The Hadean ( /ˈheɪdiən/) is a geologic eon of the Earth pre-dating the Archean. It began with the formation of the Earth about 4.6 billion years ago and ended, as defined by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), 4 billion years ago. As of 2016, the ICS describes its status as "informal". Geologist Preston Cloud coined the term in 1972, originally to label the period before the earliest-known rocks on Earth. W. Brian Harland later coined an almost synonymous term, the "Priscoan period", from priscus, the Latin word for "ancient". Other, older texts refer to the eon as the Pre-Archean.
4600–4000 million years ago
"Hadean" (from Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, and the underworld itself) describes the hellish conditions then prevailing on Earth: the planet had just formed and was still very hot owing to its recent accretion, the abundance of short-lived radioactive elements, and frequent collisions with other Solar System bodies.
Since few geological traces of this eon remain on Earth, there is no official subdivision. However, the Lunar geologic timescale embraces several major divisions relating to the Hadean, so these are sometimes used in an informal sense to refer to the same periods of time on Earth.
The Lunar divisions are:
In 2010, an alternative scale was proposed that includes the addition of the Chaotian and Prenephelean Eons preceding the Hadean, and divides the Hadean into three eras with two periods each. The Paleohadean era consists of the Hephaestean ( ) and the Jacobian periods ( ). The Mesohadean is divided into the Canadian ( ) and the Procrustean periods ( ). The Neohadean is divided into the Acastan ( ) and the Promethean periods ( ). As of February 2017, this has not been adopted by the IUGS.
In the last decades of the 20th century geologists identified a few Hadean rocks from western Greenland, northwestern Canada, and Western Australia. In 2015, traces of carbon minerals interpreted as "remains of biotic life" were found in 4.1-billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia.
The oldest dated zircon crystals, enclosed in a metamorphosed sandstone conglomerate in the Jack Hills of the Narryer Gneiss Terrane of Western Australia, date to 4.404 ± 0.008 Ga. This zircon is a slight outlier, with the oldest consistently-dated zircon falling closer to 4.35 Ga—around 200 million years after the hypothesized time of the Earth's formation.
In many other areas, xenocryst (or relict) Hadean zircons enclosed in older rocks indicate that younger rocks have formed on older terranes and have incorporated some of the older material. One example occurs in the Guiana shield from the Iwokrama Formation of southern Guyana where zircon cores have been dated at 4.22 Ga.
A sizable quantity of water would have been in the material that formed the Earth. Water molecules would have escaped Earth's gravity more easily when it was less massive during its formation. Hydrogen and helium are expected to continually escape (even to the present day) due to atmospheric escape.
Part of the ancient planet is theorized to have been disrupted by the impact that created the Moon, which should have caused melting of one or two large regions of the Earth. Earth's present composition suggests that there was not complete remelting as it is difficult to completely melt and mix huge rock masses. However, a fair fraction of material should have been vaporized by this impact, creating a rock vapor atmosphere around the young planet. The rock vapor would have condensed within two thousand years, leaving behind hot volatiles which probably resulted in a heavy CO
2 atmosphere with hydrogen and water vapor. Liquid water oceans existed despite the surface temperature of 230 °C (446 °F) because at an atmospheric pressure of above 27 atmospheres, caused by the heavy CO
2 atmosphere, water is still liquid. As cooling continued, subduction and dissolving in ocean water removed most CO
2 from the atmosphere but levels oscillated wildly as new surface and mantle cycles appeared.
Studies of zircons have found that liquid water must have existed as long ago as 4.4 billion years ago, very soon after the formation of the Earth. This requires the presence of an atmosphere. The cool early Earth theory covers a range from about 4.4 to about 4.1 billion years.
