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In 1898, Marie Curie discovered the phenomenon of radioactivity, in which unstable atoms lose energy, or decay, by emitting radiation in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves.By 1904 physicist Ernest Rutherford showed how this decay process could act as a clock for dating old rocks.Of course, there are many problems with such dating methods, such as parent or daughter substances entering or leaving the rock, as well as daughter product being present at the beginning.Here I want to concentrate on another source of error, namely, processes that take place within magma chambers.This week, Cherry Lewis of the University of Bristol presented a talk about the history of dating the Earth as part of the BA Festival of Science in York, England.Before so-called radiometric dating, Earth's age was anybody's guess.
55-57, (1987), gives us an idea of the tremendous complexity of the processes that occur when magma solidifies.
Meanwhile, Arthur Holmes (1890-1964) was finishing up a geology degree at the Imperial College of Science in London where he developed the technique of dating rocks using the uranium-lead method.
By applying the technique to his oldest rock, Holmes proposed that the Earth was at least 1.6 billion years old.
Our planet was pegged at a youthful few thousand years old by Bible readers (by counting all the "begats" since Adam) as late as the end of the 19th century, with physicist Lord Kelvin providing another nascent estimate of 100 million years.
Kelvin defended this calculation throughout his life, even disputing Darwin's explanations of evolution as impossible in that time period.