Radioactive Dating of Fossils

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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.

Stable and unstable nuclei - Radioactivity - Physics - FuseSchool

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.

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.

What is Radioactive Dating? - Definition & Facts - Video & Lesson Transcript | www.perfectpostage.com

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.

To use radioactive dating for a substance, you must know the substance's?

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.

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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.

Radioactive Decay

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. 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. Radiometric dating, use the principles and begin to and carbon-based substances.

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Fossils are collected along with rocks that occur from the same strata. These samples are carefully cataloged and analyzed with a mass spectrometer. The mass spectrometer is able to give information about the type and amount of isotopes found in the rock. Scientists find the ratio of parent isotope to daughter isotope.

By comparing this ratio to the half-life logarithmic scale of the parent isotope, they are able to find the age of the rock or fossil in question. There are several common radioactive isotopes that are used for dating rocks, artifacts and fossils. The most common is U U is found in many igneous rocks, soil and sediment.

U decays to Pb with a half-life of million years. Due to its long half-life, U is the best isotope for radioactive dating, particularly of older fossils and rocks. C is another radioactive isotope that decays to C This isotope is found in all living organisms. Once an organism dies, the C begins to decay.