Relative and absolute age dating

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Paleontologists have examined layered sequences of fossil-bearing rocks all over the world, and noted where in those sequences certain fossils appear and disappear.When you find the same fossils in rocks far away, you know that the sediments those rocks must have been laid down at the same time.On other solid-surfaced worlds -- which I'll call "planets" for brevity, even though I'm including moons and asteroids -- we haven't yet found a single fossil.Something else must serve to establish a relative time sequence. Earth is an unusual planet in that it doesn't have very many impact craters -- they've mostly been obliterated by active geology.In the science of geology, there are two main ways we use to describe how old a thing is or how long ago an event took place. When you say that I am 38 years old or that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, or that the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago, those are absolute ages.

To show you how this calibration changes with time, here's a graphic developed from the previous version of Fossils give us this global chronostratigraphic time scale on Earth.Just like a stack of sedimentary rocks, time is recorded in horizontal layers, with the oldest layer on the bottom, superposed by ever-younger layers, until you get to the most recent stuff on the tippy top.On Earth, we have a very powerful method of relative age dating: fossil assemblages.The more fossils you find at a location, the more you can fine-tune the relative age of this layer versus that layer.Of course, this only works for rocks that contain abundant fossils.

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