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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2013

11 - The Hadean Earth

from Part III - The historical planet: Earth and solar system through time



The period from the formation of Earth, some 4.56 billion years ago, to the time when the oldest rocks still in existence today were formed, roughly 3.8 billion to 4.0 billion years ago, is called both the Hadean eon and Priscoan eon of Earth. The term Hadean, referring to the classical Greek version of hell, is well chosen, because all evidence that we have is that the Hadean Earth was very hot and extremely active, with widespread vol-canism and frequent impacts of debris left over from planetary formation. This time encompasses the assemblage of Earth from the smaller planetesimals, dramatic internal rearrangements such as core formation, the creation of the ocean and earliest atmosphere, and the origin of Earth's Moon. Forces that acted on Earth were essentially the same as those acting on Mars and Venus, and a traveler visiting Earth would have seen little to distinguish it from the two neighboring terrestrial planets.

Each planet initially had a molten, or nearly molten, silicate surface, followed by cooling and establishment of a solid crust. Each had an atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide (CO2), with little free molecular oxygen (O2). Evidence exists that each planet had liquid water on its surface during a portion of the Hadean eon. Most important, no sign of life could be seen on any of these three planets - conditions were too severe and variable to allow life-forms to survive except near the end of the Hadean on Earth, and perhaps at about the same time on Mars.

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