Extraterrestrial Banded Iron Formations

Proposal: Like so much of Earth’s sedimentary material, banded iron formations are extraterrestrial in origin.


Banded iron formation (BIF) is the principal source of iron. BIF is a rock type composed of alternating silica-and iron-rich bands. Banded iron formation is economically among the most important rock types as our society is heavily reliant on iron, which is mostly extracted from this rock.

Iron from Mars
Banded Iron Formation at the Fortescue Falls, Western Australia. Credit: Graeme Churchard

Banded iron formation consists of layers of iron oxides (typically either magnetite or hematite) separated by layers of chert (silica-rich sedimentary rock). Each layer is usually narrow (millimeters to few centimeters). The rock has a distinctively banded appearance because of differently colored lighter silica – and darker iron-rich layers. In some cases BIFs may contain siderite (carbonate iron-bearing mineral) or pyrite (sulfide) in place of iron oxides and instead of chert the rock may contain carbonaceous (rich in organic matter) shale.

Iron meteorites
Superior-type BIF from North America. Dark gray layers are composed of hematite. Red is jasper (hematitic chert). The rock is about three meters wide and weighs 8.5 tons. Photo by André Karwath.


The consensus theory favours precipitation from seawater.

Banded-iron formation (BIF), chemically precipitated sediment, typically thin bedded or laminated, consisting of 15 percent or more iron of sedimentary origin and layers of chert, chalcedony, jasper, or quartz. Such formations occur on all the continents and usually are older than 1.7 billion years.


Banded iron formations appear to have been deposited in areas of the ocean where seawater with high contents of dissolved iron and silica came into contact with water containing higher amounts of oxygen, which resulted in the precipitation of hematite and chert (microcrystalline quartz).


However, although extensively mined, the genesis of BIFs remain steeped in controversy hampered by the fact that there are no modern analogues.

Considerable controversy exists over BIF origin, and a number of theories have been proposed. Their formation has been variously ascribed to volcanic activity; rhythmic deposition from iron and silica solutions due to seasonal variations; oxidation of iron-rich sediments contemporaneous with deposition; and precipitation from solution as a result of special oxidation-reduction conditions. (Link)

Banded Iron Formations (‘BIFs’) are highly controversial chemical precipitates characterized by the presence of alternating layers of iron-rich and amorphous silica-rich layers. This dichotomous compositional layering is usually expressed on several scales at any given outcrop, from fine sub-millimetre-scale varve-like laminae to metre-scale bands. Even on a microscopic scale, the boundary between the ferruginous and siliceous layers is distinctly abrupt. (MS Word link)

Geologist Desmond Lascelles of the University of Western Australia (UWA) challenges current thinking.

While it is generally accepted that BIF formed when dissolved iron oxidised and settled to the bottoms of early seas, geologist Desmond Lascelles says this would have been impossible as iron is only soluble in acid. “Ferrous iron is not soluble in sea water,” he says. “It only occurs as colloidal ferric iron or ferrous iron in sea water which precipitates out, but you can’t end up with sufficient iron in solution to form a banded iron formation.” As none of these compounds are water soluble, Dr Lascelles says the ocean cannot form a large reservoir of iron. He says silica, which forms the lighter bands in BIF, is similarly insoluble. While it initially mixes with water it precipitates out as it ages so large quantities never occur in solution.


Unfortunately, he then goes on to suggest hydrothermal vents are responsible.

Instead, he says, the iron and silica compounds came from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor known as “black smokers”. Build-up happens around vents. The “smoke” is the precipitated iron oxides and iron silicates that end up as a mound around the vent. Dr Lascelles says water currents redistribute these mounds and the particles settle elsewhere as layers of mud that harden to become banded ironstone.

If Dr Lascelles is correct then shouldn’t the evidence be obvious? Where are these hydrothermal vents? Have they completely disappeared of the face of the earth? Perplexing, since it must have taken tens of thousands to create the enormous BIF deposits we see today. Even more perplexing when taking into account the many millions of tons of iron mined worldwide from BIFs – yet, not one single fossil ‘black smoker’ found! The build-up should naturally be thicker around the vents, thus making them easier to find – so, where are they?

How did the very distinct contrasting layers form? Did the hydrothermal vents switch from producing iron to silica and then back again in the geological blink of an eye? And, even more unlikely, in unison? If vents billowed out a mixture of both compounds, then why the distinctly abrupt contrasting layers? Why not a rock consisting of a mixture of both i.e. rock with no distinctive layers? I would suggest time immemorial wouldn’t be enough to create the world’s BIFs from hydrothermal vents let alone any other variant.

In other words we have no idea how BIfs formed.

Earth is littered with extraterrestrial material, source… Mars!

The once earth-like Mars entered into hundreds of violent encounters with Earth in past millennia. These encounters saw Mars eject colossal amounts of volatiles, dust and debris out into space, including that of large rocks, boulders and stones. All this and more was swallowed up by Earth and now forms a good portion of Earth’s sediments and sedimentary rocks including that of sandstone, limestone, shale, chalk, etc., – all washed around the globe courtesy of Martian water (in some regions causing rapid fossilization). Thought to be indigenous, earth’s crust comprises tons of material whose origin lies with the god of war, Mars.

Included in this celestial deluge were vast clouds of iron and silica – the primary source of BIFs.

Extraterrestrial BIFs

Admittedly further research is required but the idea would go something like this.

Canyon on Mars
Valles Marineris.
An enormous scar on the surface of Mars.

