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.
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.
One of the primary functions of the dating specialist (sometimes called a geochronologist) is to select the applicable method for the particular problem to be solved, and to design the experiment in such a way that there will be checks on the reliability of the results.he question of the ages of the Earth and its rock formations and features has fascinated philosophers, theologians, and scientists for centuries, primarily because the answers put our lives in temporal perspective.Until the 18th century, this question was principally in the hands of theologians, who based their calculations on biblical chronology.For example, a method based on a parent isotope with a very long half-life, such as C method can only be used to determine the ages of certain types of young organic material and is useless on old granites.Some methods work only on closed systems, whereas others work on open systems.My purpose here is not to review and discuss all of the dating methods in use.Instead, I describe briefly only the three principal methods. These are the three methods most commonly used by scientists to determine the ages of rocks because they have the broadest range of applicability and are highly reliable when properly used.It is based on the radioactivity of Ar, however, is an inert gas that escapes easily from rocks when they are heated but is trapped within the crystal structures of many minerals after a rock cools. This correction can be made very accurately and has no appreciable effect on the calculated age unless the atmospheric argon is a very large proportion of the total argon in the analysis.The geochronologist takes this factor into account when assigning experimental errors to the calculated ages. First, there must be no argon other than that of atmospheric composition trapped in the rock or mineral when it forms.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.