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The carbon dioxide mixes throughout the atmosphere, dissolves in the oceans, and via C in the original sample will have decayed and after another 5568 years, half of that remaining material will have decayed, and so on.

This half-life (t 1/2) is the name given to this value which Libby measured at 556830 years. After 10 half-lives, there is a very small amount of radioactive carbon present in a sample.

Scientists discovered that rocks could be timepieces -- literally.

Many chemical elements in rock exist in a number of slightly different forms, known as isotopes.

But for humans whose life span rarely reaches more than 100 years, how can we be so sure of that ancient date? Even the Greeks and Romans realized that layers of sediment in rock signified old age.

But it wasn't until the late 1700s -- when Scottish geologist James Hutton, who observed sediments building up on the landscape, set out to show that rocks were time clocks -- that serious scientific interest in geological age began.

Using fossils as guides, they began to piece together a crude history of Earth, but it was an imperfect history.

Geological Time | Geologic Time Scale | Plate Tectonics | Radiometric Dating | Deep Time | Geological History of New Zealand | Radiometric Dating Radiometric measurements of time Since the early twentieth century scientists have found ways to accurately measure geological time.

Certain isotopes are unstable and undergo a process of radioactive decay, slowly and steadily transforming, molecule by molecule, into a different isotope.

This rate of decay is constant for a given isotope, and the time it takes for one-half of a particular isotope to decay is its radioactive half-life.

Measuring the uranium-to-lead ratios in the oldest rocks on Earth gave scientists an estimated age of the planet of 4.6 billion years.

Segment from A Science Odyssey: "Origins."Geologists have calculated the age of Earth at 4.6 billion years.

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For example, about 1.5 percent of a quantity of Uranium 238 will decay to lead every 100 million years.