in the periodic table), but nothing heavier than this element is believed to have been generated as a result of the “Big Bang” explosion (cf. Weinberg, 1988; Hawking, 1990; etc.). Consequently, all of the universal hydrogen and most of the helium are believed to have been created immediately after the “Big Bang”, while the rest of the universal helium is believed to have been steadily generated from the burning of hydrogen in the interiors of “Main-Sequence Stars” like our sun.

After the “Big Bang” explosion, gravitation is believed to have pulled together clouds of smoke to form giant clusters of matter. Continued contraction of these clusters eventually increased their temperature due to the interaction of colliding particles and the pressures created by the large gravitational attraction. As the temperature approached 15 million degrees Celsius, the electrons in the formed atoms were ripped off to create a plasma state. Continued contraction proceeded until the particles in the plasma moved with such high velocities that they began to fuse hydrogen into helium, producing stars with enough energy to generate an outward push (pressure) that reached equilibrium with the inward pull of gravity.

Supernovas result from exhaustion of the nova’s fuel supplies.

Most recently, elements heavier than lithium have been proved to be currently synthesized by the process of nuclear fusion in the cores of massive stars (at least ten times the mass of our sun) during their late stage of development. Such massive stars are seen burning helium to carbon, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, and finally into iron. When elements of the iron group are produced, the process of nuclear fusion cannot proceed any further. Elements heavier than iron (and its group of elements) are believed to have been created in the outer envelopes of super-giant stars or during the explosion of novae in the form of supernovae.

Consequently, it has been proved that stars are cosmic ovens in which most of the known elements are created from hydrogen and/or helium by the process of nuclear fusion. At the same time, the unbelievable energy of stars comes from this process of intra-stellar nucleosynthesis of elements, which involves the combining of light elements into heavier ones by nuclear fusion (nuclear burning). This process requires a high-speed collision, which can only be achieved at very high temperatures. The minimum temperature required for the fusion of hydrogen into helium is calculated to be in the range of 5,000,000°C. With the increase in the atomic weight of the element produced by nuclear fusion, this temperature increases steadily to several billions of degrees. For example, the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into carbon requires a temperature of about one billion degrees Celsius.

Burning (fusing) hydrogen into helium occurs during most of the star’s lifetime. After the hydrogen in the star’s core is exhausted (i.e. fused to helium), the star either changes into a Red Giant then into a dwarf or changes into a Red Super-giant then into a nova where it starts to burn helium, fusing it into progressively heavier elements (depending on its initial mass) until the iron group is reached. Up to this point, the process of nucleosynthesis of elements is highly exothermic (i.e. releases excessive quantities of energy), but the formation of the iron group elements and of elements heavier than this group is highly endothermic (i.e. requires the input of excessive quantities of energy). The explosions of Novae in the form of Supernovae result from the exhaustion of the fuel supplies in the cores of such massive stars and the burning of all elements there into the iron group. Heavier nuclei are thought to be formed during the explosions of the Supernovae.

The nucleosynthesis of the iron group of elements in the inner cores of massive stars such as the Novae is the final stage of the process of nuclear fusion. Once this stage is reached, the nova explodes in the form of a supernova, shattering its iron core to pieces that fly into the universal space, providing other celestial bodies with their needed iron. With this analysis, the celestial (extra-terrestrial) origin of iron in both our Earth and the rest of the solar system is confirmed (cf. Weinberg, 1988; Hawking, 1990; etc.).

Iron Meteorites by Geoffrey Notkin

In the classic 1959 adventure film, Journey to the Center of the Earth, based on Jules Verne’s wonderful book Voyage au Centre de la Tèrre, a team of explorers lead by a very proper and resourceful James Mason encounter giant reptiles, vast underground caverns, oceans and the remains of lost civilizations in a subterranean world hidden far beneath our planet’s crust. If we actually could make such a journey to the Earth’s center, our real-life adventure would be a rather short one, as the core of our planet is a sphere of molten iron with a temperature in excess of 4,000°C. The world imagined by Verne makes for a more exciting film, but without molten planetary cores we would not have iron meteorites. 

“In a melted asteroid, melted rocky material and melted metal do not mix. The two liquids are like oil and water and stay separate. Metal is much denser than the rocky liquid, so metal sinks to the center of the asteroid and forms a core.”Astronomers believe that in the early days of our Solar System, more than four billion years ago, all of the inner planets had molten cores. As our Earth is the largest of the Terrestrial planets (those composed largely of silicate rocks, as opposed to gaseous planets) it likely has a higher internal temperature than our smaller neighbors: Mars and Mercury. We also know that at least some asteroids in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter once had molten cores, and these bodies were the parents of iron meteorites. Their cores are believed to have been heated by radioactive elements and to have reached temperatures around 1,000ºC. The eminent meteoriticist Dr. Rhian Jones of the Institute of Meteoritics in Albuquerque succinctly explains the result:

This liquid metal consisted largely of iron and nickel, which cooled very slowly over a period of millions of years, resulting in the formation of a crystalline alloy structure visible as the Widmanstätten Pattern [see below] in iron, and some stony-iron, meteorites that have been sectioned and etched.

A catastrophic event that lead to the destruction of some of these asteroids – such as a collision with another substantial body – scattered iron-nickel fragments into space. Occasionally these fragments encounter our planet and hurtle, melting, through our atmosphere. Those that survive and land upon Earth’s surface are iron meteorites.

How Do We Know They Are Real Meteorites?

