Early Moon formation inferred from hafnium–tungsten systematics


The date of the Moon-forming impact places an important constraint on Earth’s origin. Lunar age estimates range from about 30 Myr to 200 Myr after Solar System formation. Central to this age debate is the greater abundance of 182W inferred for the silicate Moon than for the bulk silicate Earth. This compositional difference has been explained as a vestige of less late accretion to the Moon than to the Earth after core formation. Here we present high-precision trace element composition data from inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry for a wide range of lunar samples. Our measurements show that the Hf/W ratio of the silicate Moon is higher than that of the bulk silicate Earth. By combining these data with experimentally derived partition coefficients, we found that the 182W excess in lunar samples can be explained by the decay of the now extinct 182Hf to 182W. 182Hf was only extant for the first 60 Myr after the Solar System formation. We conclude that the Moon formed early, approximately 50 Myr after the Solar System, and that the excess 182W of the silicate Moon is unrelated to late accretion.

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Fig. 1: New U/W versus Hf/W data measured in lunar samples compared to crystallization and melting models for the LMO35.
Fig. 2: Scenarios that account for the higher Hf/W of the BSM.
Fig. 3: The effect of lunar core formation on the Hf/W ratio of the silicate Moon.
Fig. 4: Tungsten isotope composition (μ182W) of the silicate Moon as a function of the lunar Hf/W ratio and formation age.

Data availability

The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its Supplementary Information files.


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M.M.T. and C.M. acknowledge funding through the European Commission by ERC grant 669666 ‘Infant Earth’. M.M.T. acknowledges funding from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Projekt no. 213793859 (SP 1385/1-1 to P.S.) and EoS project ET-HOME (present funding); R.O.C.F. acknowledges funding for a Heisenberg Fellowship by the DFG through grant DFG FO 698/5-1 and FO 698/6-1; P.S. acknowledges funding from UoC emerging fields grant ‘ULDETIS’. F.P.L. acknowledges funding for a PhD scholarship by DAAD/CNPq (248562/2013-4). F. Wombacher and the Cologne/Bonn support staff are thanked for laboratory operations. C.D. Garbe-Schönberg (CAU zu Kiel) is thanked for the conventional trace element analyses. CAPTEM is thanked and acknowledged for sample allocations.

Author information




M.M.T. and C.M. did the sample digestions, column chemistry and HFSE–W–U–Th isotope dilution concentration measurements partially supported by P.S. on the Neptune MC-ICP-MS. P.S., R.O.C.F. and F.P.L. did the modelling based on experimental partitioning data. M.M.T. did the modelling that related Hf/W to 182W. All the authors contributed towards the writing of the manuscript and the discussion of the implications of the data.

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Correspondence to Maxwell M. Thiemens.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

Element concentration data

Supplementary Table 2

Melt partition coefficients

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Thiemens, M.M., Sprung, P., Fonseca, R.O.C. et al. Early Moon formation inferred from hafnium–tungsten systematics. Nat. Geosci. 12, 696–700 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0398-3

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