The absolute age of a wide variety of rocks, fossils, and human artifacts can be determined by various laboratory procedures. Deciding which test to perform depends on the composition and believed approximate age of a particular specimen. For example Carbon 14 is often the method of choice for scientists dating organic artifacts like wood, charcoal, bone, and teeth that are less than about 40, years. Carbon 14 as an isotope exists in Earth's atmosphere at more or less constant concentrations relative to other carbon isotopes there are exceptions, which published tables compensate for.
When living tissue dies the Carbon 14 begins to slowly decay. So, they do this by giving off radiation. This process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by releasing radiation is called radioactive decay. The thing that makes this decay process so valuable for determining the age of an object is that each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life. So, if you know the radioactive isotope found in a substance and the isotope's half-life, you can calculate the age of the substance.
So, what exactly is this thing called a half-life? Well, a simple explanation is that it is the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its starting value. So, you might say that the 'full-life' of a radioactive isotope ends when it has given off all of its radiation and reaches a point of being non-radioactive. When the isotope is halfway to that point, it has reached its half-life. There are different methods of radiometric dating that will vary due to the type of material that is being dated. For example, uranium-lead dating can be used to find the age of a uranium-containing mineral.
It works because we know the fixed radioactive decay rates of uranium, which decays to lead, and for uranium, which decays to lead So, we start out with two isotopes of uranium that are unstable and radioactive. They release radiation until they eventually become stable isotopes of lead.
These two uranium isotopes decay at different rates.
In other words, they have different half-lives. The half-life of the uranium to lead is 4. The uranium to lead decay series is marked by a half-life of million years. These differing rates of decay help make uranium-lead dating one of the most reliable methods of radiometric dating because they provide two different decay clocks. This provides a built-in cross-check to more accurately determine the age of the sample. Uranium is not the only isotope that can be used to date rocks; we do see additional methods of radiometric dating based on the decay of different isotopes.
For example, with potassium-argon dating , we can tell the age of materials that contain potassium because we know that potassium decays into argon with a half-life of 1. With rubidium-strontium dating , we see that rubidium decays into strontium with a half-life of 50 billion years. By anyone's standards, 50 billion years is a long time. In fact, this form of dating has been used to date the age of rocks brought back to Earth from the moon.
So, we see there are a number of different methods for dating rocks and other non-living things, but what if our sample is organic in nature? For example, how do we know that the Iceman, whose frozen body was chipped out of glacial ice in , is 5, years old? Well, we know this because samples of his bones and hair and even his grass boots and leather belongings were subjected to radiocarbon dating.
Radiocarbon dating , also known as carbon dating or simply carbon dating, is a method used to determine the age of organic material by measuring the radioactivity of its carbon content. So, radiocarbon dating can be used to find the age of things that were once alive, like the Iceman.
And this would also include things like trees and plants, which give us paper and cloth. So, radiocarbon dating is also useful for determining the age of relics, such the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Shroud of Turin. With radiocarbon dating, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon is measured. Compared to some of the other radioactive isotopes we have discussed, carbon's half-life of 5, years is considerably shorter, as it decays into nitrogen Carbon is continually being created in the atmosphere due to the action of cosmic rays on nitrogen in the air.
Carbon combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. Because plants use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, this isotope ends up inside the plant, and because animals eat plants, they get some as well. When a plant or an animal dies, it stops taking in carbon The existing carbon within the organism starts to decay back into nitrogen, and this starts our clock for radiocarbon dating.
A scientist can take a sample of an organic material when it is discovered and evaluate the proportion of carbon left in the relic to determine its age. Radiometric dating is a method used to date rocks and other objects based on the known decay rate of radioactive isotopes. The decay rate is referring to radioactive decay , which is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by releasing radiation. Each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life or, in other words, the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its starting value.
There are different methods of radiometric dating.
Uranium-lead dating can be used to find the age of a uranium-containing mineral. Uranium decays to lead, and uranium decays to lead The two uranium isotopes decay at different rates, and this helps make uranium-lead dating one of the most reliable methods because it provides a built-in cross-check.
Additional methods of radiometric dating, such as potassium-argon dating and rubidium-strontium dating , exist based on the decay of those isotopes. Radiocarbon dating is a method used to determine the age of organic material by measuring the radioactivity of its carbon content. With radiocarbon dating, we see that carbon decays to nitrogen and has a half-life of 5, years.
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Uranium–lead radiometric dating involves using uranium or uranium to date a substance's absolute age. Using relative and radiometric dating methods, geologists are able to answer the question: how old is this fossil?.
Find a degree that fits your goals. Learn about half-life and how it is used in different dating methods, such as uranium-lead dating and radiocarbon dating, in this video lesson. Try it risk-free for 30 days. An error occurred trying to load this video. Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.
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Upgrade to Premium to add all these features to your account! Login here for access. Each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life or, in other words, the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its starting value. For example, the age of the Amitsoq gneisses from western Greenland was determined to be 3. Carbon 14 as an isotope exists in Earth's atmosphere at more or less constant concentrations relative to other carbon isotopes there are exceptions, which published tables compensate for. The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate.
Add to Add to Add to. Want to watch this again later? What is Radioactive Dating? Principles of Radiometric Dating.
Relative Dating with Fossils: Index Fossils as Indicators of Time. Methods of Geological Dating: Numerical and Relative Dating.