A September 2008 study of zircons found that Australian Hadean rock holds minerals pointing to the existence of plate tectonics as early as 4 billion years. If this is true, the time when Earth finished its transition from having a hot, molten surface and atmosphere full of carbon dioxide, to being very much like it is today, can be roughly dated to about 4.0 billion years ago. The actions of plate tectonics and the oceans trapped vast amounts of carbon dioxide, thereby reducing the greenhouse effect and leading to a much cooler surface temperature and the formation of solid rock, and possibly even life.
The Acasta Gneiss is a tonalite gneiss in the Slave craton in Northwest Territories, Canada. The rock body is exposed on an island about 300 kilometres north of Yellowknife. The rock of the outcrop was metamorphosed 3.58 to 4.031 billion years ago and is the oldest known intact crustal fragment on Earth.First described in 1989, it was named for the nearby Acasta River east of Great Bear Lake. The Acasta outcrop is found in a remote area of the Tłı̨chǫ people land settlement. It is the oldest known exposed rock in the world.Basin Groups
Basin Groups refers to 9 subdivisions of the lunar Pre-Nectarian geologic period. It is the second era of the Hadean.Cool early Earth
The cool early Earth (CEE) theory posits that for part of the Hadean geological eon, at the beginning of Earth's history, it had a modest influx of bolides and a cool climate, allowing the presence of liquid water. This would have been after the extreme conditions of Earth's earliest history between 4.6 and 4.4 billion years (Ga) ago, but before the Late Heavy Bombardment of 4.1 to 3.8 Ga ago. In 2002 John Valley et al. argued that detrital zircons found in Western Australia, dating to 4.0–4.4 Ga ago, were formed at relatively low temperatures, that meteorite impacts may have been less frequent than previously thought, and that Earth may have gone through long periods when liquid oceans and life were possible.In 2016 Gavin Kenny et al. replied to suggestions that zircons were formed by melting during tectonic subduction at plate boundaries, and argued that at least some of them were formed by meteorite impacts.Cryptic (geology)
The Cryptic era is an informal term for the earliest geologic evolution of the Earth and Moon. It is the oldest (informal) era of the Hadean eon, and it is commonly accepted to have begun close to 4533 million (about 4.533 billion) years ago when the Earth and Moon formed. No samples exist to date the transition between the Cryptic era and the following Basin Groups era for the Moon (see also Pre-Nectarian), though sometimes it is stated that this era ended 4150 million years ago for one or both of these bodies. Neither this time period, nor any other Hadean subdivision, has been officially recognized by the International Commission on Stratigraphy.
This time is cryptic because very little geological evidence has survived from this time. Most geological landforms and rocks were probably destroyed in the early bombardment phase, or by the continued effects of plate tectonics. The Earth accreted, its interior differentiated and its molten surface solidified during the Cryptic era. The proposed collision that led to the formation of the Moon occurred also at this time. The oldest known minerals are from the Cryptic era.Eoarchean
The Eoarchean ( ; also spelled Eoarchaean) is the first era of the Archean Eon of the geologic record for which the Earth has a solid crust. It spans 400 million years from the end of the Hadean Eon 4 billion years ago (4000 Mya) to the start of the Paleoarchean Era 3600 Mya. The beginnings of life on Earth have been dated to this era and evidence of cyanobacteria date to 3500 Mya, just outside this era. At that time, the atmosphere was without oxygen and the pressure values ranged from 10 to 100 bar (around 10 to 100 atmospheres).Era (geology)
A geologic era is a subdivision of geologic time that divides an eon into smaller units of time. The Phanerozoic Eon is divided into three such time frames: the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic (meaning "old life", "middle life" and "recent life") that represent the major stages in the macroscopic fossil record. These eras are separated by catastrophic extinction boundaries, the P-T boundary between the Paleozoic and the Mesozoic and the K-Pg boundary between the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic. There is evidence that catastrophic meteorite impacts played a role in demarcating the differences between the eras.
The Hadean, Archean and Proterozoic eons were as a whole formerly called the Precambrian. This covered the four billion years of Earth history prior to the appearance of hard-shelled animals. More recently, however, the Archean and Proterozoic eons have been subdivided into eras of their own.
