Geology: The Age of the Earth

Republican Senator Marco Rubio had this to say in an interview with GQ:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Here’s what the U.S. Geological Survey has to say on Rubio’s confusion:

Do we know the exact age of the Earth?

So far scientists have not found a way to determine the exact age of the Earth directly from Earth rocks because Earth’s oldest rocks have been recycled and destroyed by the process of plate tectonics. If there are any of Earth’s primordial rocks left in their original state, they have not yet been found.

How do scientists estimate the age of the Earth?

The ages of Earth and Moon rocks and of meteorites are measured by the decay of long-lived radioactive isotopes of elements that occur naturally in rocks and minerals and that decay with half lives of 700 million to more than 100 billion years to stable isotopes of other elements. These dating techniques, which are firmly grounded in physics and are known collectively as radiometric dating, are used to measure the last time that the rock being dated was either melted or disturbed sufficiently to rehomogenize its radioactive elements.

What do we estimate the age of the Earth to be?

The best age for the Earth comes not from dating individual rocks but by considering the Earth and meteorites as part of the same evolving system in which the isotopic composition of lead, specifically the ratio of lead-207 to lead-206 changes over time owing to the decay of radioactive uranium-235 and uranium-238, respectively. … These calculations result in an age for the Earth and meteorites, and hence the Solar System, of 4.54 billion years with an uncertainty of less than 1 percent.

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