FAQ – Radioactive Age-Dating


Roger C. Wiens has a PhD in Physics, with a minor in Geology. His PhD thesis was on isotope ratios in meteorites, including surface exposure dating. First edition ; revised version Radiometric dating–the process of determining the age of rocks from the decay of their radioactive elements–has been in widespread use for over half a century. There are over forty such techniques, each using a different radioactive element or a different way of measuring them. It has become increasingly clear that these radiometric dating techniques agree with each other and as a whole, present a coherent picture in which the Earth was created a very long time ago. Further evidence comes from the complete agreement between radiometric dates and other dating methods such as counting tree rings or glacier ice core layers. Many Christians have been led to distrust radiometric dating and are completely unaware of the great number of laboratory measurements that have shown these methods to be consistent.

Dating Rocks and Fossils Using Geologic Methods

Here I want to concentrate on another source of error, namely, processes that take place within magma chambers. To me it has been a real eye opener to see all the processes that are taking place and their potential influence on radiometric dating. Radiometric dating is largely done on rock that has formed from solidified lava. Lava properly called magma before it erupts fills large underground chambers called magma chambers.

Most people are not aware of the many processes that take place in lava before it erupts and as it solidifies, processes that can have a tremendous influence on daughter to parent ratios.

for igneous rocks the event being dated is when the rock was formed from magma or lava. When the molten material cools and hardens, the atoms are no longer.

A relative age simply states whether one rock formation is older or younger than another formation. The Geologic Time Scale was originally laid out using relative dating principles. The geological time scale is based on the the geological rock record, which includes erosion, mountain building and other geological events.

Over hundreds to thousands of millions of years, continents, oceans and mountain ranges have moved vast distances both vertically and horizontally. For example, areas that were once deep oceans hundreds of millions of years ago are now mountainous desert regions. How is geological time measured? The earliest geological time scales simply used the order of rocks laid down in a sedimentary rock sequence stratum with the oldest at the bottom.

However, a more powerful tool was the fossilised remains of ancient animals and plants within the rock strata. After Charles Darwin’s publication Origin of Species Darwin himself was also a geologist in , geologists realised that particular fossils were restricted to particular layers of rock. This built up the first generalised geological time scale. Once formations and stratigraphic sequences were mapped around the world, sequences could be matched from the faunal successions.

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Although researchers have determined the ages of rocks from other planetary bodies, the actual experiments—like analyzing meteorites and moon rocks—have always been done on Earth. Now, for the first time, researchers have successfully determined the age of a Martian rock—with experiments performed on Mars. The work, led by geochemist Ken Farley of the California Institute of Technology Caltech , could not only help in understanding the geologic history of Mars but also aid in the search for evidence of ancient life on the planet.

However, shortly before the rover left Earth in , NASA’s participating scientist program asked researchers from all over the world to submit new ideas for experiments that could be performed with the MSL’s already-designed instruments. Farley, W. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry and one of the 29 selected participating scientists, submitted a proposal that outlined a set of techniques similar to those already used for dating rocks on Earth, to determine the age of rocks on Mars.

However, some rock specimens have an enormous number of radioactive isotopes, perhaps trillions of atoms and this large group of radioactive.

This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Despite seeming like a relatively stable place, the Earth’s surface has changed dramatically over the past 4. Mountains have been built and eroded, continents and oceans have moved great distances, and the Earth has fluctuated from being extremely cold and almost completely covered with ice to being very warm and ice-free.

These changes typically occur so slowly that they are barely detectable over the span of a human life, yet even at this instant, the Earth’s surface is moving and changing. As these changes have occurred, organisms have evolved, and remnants of some have been preserved as fossils. A fossil can be studied to determine what kind of organism it represents, how the organism lived, and how it was preserved. However, by itself a fossil has little meaning unless it is placed within some context.

The age of the fossil must be determined so it can be compared to other fossil species from the same time period. Understanding the ages of related fossil species helps scientists piece together the evolutionary history of a group of organisms. For example, based on the primate fossil record, scientists know that living primates evolved from fossil primates and that this evolutionary history took tens of millions of years.

Radioactive dating

Radiometric dating of rocks and minerals using naturally occurring, long-lived radioactive isotopes is troublesome for young-earth creationists because the techniques have provided overwhelming evidence of the antiquity of the earth and life. Some so-called creation scientists have attempted to show that radiometric dating does not work on theoretical grounds for example, Arndts and Overn ; Gill but such attempts invariably have fatal flaws see Dalrymple ; York and Dalrymple Other creationists have focused on instances in which radiometric dating seems to yield incorrect results.

In most instances, these efforts are flawed because the authors have misunderstood or misrepresented the data they attempt to analyze for example, Woodmorappe ; Morris HM ; Morris JD Only rarely does a creationist actually find an incorrect radiometric result Austin ; Rugg and Austin that has not already been revealed and discussed in the scientific literature.

The creationist approach of focusing on examples where radiometric dating yields incorrect results is a curious one for two reasons.

How do geologists use radioactive decay to determine the age of rocks? • Minerals contain trace amounts of unstable isotopes. For example, muscovite and.

R J Pankhurst. Physics Education , Volume 15 , Number 6. Get permission to re-use this article. Create citation alert. Buy this article in print. Journal RSS feed. Sign up for new issue notifications. The method of dating rocks and minerals is known as geochronology.