Geologic eras are further subdivided into geologic periods, although the Archean eras have yet to be subdivided in this way.Hadean zircon
Hadean zircon is the oldest-surviving crustal material from the Earth's earliest geological time period, the Hadean eon, about 4 billion years ago. Zircon is a mineral that is commonly used for radiometric dating because it is highly resistant to chemical changes and appears in the form of small crystals or grains in most igneous and metamorphic host rocks.
Hadean zircon has very low abundance around the globe because of recycling of material by plate tectonics. When the rock at the surface is buried deep in the Earth it is heated and can recrystallise or melt. In the Jack Hills, Australia, scientists obtained a relatively comprehensive record of Hadean zircon crystals in contrast to other locations. The Jack Hills rocks are from the Archean eon, about 3.6 billion years old. However, the zircon crystals there are older than the rocks that contain them. Many investigations have been carried out to find the absolute age and properties of zircon, for example the isotope ratios, mineral inclusions, and geochemistry of zircon. The characteristics of Hadean zircons show early Earth history and the mechanism of Earth's processes in the past. Based on the properties of these zircon crystals, many different geological models were proposed.History of Earth
The history of Earth concerns the development of planet Earth from its formation to the present day. Nearly all branches of natural science have contributed to understanding of the main events of Earth's past, characterized by constant geological change and biological evolution.
The geological time scale (GTS), as defined by international convention, depicts the large spans of time from the beginning of the Earth to the present, and its divisions chronicle some definitive events of Earth history. (In the graphic: Ga means "billion years ago"; Ma, "million years ago".) Earth formed around 4.54 billion years ago, approximately one-third the age of the universe, by accretion from the solar nebula. Volcanic outgassing probably created the primordial atmosphere and then the ocean, but the early atmosphere contained almost no oxygen. Much of the Earth was molten because of frequent collisions with other bodies which led to extreme volcanism. While the Earth was in its earliest stage (Early Earth), a giant impact collision with a planet-sized body named Theia is thought to have formed the Moon. Over time, the Earth cooled, causing the formation of a solid crust, and allowing liquid water on the surface.
The Hadean eon represents the time before a reliable (fossil) record of life; it began with the formation of the planet and ended 4.0 billion years ago. The following Archean and Proterozoic eons produced the beginnings of life on Earth and its earliest evolution. The succeeding eon is the Phanerozoic, divided into three eras: the Palaeozoic, an era of arthropods, fishes, and the first life on land; the Mesozoic, which spanned the rise, reign, and climactic extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs; and the Cenozoic, which saw the rise of mammals. Recognizable humans emerged at most 2 million years ago, a vanishingly small period on the geological scale.
The earliest undisputed evidence of life on Earth dates at least from 3.5 billion years ago, during the Eoarchean Era, after a geological crust started to solidify following the earlier molten Hadean Eon. There are microbial mat fossils such as stromatolites found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone discovered in Western Australia. Other early physical evidence of a biogenic substance is graphite in 3.7 billion-year-old metasedimentary rocks discovered in southwestern Greenland as well as "remains of biotic life" found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia. According to one of the researchers, "If life arose relatively quickly on Earth … then it could be common in the universe."Photosynthetic organisms appeared between 3.2 and 2.4 billion years ago and began enriching the atmosphere with oxygen. Life remained mostly small and microscopic until about 580 million years ago, when complex multicellular life arose, developed over time, and culminated in the Cambrian Explosion about 541 million years ago. This sudden diversification of life forms produced most of the major phyla known today, and divided the Proterozoic Eon from the Cambrian Period of the Paleozoic Era. It is estimated that 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth, over five billion, have gone extinct. Estimates on the number of Earth's current species range from 10 million to 14 million, of which about 1.2 million are documented, but over 86 percent have not