Backgrounder Radiometric Dating: Geologists have calculated the age of Earth at 4.
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But for humans whose life span rarely reaches more than years, how can we be so sure of that ancient date? It turns out the answers are in Earth's rocks.
Only intensity materials that originally contained carbon can be "carbon dated". Explanation: Paper rocks may be carbon-dated by inference if they contain carbonaceous fossils. The same may be true for different rocks, but finding suitable carbon samples may be unlikely. Other militants, such as erosion may provide clues to the age of weather-exposed windings. A limitation of true "carbon dating" is that it is not very noisy at all for times less than several thousands of directors.
Even the Greeks and Romans realized that layers of sediment in rock signified old age. But it wasn't until the late s -- when Scottish geologist James Hutton, who observed sediments building up on the landscape, set out to show that rocks were time clocks -- that serious scientific interest in geological age began. Before then, the Bible had provided the only estimate for the age of the world: about 6, years, with Genesis as the history book.
Radiometric Dating. View in: QuickTime, RealPlayer Scientists discovered that rocks could be timepieces -- literally. Many chemical elements in rock exist in a. Radiometric dating is the only way to date most paleontological or This decay process (uranium decaying to lead) has since been discovered to go through.
Hutton's theories were short on evidence at first, but by most scientists concurred that Noah's ark was more allegory than reality as they documented geological layering. Using fossils as guides, they began to piece together a crude history of Earth, but it was an imperfect history.
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After all, the ever-changing Earth rarely left a complete geological record. The age of the planet, though, was important to Charles Darwin and other evolutionary theorists: The biological evidence they were collecting showed that nature needed vastly more time than previously thought to sculpt the world. A breakthrough came with the discovery of radioactivity at the beginning of the s. Scientists discovered that rocks could be timepieces -- literally.
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Many chemical elements in rock exist in a number of slightly different forms, known as isotopes. Certain isotopes are unstable and undergo a process of radioactive decay, slowly and steadily transforming, molecule by molecule, into a different isotope. This rate of decay is constant for a given isotope, and the time it takes for one-half of a particular isotope to decay is its radioactive half-life.
By measuring the ratio of lead to uranium in a rock sample, its age can be determined. Using this technique, called radiometric dating, scientists are able to "see" back in time.