Absolute geologic age dating
Major boundaries in Earth's time scale happen when there were major extinction events that wiped certain kinds of fossils out of the fossil record.This is called the chronostratigraphic time scale -- that is, the division of time (the "chrono-" part) according to the relative position in the rock record (that's "stratigraphy").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.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.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.
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.
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".
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.