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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.With this kind of uncertainty, Felix Gradstein, editor of the For clarity and precision in international communication, the rock record of Earth's history is subdivided into a "chronostratigraphic" scale of standardized global stratigraphic units, such as "Devonian", "Miocene", " ammonite zone", or "polarity Chron C25r".Unlike the continuous ticking clock of the "chronometric" scale (measured in years before the year AD 2000), the chronostratigraphic scale is based on relative time units in which global reference points at boundary stratotypes define the limits of the main formalized units, such as "Permian".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.There are absolute ages and there are relative ages. We use a variety of laboratory techniques to figure out absolute ages of rocks, often having to do with the known rates of decay of radioactive elements into detectable daughter products.Unfortunately, those methods don't work on all rocks, and they don't work at all if you don't have rocks in the laboratory to age-date. They are descriptions of how one rock or event is older or younger than another.There's no absolute age-dating method that works from orbit, and although scientists are working on age-dating instruments small enough to fly on a lander (I'm looking at you, Barbara Cohen), nothing has launched yet. Relative age dating has given us the names we use for the major and minor geologic time periods we use to split up the history of Earth and all the other planets.

For example, the Imbrium impact basin on the Moon spread ejecta all over the place.

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.

Venus, Io, Europa, Titan, and Triton have a similar problem.

On almost all the other solid-surfaced planets in the solar system, impact craters are everywhere. We use craters to establish relative age dates in two ways.

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