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Measuring the uranium-to-lead ratios in the oldest rocks on Earth gave scientists an estimated age of the planet of 4.6 billion years.

Segment from A Science Odyssey: "Origins."Geologists have calculated the age of Earth at 4.6 billion years.

The problem becomes intricate if more than one event that affected the radiogenic isotope systems has occurred during the evolution of the rock.

Many rocks have complex histories, and the challenge in isotopic age determination is to unravel and date not one, but each of the events that affected their evolution.] To date, only terrestrial, lunar, and meteoritic samples have been dated by isotopic methods.

Before 1955, ages for the Earth based on uranium/thorium/lead ratios were generally about a billion years younger than the currently popular 4.5 billion years. old Earth is reviewed and deficiencies of the uranium/lead method are discussed.

The basic theory of radiometric dating is briefly reviewed.

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Hutton's theories were short on evidence at first, but by 1830 most scientists concurred that Noah's ark was more allegory than reality as they documented geological layering.

magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this.

For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Nevertheless, there is substantial evidence that the Earth and the other bodies of the Solar System are 4.5-4.6 billion years old, and that the Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe are older still.

The principal evidence for the antiquity of Earth and its cosmic surroundings is: Spontaneous breakdown or decay of atomic nuclei, termed radioactive decay, is the basis for all radiometric dating methods.

Some evidence is also presented to show that radiometric results that are in agreement with the accepted geological time scale are selectively published in preference to those results that are not in agreement.

The geological time scale and an age for the Earth of 4.5 b.y.

But for humans whose life span rarely reaches more than 100 years, how can we be so sure of that ancient date? Even the Greeks and Romans realized that layers of sediment in rock signified old age.

But it wasn't until the late 1700s -- 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.

Geologist Ralph Harvey and historian Mott Greene explain the principles of radiometric dating and its application in determining the age of Earth.

As the uranium in rocks decays, it emits subatomic particles and turns into lead at a constant rate.