Science definition of radioactive dating




radiometric dating

We designate a specific group of atoms by using the term "nuclide. The element potassium symbol K has three nuclides, K39, K40, and K Only K40 is radioactive; the other two are stable.

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K40 can decay in two different ways: The ratio of calcium formed to argon formed is fixed and known. Therefore the amount of argon formed provides a direct measurement of the amount of potassium present in the specimen when it was originally formed. Because argon is an inert gas , it is not possible that it might have been in the mineral when it was first formed from molten magma.

Any argon present in a mineral containing potassium must have been formed as the result of radioactive decay.

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radioactive dating

F, the fraction of K40 remaining, is equal to the amount of potassium in the sample, divided by the sum of potassium in the sample plus the calculated amount of potassium required to produce the amount of argon found. The age can then be calculated from equation 1. In spite of the fact that it is a gas, the argon is trapped in the mineral and can't escape. Creationists claim that argon escape renders age determinations invalid. However, any escaping argon gas would lead to a determined age younger, not older, than actual.

The creationist "argon escape" theory does not support their young earth model. The argon age determination of the mineral can be confirmed by measuring the loss of potassium. In old rocks, there will be less potassium present than was required to form the mineral, because some of it has been transmuted to argon. The decrease in the amount of potassium required to form the original mineral has consistently confirmed the age as determined by the amount of argon formed. See Carbon 14 Dating in this web site. The nuclide rubidium decays, with a half life of Strontium is a stable element; it does not undergo further radioactive decay.

Radioactive dating definition science - Warsaw Local

Do not confuse with the highly radioactive isotope, strontium Strontium occurs naturally as a mixture of several nuclides, including the stable isotope strontium If three different strontium-containing minerals form at the same time in the same magma, each strontium containing mineral will have the same ratios of the different strontium nuclides, since all strontium nuclides behave the same chemically. Note that this does not mean that the ratios are the same everywhere on earth.

It merely means that the ratios are the same in the particular magma from which the test sample was later taken. As strontium forms, its ratio to strontium will increase. Strontium is a stable element that does not undergo radioactive change. In addition, it is not formed as the result of a radioactive decay process. The amount of strontium in a given mineral sample will not change. Therefore the relative amounts of rubidium and strontium can be determined by expressing their ratios to strontium It turns out to be a straight line with a slope of The corresponding half lives for each plotted point are marked on the line and identified.

It can be readily seen from the plots that when this procedure is followed with different amounts of Rb87 in different minerals , if the plotted half life points are connected, a straight line going through the origin is produced. These lines are called "isochrons". The steeper the slope of the isochron, the more half lives it represents. When the fraction of rubidium is plotted against the fraction of strontium for a number of different minerals from the same magma an isochron is obtained. If the points lie on a straight line, this indicates that the data is consistent and probably accurate.

An example of this can be found in Strahler, Fig If the strontium isotope was not present in the mineral at the time it was formed from the molten magma, then the geometry of the plotted isochron lines requires that they all intersect the origin, as shown in figure However, if strontium 87 was present in the mineral when it was first formed from molten magma, that amount will be shown by an intercept of the isochron lines on the y-axis, as shown in Fig Thus it is possible to correct for strontium initially present. The age of the sample can be obtained by choosing the origin at the y intercept.

Note that the amounts of rubidium 87 and strontium 87 are given as ratios to an inert isotope, strontium However, in calculating the ratio of Rb87 to Sr87, we can use a simple analytical geometry solution to the plotted data. Again referring to Fig. Since the half-life of Rb87 is When properly carried out, radioactive dating test procedures have shown consistent and close agreement among the various methods. If the same result is obtained sample after sample, using different test procedures based on different decay sequences, and carried out by different laboratories, that is a pretty good indication that the age determinations are accurate.

Of course, test procedures, like anything else, can be screwed up. Login here for access. Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course. Login or Sign up. Tashna has taught all four disciplines of science to K-2 tudents and is pursuing a master's degree in STEM education. Ever wonder how scientists concluded the age of the earth to be about 4.

Well, scientists are able to answer all of these wondrous questions and more by use of a process called radiometric, or radioactive, dating. 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 of isotopes and their specific decay products to determine the ages of rocks, fossils, and other substances. Elements occur naturally in the earth, and they can tell us a lot about its past. Carbon, uranium, and potassium are just a few examples of elements used in radioactive dating. Each element is made up of atoms, and within each atom is a central particle called a nucleus.


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Within the nucleus, we find neutrons and protons; but for now, let's just focus on the neutrons. These neutrons can become unstable, and when they do, they release energy and undergo decay. Scientists call this behavior radioactivity. Radioactivity occurs when the nucleus contains an excess amount of neutrons. When an atom varies in the number of neutrons, the variation is called an isotope. Isotopes are unstable forms of elements. During radioactivity, the unstable isotope breaks down and changes into a different substance.

A new, more stable isotope, called the decay , or daughter product , takes its place. The isotope doesn't actually deteriorate; it just changes into something else. Isotopes decay at a constant rate known as the half-life. The half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the atoms of a specific isotope to decay. Remember, isotopes are variations of elements with a different number of neutrons.

The half-life is reliable in dating artifacts because it's not affected by environmental or chemical factors; it does not change. When scientists find a sample, they measure the amount of the original, or parent, isotope and compare it to the amount of the decay product formed. They then count the number of half-lives passed and compute the absolute age of the sample. Absolute age is just a fancy way of saying definitive or specific age as opposed to the relative age, which only refers to how old or young a substance is in comparison to something else.

To illustrate, let's use the isotope uranium, which has a half-life of 4. This means that after approximately 4. If a scientist were to compute this, he or she would say two half-lives went by at a rate of 4. That's a lot of years. So you see, earth scientists are able to use the half-lives of isotopes to date materials back to thousands, millions, and even to billions of years old. The half-life is so predictable that it is also referred to as an atomic clock. Since all living things contain carbon, carbon is a common radioisotope used primarily to date items that were once living.

Carbon has a half-life of approximately 5, years and produces the decay product nitrogen Just as in the example with uranium, scientists are able to determine the age of a sample by using the ratios of the daughter product compared to the parent. Also, when dating with carbon, scientists compare the amount of carbon to carbon These are both isotopes of the element carbon present in a constant ratio while an organism is living; however, once an organism dies, the ratio of carbon decreases as the isotope deteriorates.

Radiocarbon dating can only be used to date items back to as far as about 50, years old. Radiocarbon dating was used to identify a forged painting based upon the concentrations of carbon detected on the canvas within the atmosphere at the time that the picture was painted. So, to sum this all up, radioactive dating is the process scientists use to conclude the ages of substances dating back several to many years ago by using the isotopes of elements and their half-lives.

An isotope is a variation of an element based upon the number of neutrons. The disintegration of the neutrons within the atom of the element's nucleus is what scientists call radioactivity.

What is Radioactive Dating? - Definition & Facts

An isotope disintegrates at a constant rate called the half-life , or the time it takes for half the atoms of a sample to decay. The half-life can also be termed an atomic clock. By counting the number of half-lives and the percentages remaining of parent and daughter isotopes, scientists are able to determine what they call the absolute age of a discovery. Carbon is a specific isotope used in dating materials that were once living. Other common isotopes used in radioactive dating are uranium, potassium, and iodine. To unlock this lesson you must be a Study. Did you know… We have over college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1, colleges and universities.

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