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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 fact, I have sitting in front of me on my desk a two-volume work on is not light reading, but I think that every Earth or space scientist should have a copy in his or her library -- and make that the latest edition.In the time since the previous geologic time scale was published in 2004, most of the boundaries between Earth's various geologic ages have shifted by a million years or so, and one of them (the Carnian-Norian boundary within the late Triassic epoch) has shifted by 12 million years.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.
That's why geologic time is usually diagramed in tall columnar diagrams like this.This all has to do with describing how long ago something happened. There are several ways we figure out relative ages.The simplest is the law of superposition: if thing A is deposited on top of (or cuts across, or obliterates) thing B, then thing B must have been there already when thing A happened, so thing B is older than thing A.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.