They observed that every rock formation, no matter how ancient, appeared to be formed from still older rocks.
Comparing these rocks with the products of present erosion, sedimentation, and earth movements, these earliest geologists soon concluded that the time required to form and sculpt the present Earth was immeasurably longer than had previously been thought.
There are a number of long-lived radioactive isotopes used in radiometric dating, and a variety of ways they are used to determine the ages of rocks, minerals, and organic materials.
Some of the isotopic parents, end-product daughters, and half-lives involved are listed in Table 1.
Radiometric dating is based on the decay of long-lived radioactive isotopes that occur naturally in rocks and minerals.
These parent isotopes decay to stable daughter isotopes at rates that can be measured experimentally and are effectively constant over time regardless of physical or chemical conditions.
Some of the methods have internal checks, so that the data themselves provide good evidence of reliability or lack thereof.
Commonly, a radiometric age is checked by other evidence, such as the relative order of rock units as observed in the field, age measurements based on other decay schemes, or ages on several samples from the same rock unit.James Hutton, a physician-farmer and one of the founders of the science of geology, wrote in 1788, “The result, therefore, of our present inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, — no prospect of an end.” Although this may now sound like an overstatement, it nicely expresses the tremendous intellectual leap required when geologic time was finally and forever severed from the artificial limits imposed by the length of the human lifetime.By the mid- to late 1800s, geologists, physicists, and chemists were searching for ways to quantify the age of the Earth.Second, the rock or mineral must not lose or gain either potassium or argon from the time of its formation to the time of analysis.By many experiments over the past three decades, geologists have learned which types of rocks and minerals meet these requirements and which do not.Bishop James Ussher, a 17th-century Irish cleric, for example, calculated that creation occurred in 4004 B. There were many other such estimates, but they invariably resulted in an Earth only a few thousand years old.