been described. However, it was recently claimed that 1 trillion species currently live on Earth, with only one-thousandth of one percent described.The Earth's crust has constantly changed since its formation, as has life since its first appearance. Species continue to evolve, taking on new forms, splitting into daughter species, or going extinct in the face of ever-changing physical environments. The process of plate tectonics continues to shape the Earth's continents and oceans and the life they harbor. Human activity is now a dominant force affecting global change, harming the biosphere, the Earth's surface, hydrosphere, and atmosphere with the loss of wild lands, over-exploitation of the oceans, production of greenhouse gases, degradation of the ozone layer, and general degradation of soil, air, and water quality.Imbrian
Millions of years before present
The Imbrian is a lunar geologic period divided into two epochs, the Early Imbrian and Late Imbrian.Jack Hills
The Jack Hills are a range of hills in Mid West Western Australia. They are best known as the source of the oldest material of terrestrial origin found to date: Hadean zircons that formed around 4.39 billion years ago. These zircons have enabled ground-breaking research into the conditions on earth in the Hadean eon. In 2015, "remains of biotic life" were found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks there. According to one of the researchers, "If life arose relatively quickly on Earth ... then it could be common in the universe."Late Heavy Bombardment
The Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB), or lunar cataclysm, is a hypothesized event thought to have occurred approximately 4.1 to 3.8 billion years (Ga) ago, at a time corresponding to the Neohadean and Eoarchean eras on Earth. During this interval, a disproportionately large number of asteroids are theorized to have collided with the early terrestrial planets in the inner Solar System, including Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Since 2018, the existence of the Late Heavy Bombardment has been questioned.The Late Heavy Bombardment happened after the Earth and other rocky planets had formed and accreted most of their mass, but still quite early in Earth's history.
Evidence for the LHB derives from lunar samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts. Isotopic dating of Moon rocks implies that most impact melts occurred in a rather narrow interval of time. Several hypotheses attempt to explain the apparent spike in the flux of impactors (i.e. asteroids and comets) in the inner Solar System, but no consensus yet exists. The Nice model, popular among planetary scientists, postulates that the giant planets underwent orbital migration and in doing so, scattered objects in the asteroid and/or Kuiper belts into eccentric orbits, and into the path of the terrestrial planets. Other researchers argue that the lunar sample data do not require a cataclysmic cratering event near 3.9 Ga, and that the apparent clustering of impact-melt ages near this time is an artifact of sampling materials retrieved from a single large impact basin. They also note that the rate of impact cratering could differ significantly between the outer and inner zones of the Solar System.Magmatic water
Magmatic water or juvenile water is water that exists within, and in equilibrium with, a magma or water-rich volatile fluids that are derived from a magma. This magmatic water is released to the atmosphere during a volcanic eruption. Magmatic water may also be released as hydrothermal fluids during the late stages of magmatic crystallization or solidification within the Earth's crust. The crystallization of hydroxyl bearing amphibole and mica minerals acts to contain part of the magmatic water within a solidified igneous rock. Ultimate sources of this magmatic water includes water and hydrous minerals in rocks melted during subduction as well as primordial water brought up from the deep mantle.Nectarian
The Nectarian Period of the lunar geologic timescale runs from 3920 million years ago to 3850 million years ago. It is the period during which the Nectaris Basin and other major basins were formed by large impact events. Ejecta from Nectaris forms the upper part of the densely cratered terrain found in lunar highlands.
Millions of years before presentNuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt
The Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt (NGB) is a sequence of metamorphosed mafic to ultramafic volcanic and associated sedimentary rocks (a greenstone belt) located on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay, 40 km southeast of Inukjuak, Quebec. These rocks have undergone extensive metamorphism, and represent some of the oldest rocks on Earth.