Prior to close encounters with earth, Mars gets sideswiped by the newly birthed Comet Venus (origin planet Jupiter). The encounter cuts an enormous scar that extends 3,000 kilometers along the Martian equator … the Valles Marineris. It is from this gaping wound (the largest canyon in the Solar System) that the iron core of Mars would later be magnetically sucked out to become the ‘iron’ planet Mercury (the winged messenger). However, before, during, and after the birth of this ‘second sun,’ there were numerous events where tons of vaporized mantle rock (silica dominant) and iron from around Mars’ core were ejected out into space. Here, it rapidly condensed to form vast clouds of minute particles of iron and silica (and other material).

These clouds slammed into Earth’s atmosphere where they were instantly revaporized resulting in an atmosphere heavily laden with iron and rock vapour. Included in this mix was water, clay minerals, dust and debris. The vapour becomes so concentrated that both iron and silica based nanoparticles begin to condense out of the atmosphere. They rapidly grow as they fall to earth, the silica based particles crystallising in the process to form microscopic quartz grains. Herein lies the source of all quartz sand on earth i.e. sandy deserts, beaches, dune fields and vast sandstone deposits, they are all extraterrestrial in origin.

In short; it rained iron and quartz sand!

There are many variables to consider here: atmospheric moisture content, temperature, wind, fluctuating levels of metallic and silica vapours, as well as the presence of other minerals, etc. All this, and more, played a part in determining the size and colour of the particles falling to earth, and ultimately the mineral composition and appearance of BIFs.

Upon decent the iron particles oxidize in moist air and even more so as they fall into already oxygenated seas forming mainly hematite-magnetite, blue green algae having nothing whatsoever to do with the process. Oxidation probably involved that of coating the particles with a submicroscopic coating of oxides. An analogy would be unmelted micrometeorites (UMMs) that fall to earth today, they all show signs of a magnetite shell (see; M. Maurette. Micrometeorites and the Mysteries of Our Origins. 2006).

Similarly, tumbling quartz grains are also ‘plated’ (oxidized) with a thin coat of iron-rich clays (again, largely magnetite-hematite, which is no coincidence) – this being what gives sand its colour the world over e.g., the reddish hue of the Sahara desert is down to a thin veneer of oxides coating individual sand grains. It is the varying degrees of iron oxide minerals that often give BIF deposits their spectacular red colours. For example, chert layers can be a vivid red while other chert layers can take on a more translucent appearance – such contrasting bands can exist one directly above the other. This is simply down to the presence, or absence of oxides in the atmosphere. As a general rule, the more oxide, the redder the chert (or iron layers). That being said, consideration also has to be given to varying degrees of oxidation.

Wave after wave, after wave of silica and iron particles (and clay) fall out of the sky into rising seas (origin Mars). They sink to the sea floor where they eventually lithify into banded iron formations – a terrestrial source unapparent because the material fell from the sky.

The alternating bands are largely the result of differing precipitation rates giving us waves of either silica or iron, combined with the sorting of particles according to size as discovered by French sedimentologist Guy Berthault.

“I started by examining how sedimentary particles deposited in both dry and wet conditions. In both cases sand particles of differing size poured into a flask produced micro strata or lamina. The microstrata formed from the sand particle sorting themselves out according to size.”

Experimentation demonstrating how strata are formed by rapid deposition.

Please note: Berthault also goes onto demonstrate how sedimentary layers are laid down side by side and not one on top of the other (Law of superposition). The video clip is a must watch for geologists.

Sedimentary rocks
Similar microstrata formed when the same
material was poured in a flask of air.
Compare both these images to Earth’s BIFs.
The connection is an obvious one.
Rocks Sedimentary layers.
Particle sorting; particles of differing size are poured
into water resulting in the formation of lamina.

Compare the laminae in images above to the ones in the polished BIF rock below.

Sedimentary rocks
Cross section of a polished slab of a BIF from South Africa.

Note the discrete submicrolaminae (or microbands) – indicative of particle sorting as seen in Berthault’s work.

Given the above, it would be illogical to assume that the distinctive layers (& micro layers) associated with BIFs are caused by anything other than particle sorting. There are no modern analogues because oceans do not abruptly switch between producing iron one minute and silica the next, it just doesn’t happen.

Berthault’s experiments demonstrate not only particle sorting but also rapid deposition – they show how microstrata formed within minutes. Post depositional processes apart, I would suggest BIFs were also laid down in a relatively short time. That is to say, the initial bands were probably laid down in just a few days (if that) and not over millions of years as the current paradigm requires. Furthermore, BIFs were deposited early on in the proposed cosmic melee, sometime around 6-7000 years ago. Again, billions of years are not even on the table as dating methods are in serious error.

Following deposition BIFs become buried (with more debris from Mars?) and the fine grained material turns to rock (lithification). They are further subjected to heat and pressure (metamorphism) transforming the iron and silica-rich layers into the BIFs we see today –magnetite and hematite dominating the iron-rich layers with alternating layers of chert/flint (SiO2, microcrystalline quartz). The chert forming from the cementation of tiny quartz grains, as can be seen in the image above. I would also add that the shale layers found in BIFs derive from phases of mud also slung to earth.

Summary; earth is very young geologically speaking, its surface has been shaped by external forces brought about by planetary upheaval prior to and during historical times. A good part of Earth’s sedimentary material originates from the planet Mars which was once earth-like in every sense (vast oceans, landmasses, atmosphere, humans, squash clubs, etc.). Banded iron formations represent just a small proportion of fallout from Mars.

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