Vol. 5 No. 1 Suppl. 1 (2021) - Nicolaus Steno and Earth Science in Early Modern Italy
Special Issue Article

Crystalline stenonian time features from earth and beyond

Desmond E. Moser
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

Published 2021-06-18


  • Steno,
  • Crystal,
  • Zircon,
  • Geochronology,
  • Fractal,
  • Stoic
  • ...More

How to Cite

Moser, D. E. (2021). Crystalline stenonian time features from earth and beyond. Substantia, 99-114. https://doi.org/10.36253/Substantia-1281


The writings of Niels Stensen (Steno) on mineral growth and modification in his Prodromus, together with his work on time and process in other solids, are here synthesized as five classes of time features defined by changes in the visible continuity of either or both chemistry and orientation. This organization highlights Steno’s implicit recognition of the fractal, scale-invariant nature of natural time features with regard to space, time, and material. The effectiveness and validity of this Stenonian geochronology framework is demonstrated down to atom scale with modern case studies of the U-Pb geochronology mineral zircon from samples originating from the Earth, Moon, and Mars and spanning most of solar system history. Recently discovered nano-scale features, here termed chronostructures, were intimated by Steno in his corpuscular view of mineral behaviour. The remarkable advances in the Prodromus are seen here as a resulting from the intersection of Steno’s highly attuned approach to visual perception, his adoption of Stoic (Senecan) ethics early in his career to guide his natural philosophy, and the influence of the Galilean scientific environment of Florence. It is shown that, by virtue of its scale-invariant and intensive properties, Stenonian geochronology continues to serve as an independent and critical check on the accuracy of absolute geochronology measurements of geologic time given the latter’s inherent dependence on sample volume and the assumption of the chemically closed system.  In this way Steno’s scientific legacy continues to help propel human understanding of how we see our place in time.