Two papers dating the age of the Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt have been published. One paper gave an age of ca. 3,750 million years ago (mya), while the other gave an age of ca. 4,388 mya. In March 2017, the age of the Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt was still unresolved.In March 2017, a published report gave evidence for fossils of microorganisms in these rocks, which would be the oldest trace of life yet discovered on Earth.Origin of water on Earth
The origin of water on Earth is the subject of a significant body of research in the fields of planetary science, astronomy, and astrobiology. Earth is unique among the rocky planets in the Solar System in that it is the only planet with oceans of liquid water on its surface. Liquid water, which is necessary for life, continues to exist on the surface of Earth because the planet is distant enough from the Sun that it does not lose its water to the runaway greenhouse effect, but not so far that low temperatures cause all water on the planet to freeze.
Earth could not have condensed from the protoplanetary disk with its current oceans of water because the early inner Solar System was far too hot for water to condense. Instead, water and other volatiles must have been delivered to Earth from the outer Solar System later in its history. Modern geochemical evidence suggests that water was delivered to Earth by impacts from icy planetesimals similar in composition to modern asteroids in the outer edges of the asteroid belt. However, when and how that water was delivered to Earth is the subject of ongoing research.Planet V
Planet V is a hypothetical fifth terrestrial planet posited by NASA scientists John Chambers and Jack J. Lissauer to have once existed between Mars and the asteroid belt. In their hypothesis the Late Heavy Bombardment of the Hadean era began after perturbations from the other terrestrial planets caused Planet V's orbit to cross into the asteroid belt. Chambers and Lissauer presented the results of initial tests of this hypothesis during the 33rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held from March 11 through 15, 2002.Pre-Nectarian
The pre-Nectarian period of the lunar geologic timescale runs from 4.533 billion years ago (the time of the initial formation of the Moon) to 3.920 billion years ago, when the Nectaris Basin was formed by a large impact. It is followed by the Nectarian period.Precambrian
The Precambrian (or Pre-Cambrian, sometimes abbreviated pЄ, or Cryptozoic) is the earliest part of Earth's history, set before the current Phanerozoic Eon. The Precambrian is so named because it preceded the Cambrian, the first period of the Phanerozoic eon, which is named after Cambria, the Latinised name for Wales, where rocks from this age were first studied. The Precambrian accounts for 88% of the Earth's geologic time.
The Precambrian (colored green in the timeline figure) is an informal unit of geologic time, subdivided into three eons (Hadean, Archean, Proterozoic) of the geologic time scale. It spans from the formation of Earth about 4.6 billion years ago (Ga) to the beginning of the Cambrian Period, about 541 million years ago (Ma), when hard-shelled creatures first appeared in abundance.Supracrustal rock
Supracrustal rocks (Supra (Latin for "above")) are rocks that were deposited on the existing basement rocks of the crust, hence the name. They may be further metamorphosed from both sedimentary and volcanic rocks.
The oldest minerals on Earth are detrital zircon grains from the Yilgarn Craton in the Mesoarchaean (3.2–2.8 Ga) Jack Hills, Western Australia dated to up to 4.4 Ga, meaning that granitic continental crust and probably supracrustal rocks formed during the Hadean, within 200 million years of Earth accretion. Most Hadean rocks were probably recycled into the mantle before the end of the eon, however, and such pre-4.0 Ga mineral inclusions, the only traces from the earliest rock formation on Earth, are rare.The Acasta orthogneisses of the Slave Craton, Canada, are regarded to be the oldest rocks on Earth, dated to 4.06 Ga, include protoliths such as TTGs, amphibolite, gabbro, granite, and diorite. It is possible that such early Hadean TTGs were a source of phosphorus for the first oceans and therefore contributed nutrients to the first abiogenic steps of life on Earth.No Hadean-aged zircon grains have been identified in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt in northern Quebec, but amphibolites have been dated to 4.28 Ga while 3.75 Ga-old banded iron formations indicate the minimum age of the belt. The Napier Mountains in Antarctica are of similar age.The Isua greenstone belt contains the oldest, well-preserved, supracrustals, dated at 3.8–3.7 Ga.
(541.0 Mya–2.5 Gya)
|Archean eon (2.5–4 Gya)|
|Hadean eon (4–4.6 Gya)|