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.
The geological time scale and an age for the Earth of 4.5 b.y.
The radiometric dating method is basically an extrapolation of the form shown in Fig. If the decay constant is known with great accuracy, an extrapolation over one or two thousand years may be regarded as quite reasonable. It should be obvious that the further one projects present rates, the more likely one is to be quite wrong. era started about 1955 with the publication of a classic paper by Patterson In spite of cautions and scepticism advised by the authors this number has been widely and enthusiastically accepted and is usually quoted as if the evidence was decisive and conclusive. Lead-206 and lead-207 are known daughter products from the decay of uranium-238 and uranium-235, respectively.
Therefore, all one has to do in general terms is to find a radioactive mineral which has been a closed system since the time of mineralization, and for which the amount of the daughter product at the beginning is known, the so-called primordial amount, and the absolute age may be calculated from the present amount of parent and daughter isotopes in the mineral.
Briefly, the weakest points in this method are that (a) truly closed systems probably do not exist in nature, “As in the case with radiometric ages determined from almost any rock unit it is impossible to establish unequivocally that the ages reported here reflect the time of original crystallization or emplacement of the bodies from which they are derived.” Before we consider the actual lead/lead isotope data there is one other comment that needs to be made regarding extrapolation of present rates. Five billion years is five million times greater than one thousand years. 2 is 2.5 cm, five million times greater is about 125 km.
rely heavily on the uranium/thorium/lead radiometric dating methods.
Because it is not generally appreciated that the assumptions on which the radiometric estimates are based are a virtually impossible sequence of events, let us refresh our minds on the fundamentals of the method by turning to the hourglass analogy (Fig. This system of measuring time works well providing that: Since radioactive decay constants are believed to be unalterable, the requirement of an absolutely reproducible rate is hopefully met.