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And often the samarium-neodymium ages are younger than the uranium-lead ages. All the radioactive clocks in each rock unit should have started “ticking” at the same time, the instant that each rock unit was formed.

So how do we explain that they have each recorded different ages? Each of the radioactive elements must have decayed at different, faster rates in the past!

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.

In the case of the Cardenas Basalt, while the potassium-argon clock ticked through 516 million years, two other clocks ticked through 1,111 million years and 1,588 million years.

By measuring the ratio of lead to uranium in a rock sample, its age can be determined.

They also allow us to compare rock units in different areas of the world to find which ones formed at the same time.

Furthermore, if physicists examine why the same rocks yield different dates, they may discover new clues about the unusual behavior of radioactive elements during the past.

Scientists discovered that rocks could be timepieces -- literally.

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

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