Habitability of the early Earth: liquid water under a faint young Sun facilitated by strong tidal heating due to a closer Moon

René Heller, Jan Peter Duda, Max Winkler, Joachim Reitner, Laurent Gizon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Geological evidence suggests liquid water near the Earth’s surface as early as 4.4 gigayears ago when the faint young Sun only radiated about 70% of its modern power output. At this point, the Earth should have been a global snowball if it possessed atmospheric properties similar to those of the modern Earth. An extreme atmospheric greenhouse effect, an initially more massive Sun, release of heat acquired during the accretion process of protoplanetary material, and radioactivity of the early Earth material have been proposed as reservoirs or traps for heat. For now, the faint-young-Sun paradox persists as an important problem in our understanding of the origin of life on Earth. Here, we use the constant-phase-lag tidal theory to explore the possibility that the new-born Moon, which formed about 69 million years (Myr) after the ignition of the Sun, generated extreme tidal friction—and therefore, heat—in the Hadean and possibly the Archean Earth. We show that the Earth–Moon system has lost ∼3×1031 J (99% of its initial mechanical energy budget) as tidal heat. Tidal heating of ∼10Wm-2 through the surface on a time scale of 100 Myr could have accounted for a temperature increase of up to 5∘C on the early Earth. This heating effect alone does not solve the faint-young-Sun paradox but it could have played a key role in combination with other effects. Future studies of the interplay of tidal heating, the evolution of the solar power output, and the atmospheric (greenhouse) effects on the early Earth could help in solving the faint-young-Sun paradox.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-575
Number of pages13
JournalPalaontologische Zeitschrift
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Early Earth
  • Faint-young-Sun paradox
  • Moon
  • Tidal brittle formation
  • Tides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Palaeontology


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