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is: “How do we know they are real?” An experienced meteorite researcher, hunter, or collector can usually identify a genuine iron meteorite just by looking it and holding it. While melting in our atmosphere, iron meteorites typically acquire small oval shaped depressions on their surfaces known as regmaglypts. These features are not found on earth rocks. Iron meteorites are very dense – much heavier than almost all terrestrial rocks – and will easily adhere to a strong magnet. Iron meteorites also contain a relatively high percentage of nickel – a metal very rarely found on Earth – and they display a unique feature that is never seen in terrestrial material.
The Widmanstätten Pattern In Iron Meteorites

In the early 1800s, a British geologist remembered only as “G” or possibly “William” Thomson discovered a remarkable pattern while treating a meteorite with a solution of nitric acid. Thomson was attempting to remove oxidized material from a specimen of the Krasnojarsk pallasite. After applying the acid, Thomson noticed a lattice-like pattern emerging from the matrix. The same effect was also noted by Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstätten in 1808, and is today best known as the Widmanstätten Pattern, but is sometimes also referred to as the Thomson Structure.

The intricate pattern is the result of extremely slow cooling of molten asteroid cores. The interlocking bands are a mixture of the iron-nickel alloys taenite and kamacite. My colleague Elton Jones explains:

“Nickel is slightly more resistant to acid than is iron so the mineral taenite doesn’t etch as fast as kamacite, thus permitting the inducement of the Widmanstätten Pattern. Coarseness is an indication of the length of time the crystal growing process was allowed to run within the body of the asteroid. Growth of both mineral plates occurs so long as the temperature remains above 400°C and below 900°C. Generally this process is measured in declines of tens of degrees C per million years.”

Since Widmanstätten Patterns cannot form in earthbound rocks, the presence of this structure is proof of meteoric origin.

Classification of Iron Meteorites
Iron meteorites typically consist of approximately 90 to 95% iron, with the remainder comprised of nickel and trace amounts of heavy metals including iridium, gallium and sometimes gold. They are classified using two different systems: chemical composition and structure. There are thirteen chemical groups for irons, of which IAB is the most common. Irons that do not fit into an established class are described at Ungrouped (UNGR).

Structural classes are determined by studying the two component alloys in iron meteorites: kamacite and taenite. The kamacite crystals revealed by etching with nitric acid are measured and the average bandwidth is used to determine the structural class, of which there are nine, including the six octahedrites. An iron with very narrow bands, less than 1mm, (example: the Gibeon iron from Namibia) is described as a fine octahedrite. At the other end of the scale is the coarsest octahedrite (example: Sikhote-Alin from Russia) that may display a bandwidth of 3 cm or more. Hexahedrites exhibit large single crystals of kamacite; ataxites have an abnormally high nickel content; plessitic octahedrites are rare and exhibit a fine spindle-like pattern when etched; the anomalous group includes those irons that do not fit into any of the other eight classes.

Both methodologies are commonly used together when cataloging iron meteorites. For example, the Campo del Cielo iron from Chaco Province in Argentina is a described coarse octahedrite with a chemical classification of IAB.

Some Famous Iron Meteorites
CANYON DIABLO
Coconino County, Arizona, USA
First discovered 1891
IAB, coarse octahedrite

About 25,000 years ago a building-sized iron meteorite crashed into the desert between the present-day towns of Flagstaff and Winslow in northern Arizona. The size and inertia of the impactor resulted in a massive explosion which excavated a crater almost 600 feet deep and 4,000 feet in diameter. Research conducted by the seminal meteorite scientist H.H. Nininger revealed that a large part of the original mass vaporized upon impact, while hundreds of tons of fragments fell around the crater within a radius of several miles. The site is erroneously named Meteor Crater (craters are formed by meteorites, not meteors) and is generally regarded as the best preserved impact site on earth. Iron meteorites are still occasionally found around the crater, but the surrounding land is privately owned and, unfortunately, meteorite collecting is prohibited. The meteorite takes its name from a steep-sided canyon situated west of the crater.

WILLAMETTE
Clackamas County, Oregon, USA
Discovered 1902
IIIAB, medium octahedrite

The 15-ton Willamette iron is considered by many to be the most beautiful and spectacular meteorite in the world. It was discovered in 1902 on land owned by the Oregon Iron and Steel Company near the village of Willamettte (today part of the city of West Linn). The finder, Mr. Ellis Hughes, together with his fifteen year-old son discretely moved the huge iron almost a mile, onto his own land, using an ingenious hand made wooden cart. Hughes was later successfully sued by the steel company, with ownership of the meteorite being awarded to them. In 1906 the meteorite was purchased, reportedly for $20,600, and donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It was displayed in the Hayden Planetarium for many years, and can today be viewed in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Controversy has continued to follow the Willamette. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon sued the American Museum of Natural History for the return of the Willamette, claiming it once belonged to the Clackamas tribe, and is a relic of historic and religious significance. In the year 2000, an agreement was reached stipulating that the Grande Ronde Community could “re-establish its relationship with the meteorite with an annual ceremonial visit.”

SIKHOTE-ALIN
Primorskiy Kray, Russia
Witnessed fall, February 12, 1947
IIAB, coarsest octahedrite

In the winter of 1947 the largest documented meteorite event took place near the Sikhote-Alin mountains in eastern Siberia. Thousands of fragments fell among snow-covered trees, and formed an extraordinary crater field comprised of 99 separate impact structures. There are two distinct types of Sikhote-Alin meteorites: individuals which flew through the atmosphere on their own, often acquiring regmaglypts andorientation; and angular shrapnel fragments which exploded as a result of atmospheric pressure. Sikhote-Alin individuals typically melted into unusual sculptural shapes in flight, are among the most attractive iron meteorites, and are much coveted by collectors

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