If you want to know how old someone or something is, you can generally rely on some combination of simply asking questions or Googling to arrive at an accurate answer. This applies to everything from the age of a classmate to the number of years the United States has existed as a sovereign nation and counting as of But what about the ages of objects of antiquity, from a newly discovered fossil to the very age of the Earth itself? Sure, you can scour the Internet and learn rather quickly that the scientific consensus pins the age of of the planet at about 4. But Google didn't invent this number; instead, human ingenuity and applied physics have provided it. Specifically, a process called radiometric dating allows scientists to determine the ages of objects, including the ages of rocks, ranging from thousands of years old to billions of years old to a marvelous degree of accuracy. This relies on a proven combination of basic mathematics and knowledge of the physical properties of different chemical elements.
Radioactive dating device
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You have a sneaky, but not especially clever, roommate who doesn't like the ice cream itself, but cannot resist picking out eating the chips - and in an effort to avoid detection, he replaces each one he consumes with a raisin. He is afraid to do this with all of the chocolate chips, so instead, each day, he swipes half of the number of remaining chocolate chips and puts raisins in their place, never quite completing his diabolical transformation of your dessert, but getting closer and closer.
Say a second friend who is aware of this arrangement visits and notices that your carton of ice cream contains 70 raisins and 10 chocolate chips. She declares, "I guess you went shopping about three days ago.
Because your roommate eats half of the chips on any given day, and not a fixed number, the carton must have held 20 chips the day before, 40 the day before that, and 80 the day before that. Calculations involving radioactive isotopes are more formal but follow the same basic principle: If you know the half-life of the radioactive element and can measure how much of each isotope is present, you can figure out the age of the fossil, rock or other entity it comes from.
Radioactive decay is a clock that ticks at a known rate. These techniques accurately determine the ages of rocks and minerals, allowing scientists to date events such as crystallization. Radiometric dating is a means of determining the age of very old objects, including the Earth itself. Radiometric dating depends on the decay of isotopes, which are different forms of the same element that include the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons in their atoms. Radioactive dating enables geologists to record the history of the earth and its events, such as the dinosaur era, within what they call the geologic time scale. Radioactive dating uses the ratios.
Elements that have half-lives are said to obey a first-order decay process. They have what is known as a rate constant, usually denoted by k.
The relationship between the number of atoms present at the start N 0the number present at the time of measurement N the elapsed time t, and the rate constant k can be written in two mathematically equivalent ways:. In addition, you may wish to know the activity A of a sample, typically measured in disintegrations per second or dps.
This is expressed simply as:. You don't need to know how these equations are derived, but you should be prepared to use them so solve problems involving radioactive isotopes.
Scientists interested in figuring out the age of a fossil or rock analyze a sample to determine the ratio of a given radioactive element's daughter isotope or isotopes to its parent isotope in that sample.
With the element's decay rate, and hence its half-life, known in advance, calculating its age is straightforward. The trick is knowing which of the various common radioactive isotopes to look for. This in turn depends in the approximate expected age of the object because radioactive elements decay at enormously different rates.
Also, not all objects to be dated will have each of the elements commonly used; you can only date items with a given dating technique if they include the needed compound or compounds.
Uranium-lead U-Pb dating: Radioactive uranium comes in two forms, uranium and uranium The number refers to the number of protons plus neutrons. Uranium's atomic number is 92, corresponding to its number of protons.
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The half-life of uranium is 4. Because these differ by a factor of almost seven recall that a billion is 1, times a millionit proves a "check" to make sure you're calculating the age of the rock or fossil properly, making this among the most precise radiometric dating methods.
The long half-lives make this dating technique suitable for especially old materials, from about 1 million to 4.
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U-Pb dating is complex because of the two isotopes in play, but this property is also what makes it so precise. The method is also technically challenging because lead can "leak" out of many types of rocks, sometimes making the calculations difficult or impossible.
U-Pb dating is often used to date igneous volcanic rocks, which can be hard to do because of the lack of fossils; metamorphic rocks; and very old rocks. All of these are hard to date with the other methods described here. Rubidium-strontium Rb-Sr dating: Radioactive rubidium decays into strontium with a half -life of Not surprisingly, Ru-Sr dating is used to date very old rocks as old as the Earth, in fact, since the Earth is "only" around 4.
Strontium exists in other stable i.
Radioactivity - Radioactive Dating - Using Half Life to find the age of objects.
But because rubidium is abundant in the Earth's crust, the concentration of strontium is much higher than that of the other isotopes of strontium. Scientists can then compare the ratio of the strontium to the total amount of stable strontium isotopes to calculate the level of decay that produces the detected concentration of strontium This technique is often used to date igneous rocks and very old rocks.
Potassium-argon K-Ar dating: The radioactive potassium isotope is K, which decays into both calcium Ca and argon Ar in a ratio of Argon is a noble gas, which means that it is nonreactive and would not be a part of the initial formation of any rocks or fossils.
Radiometric dating is a way to find out how old something is. The method compares the amount of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, in samples. The method uses known decay rates. It is the most used method of geochronology, the main way to learn the age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of the Earth itself. It is used to date many kinds of natural .
Any argon found in a rocks or fossils therefore has to be the result of this kind of radioactive decay. The half-life of potassium is 1. Potassium is very abundant in the Earth, making it great for dating because it is found in some levels in most kinds of samples.
It is good for dating igneous rocks volcanic rocks. Carbon C dating: Carbon enters organisms from the atmosphere.
Radioactive Dating Radioactive isotopes are useful for establishing the ages of various objects. The half-life of radioactive isotopes is unaffected by any . Jun 29, SwRI is designing the CODEX instrument to use radioisotope dating techniques in situ to determine the age of rocks on other planets or moons. With . Learn about different types of radiometric dating, such as carbon dating. Understand how decay and half life work to enable radiometric dating. Play a game that tests your ability to match the percentage of the dating element that remains to the age of the object.