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These had assumed that the original heat of the Earth and Sun had dissipated steadily into space, but radioactive decay meant that this heat had been continually replenished.

George Darwin and John Joly were the first to point this out, in 1903.

Because the exact amount of time this accretion process took is not yet known, and the predictions from different accretion models range from a few million up to about 100 million years, the exact age of Earth is difficult to determine.

It is also difficult to determine the exact age of the oldest rocks on Earth, exposed at the surface, as they are aggregates of minerals of possibly different ages.

Following the development of radiometric age-dating in the early 20th century, measurements of lead in uranium-rich minerals showed that some were in excess of a billion years old.

However, they assumed that the Sun was only glowing from the heat of its gravitational contraction.

The process of solar nuclear fusion was not yet known to science.

In 1895 John Perry challenged Kelvin's figure on the basis of his assumptions on conductivity, and Oliver Heaviside entered the dialogue, considering it "a vehicle to display the ability of his operator method to solve problems of astonishing complexity." Other scientists backed up Thomson's figures. Darwin, proposed that Earth and Moon had broken apart in their early days when they were both molten.

He calculated the amount of time it would have taken for tidal friction to give Earth its current 24-hour day.

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Even more constraining were Kelvin's estimates of the age of the Sun, which were based on estimates of its thermal output and a theory that the Sun obtains its energy from gravitational collapse; Kelvin estimated that the Sun is about 20 million years old.