How radiometric dating works

Posted by / 02-May-2017 11:26

Radiometric dating (often called radioactive dating) is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or carbon, usually based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates.The use of radiometric dating was first published in 1907 by Bertram Boltwood and is now the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of the Earth itself, and can be used to date a wide range of natural and man-made materials.As radioactive Parent atoms decay to stable daughter atoms (as uranium decays to lead) each disintegration results in one more atom of the daughter than was initially present and one less atom of the parent.The probability of a parent atom decaying in a fixed period of time is always the same for all atoms of that type regardless of temperature, pressure, or chemical conditions. The time required for one-half of any original number of parent atoms to decay is the half-life, which is related to the decay constant by a simple mathematical formula.The principle of superposition therefore has a clear implication for the age of a vertical succession of strata.There are situations where it potentially fails -- for example, in cave deposits.The number of parent atoms originally present is simply the number present now plus the number of daughter atoms formed by the decay, both of which are quantities that can be measured.Samples for dating are selected carefully to avoid those that are altered, contaminated, or disturbed by later heating or chemical events.

If we know the number of radioactive parent atoms present when a rock formed and the number present now, we can calculate the age of the rock using the decay constant.It is not about the theory behind radiometric dating methods, it is about their , and it therefore assumes the reader has some familiarity with the technique already (refer to "Other Sources" for more information).As an example of how they are used, radiometric dates from geologically simple, fossiliferous Cretaceous rocks in western North America are compared to the geological time scale.A common form of criticism is to cite geologically complicated situations where the application of radiometric dating is very challenging.These are often characterised as the norm, rather than the exception.

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