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Using fossils as guides, they began to piece together a crude history of Earth, but it was an imperfect history.
After all, the ever-changing Earth rarely left a complete geological record.
Radiometric Dating - A Brief Explanation Radiometric dating is the primary dating scheme employed by scientists to determine the age of the earth.
Radiometric dating techniques take advantage of the natural decay of radioisotopes.
Radiometric Dating - The Assumptions Many of the ages derived by radiometric dating techniques are highly publicized.
Nevertheless, the fundamental assumptions employed are not.
They continue to decay going through various transitional states until they finally reach stability. It will spontaneously decay until it transitions into Lead-206 (Pb206).
This is what one of the recent RATE  papers reports on. In fact, the results show that because of all the helium still in the zircons, these crystals (and since this is Precambrian basement granite, by implication the whole earth) could not be older than between 4,000 and 14,000 years.
If this were the case, the first assumption would be deemed unreasonable.
This would completely upset our current standardized view of earth's history.
An isotope is one of two or more atoms which have the same number of protons in their nuclei, but a different number of neutrons.
Radioisotopes are unstable isotopes: they spontaneously decay (emitting radiation in the process -- thus making them radioactive).
Scientists discovered that rocks could be timepieces -- literally.