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After Henri Becquerel's initial discovery in 1896, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium in 1898; and in 1903, Pierre Curie and Albert Laborde announced that radium produces enough heat to melt its own weight in ice in less than an hour.
Geologists quickly realized that this upset the assumptions underlying most calculations of the age of Earth.
In 1830, geologist Charles Lyell, developing ideas found in James Hutton's works, popularized the concept that the features of Earth were in perpetual change, eroding and reforming continuously, and the rate of this change was roughly constant.
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.