On this Site. Common Types of Radiometric Dating. Carbon 14 Dating.

Dating – Dating – Principles of isotopic dating: All absolute isotopic ages are A particular rock or mineral that contains a radioactive isotope (or radioisotope) is.

Relative time allows scientists to tell the story of Earth events, but does not provide specific numeric ages, and thus, the rate at which geologic processes operate. Relative dating principles was how scientists interpreted Earth history until the end of the 19th Century. Because science advances as technology advances, the discovery of radioactivity in the late s provided scientists with a new scientific tool called radioisotopic dating.

Using this new technology, they could assign specific time units, in this case years, to mineral grains within a rock. These numerical values are not dependent on comparisons with other rocks such as with relative dating, so this dating method is called absolute dating [ 5 ]. There are several types of absolute dating discussed in this section but radioisotopic dating is the most common and therefore is the focus on this section.

All elements on the Periodic Table of Elements see Chapter 3 contain isotopes. An isotope is an atom of an element with a different number of neutrons. For example, hydrogen H always has 1 proton in its nucleus the atomic number , but the number of neutrons can vary among the isotopes 0, 1, 2.

Radioactive Dating Methods

Petrology Tulane University Prof. Stephen A. Nelson Radiometric Dating Prior to the best and most accepted age of the Earth was that proposed by Lord Kelvin based on the amount of time necessary for the Earth to cool to its present temperature from a completely liquid state. Although we now recognize lots of problems with that calculation, the age of 25 my was accepted by most physicists, but considered too short by most geologists.

Basics of radioactive decay and isotopic dating A major assumption is that the rock or mineral being dated has been a closed system so that no parent isotope.

Radiometric dating, often called radioactive dating, is a technique used to determine the age of materials such as rocks. It is based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates. It is the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of the Earth itself, and it can be used to date a wide range of natural and man-made materials.

The best-known radiometric dating techniques include radiocarbon dating, potassium-argon dating, and uranium-lead dating. By establishing geological timescales, radiometric dating provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and rates of evolutionary change, and it is also used to date archaeological materials, including ancient artifacts.

The different methods of radiometric dating are accurate over different timescales, and they are useful for different materials. In many cases, the daughter nuclide is radioactive, resulting in a decay chain. This chain eventually ends with the formation of a stable, nonradioactive daughter nuclide. Each step in such a chain is characterized by a distinct half-life.

In these cases, the half-life of interest in radiometric dating is usually the longest one in the chain.

First Rock Dating Experiment Performed on Mars

A technician of the U. Geological Survey uses a mass spectrometer to determine the proportions of neodymium isotopes contained in a sample of igneous rock. Cloth wrappings from a mummified bull Samples taken from a pyramid in Dashur, Egypt. This date agrees with the age of the pyramid as estimated from historical records. Charcoal Sample, recovered from bed of ash near Crater Lake, Oregon, is from a tree burned in the violent eruption of Mount Mazama which created Crater Lake.

Dating rocks by these radioactive timekeepers is simple in theory, but the laboratory procedures are complex. The numbers of parent and.

It is an accurate way to date specific geologic events. This is an enormous branch of geochemistry called Geochronology. There are many radiometric clocks and when applied to appropriate materials, the dating can be very accurate. As one example, the first minerals to crystallize condense from the hot cloud of gasses that surrounded the Sun as it first became a star have been dated to plus or minus 2 million years!!

That is pretty accurate!!! Other events on earth can be dated equally well given the right minerals. For example, a problem I have worked on involving the eruption of a volcano at what is now Naples, Italy, occurred years ago with a plus or minus of years. Yes, radiometric dating is a very accurate way to date the Earth. We know it is accurate because radiometric dating is based on the radioactive decay of unstable isotopes.

For example, the element Uranium exists as one of several isotopes, some of which are unstable. When an unstable Uranium U isotope decays, it turns into an isotope of the element Lead Pb. We call the original, unstable isotope Uranium the “parent”, and the product of decay Lead the “daughter”. From careful physics and chemistry experiments, we know that parents turn into daughters at a very consistent, predictable rate.

19.4 Isotopic Dating Methods

Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to infer the ages of fossils contained within those rocks. Radioactive elements decay The universe is full of naturally occurring radioactive elements. Radioactive atoms are inherently unstable; over time, radioactive “parent atoms” decay into stable “daughter atoms. When molten rock cools, forming what are called igneous rocks, radioactive atoms are trapped inside.

For each kind of isotope, the rate of decay is constant. So, certain naturally occurring radioactive isotopes can be used as a kind of “clock” to find the ages of rocks.

Geologist Ralph Harvey and historian Mott Greene explain the principles of radiometric dating and its application in determining the age of Earth. As the uranium in rocks decays, it emits subatomic particles and turns into lead at a constant rate. Measuring the uranium-to-lead ratios in the oldest rocks on Earth gave scientists an estimated age of the planet of 4. Segment from A Science Odyssey: “Origins.

View in: QuickTime RealPlayer. Radiometric Dating: Geologists have calculated the age of Earth at 4. But for humans whose life span rarely reaches more than years, how can we be so sure of that ancient date? It turns out the answers are in Earth’s rocks.


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