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Scientists determined the Earth's age using a technique called radiometric dating.
Radiometric dating is based upon the fact that some forms of chemical elements are radioactive, which was discovered in 1896 by Henri Becquerel and his assistants, Marie and Pierre Curie.
After one half-life, 50 percent of the original parents remains; after two, only 25 percent remains, and so on.
Decay curve of a radioactive element with a half-life equal to one time unit.
The grains of sand in the top half of the hourglass are the radioactive parents, and those falling to the bottom are the stable daughters.
This means that all of the lead 204 on the Earth has been around since the formation of the Earth.
Based on extensive sampling of the Earth's crust, scientists determined the present-day abundances of the four isotopes of lead relative to each other and to the parent isotopes that produced three of them.
The discovery gave scientists a tool for dating rocks that contain radioactive elements.
Many elements have naturally occurring isotopes, varieties of the element that have different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus.
Radiometric dating works best on igneous rocks, which are formed from the cooling of molten rock, or magma.