Now, this technique is pretty cool if you want to calculate the age of a tree, for example, or even an Ancient Egyptian king a few thousand years young.
Dating Sedimentary Rock - How Do Scientists Determine the Age of Dinosaur Bones? | HowStuffWorks
Accurate dating of samples requires that the parent radioactive isotope has a long enough half-life such that it will still be quantifiable today. So, what are our options?
Since there is insufficient uranium present in dinosaur bones to date directly, scientists go for igneous rock rock formed from magma — usually in the form of a mineral called zircon ZrSiO 4. Zircon is ideal because:. Once the absolute age of a piece of zircon has been determined, it is matched to the sedimentary layers that it was found in.
Dinosaur bones that are found in the same layer can then be dated based on this with a certain degree of accuracy.
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Rock face showing the layers that have slowly been deposited over many years. Now, some of you might be asking: In terms of charge, they are identical, meaning that they have the same chemical properties.
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However, mass spectrometry MS can be employed to exploit their differences in mass. There exist many different variations of mass spectrometry, but they work by a similar principle. The sample is first vaporized turned into gas and ionized turned into positively charged ions , then accelerated along the length of a tube. Mass analyzers placed at the end of the tube are able to detect these, hopefully with enough sensitivity to tell the isotopes apart.
Radiocarbon Dating of Dinosaur Fossils
If you try to add extra blocks to the sides pyramid, they may stay put for a while, but they'll eventually fall away. The same is true if you take a block away from one of the pyramid's sides, making the rest unstable. Eventually, some of the blocks can fall away, leaving a smaller, more stable structure. The result is like a radioactive clock that ticks away as unstable isotopes decay into stable ones.
You can't predict when a specific unstable atom, or parent , will decay into a stable atom, or daughter.
Which Radioisotope to Choose?
But you can predict how long it will take a large group of atoms to decay. The element's half-life is the amount of time it takes for half the parent atoms in a sample to become daughters.
To read the time on this radioactive clock, scientists use a device called a mass spectrometer to measure the number of parent and daughter atoms. The ratio of parents to daughters can tell the researcher how old the specimen is.
The research by Miller et al.
The more parent isotopes there are -- and the fewer daughter isotopes -- the younger the sample. The half-life of the isotope being measured determines how useful it is at dating very old samples.
Once all the parents have become daughters, there's no more basis for comparison between the two isotopes. Scientists can't tell whether the clock ran down a few days or millions of years ago. This means that isotopes with a short half-life won't work to date dinosaur bones.