Carbon dating works on organic matter, all of which contains carbon. However it is less useful for dating metal or other inorganic objects. Most rocks contain uranium, allowing uranium-lead and similar methods to date them. Other elements used for dating, such as rubidium, occur in some minerals but not others, restricting usefulness. Note that although carbon dating receives a lot of attention, since it can give information about the relatively recent past, it is rarely used in geology and almost never used to date fossils.
Carbon decays almost completely within , years of the organism dying, and many fossils and rock strata are hundreds of times older than that. To date older fossils, other methods are used, such as potassium-argon or argon-argon dating. Other forms of dating based on reactive minerals like rubidium or potassium can date older finds including fossils, but have the limitation that it is easy for ions to move into rocks post-formation so that care must be taken to consider geology and other factors.
Radiometric dating — through processes similar to those outlined in the example problem above — frequently reveals that rocks, fossils , etc. The oldest rock so far dated is a zircon crystal that formed 4.
They tie themselves in logical knots trying to reconcile the results of radiometric dating with the unwavering belief that the Earth was created ex nihilo about 6, to 10, years ago. Creationists often blame contamination. Indeed, special creationists have for many years held that where science and their religion conflict, it is a matter of science having to catch up with scripture, not the other way around.
One way Young Earth Creationists and other denialists try to discredit radiometric dating is to cite examples radiometric dating techniques providing inaccurate results. This is frequently because the selected technique is used outside of its appropriate range, for example on very recent lavas. In attempting to date Mt. Helens, creationists attempted discredit the discipline through dishonest practices. Ultimately these "creation scientists" were forced to admit that even for methods they accepted as sound, the age of the Earth would be vastly greater than the 6, they set out to prove.
Creationists commonly object to carbon dating results on the basis that they can be contaminated in the laboratory by atmospheric carbon; however such contamination would result in increased carbon levels and hence the object appearing younger than it is; hence samples can only be older than they appear, not younger, which does not help young earth creationists at all. Another creationist argument is to claim that rates of atomic decay are not constant through time. An enormous amount of research shows that in the lab decay rates are constant over time and wherever you are.
Faced with this, creationists say that you can't extrapolate from this to deduce they are correct over billions of years. A few experiments have found small variations in decay rates, at least for some forms of decay and some isotopes. While it may require further investigation to see if this is a real phenomenon, even the biggest positive results do not offer anything like a variation that would allow the truth of young earth creationism. Not to be confused with single's night for devilish ham radio enthusiasts. For all other nuclides, the proportion of the original nuclide to its decay products changes in a predictable way as the original nuclide decays over time.
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This predictability allows the relative abundances of related nuclides to be used as a clock to measure the time from the incorporation of the original nuclides into a material to the present. The basic equation of radiometric dating requires that neither the parent nuclide nor the daughter product can enter or leave the material after its formation. The possible confounding effects of contamination of parent and daughter isotopes have to be considered, as do the effects of any loss or gain of such isotopes since the sample was created. It is therefore essential to have as much information as possible about the material being dated and to check for possible signs of alteration.
Alternatively, if several different minerals can be dated from the same sample and are assumed to be formed by the same event and were in equilibrium with the reservoir when they formed, they should form an isochron. This can reduce the problem of contamination. In uranium—lead dating , the concordia diagram is used which also decreases the problem of nuclide loss. Finally, correlation between different isotopic dating methods may be required to confirm the age of a sample.
For example, the age of the Amitsoq gneisses from western Greenland was determined to be 3.
Accurate radiometric dating generally requires that the parent has a long enough half-life that it will be present in significant amounts at the time of measurement except as described below under "Dating with short-lived extinct radionuclides" , the half-life of the parent is accurately known, and enough of the daughter product is produced to be accurately measured and distinguished from the initial amount of the daughter present in the material.
The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate. This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry.
The precision of a dating method depends in part on the half-life of the radioactive isotope involved. For instance, carbon has a half-life of 5, years. After an organism has been dead for 60, years, so little carbon is left that accurate dating cannot be established. On the other hand, the concentration of carbon falls off so steeply that the age of relatively young remains can be determined precisely to within a few decades. If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusion , setting the isotopic "clock" to zero.
The temperature at which this happens is known as the closure temperature or blocking temperature and is specific to a particular material and isotopic system. These temperatures are experimentally determined in the lab by artificially resetting sample minerals using a high-temperature furnace.
Radiometric Dating: Methods, Uses & the Significance of Half-Life
As the mineral cools, the crystal structure begins to form and diffusion of isotopes is less easy. At a certain temperature, the crystal structure has formed sufficiently to prevent diffusion of isotopes. This temperature is what is known as closure temperature and represents the temperature below which the mineral is a closed system to isotopes. Thus an igneous or metamorphic rock or melt, which is slowly cooling, does not begin to exhibit measurable radioactive decay until it cools below the closure temperature. The age that can be calculated by radiometric dating is thus the time at which the rock or mineral cooled to closure temperature.
This field is known as thermochronology or thermochronometry. The mathematical expression that relates radioactive decay to geologic time is  . The equation is most conveniently expressed in terms of the measured quantity N t rather than the constant initial value N o.
The above equation makes use of information on the composition of parent and daughter isotopes at the time the material being tested cooled below its closure temperature. This is well-established for most isotopic systems.
Plotting an isochron is used to solve the age equation graphically and calculate the age of the sample and the original composition. Radiometric dating has been carried out since when it was invented by Ernest Rutherford as a method by which one might determine the age of the Earth. In the century since then the techniques have been greatly improved and expanded. The mass spectrometer was invented in the s and began to be used in radiometric dating in the s.
It operates by generating a beam of ionized atoms from the sample under test. The ions then travel through a magnetic field, which diverts them into different sampling sensors, known as " Faraday cups ", depending on their mass and level of ionization. On impact in the cups, the ions set up a very weak current that can be measured to determine the rate of impacts and the relative concentrations of different atoms in the beams. Uranium—lead radiometric dating involves using uranium or uranium to date a substance's absolute age.
This scheme has been refined to the point that the error margin in dates of rocks can be as low as less than two million years in two-and-a-half billion years. Uranium—lead dating is often performed on the mineral zircon ZrSiO 4 , though it can be used on other materials, such as baddeleyite , as well as monazite see: Zircon has a very high closure temperature, is resistant to mechanical weathering and is very chemically inert. Zircon also forms multiple crystal layers during metamorphic events, which each may record an isotopic age of the event.
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One of its great advantages is that any sample provides two clocks, one based on uranium's decay to lead with a half-life of about million years, and one based on uranium's decay to lead with a half-life of about 4. This can be seen in the concordia diagram, where the samples plot along an errorchron straight line which intersects the concordia curve at the age of the sample. This involves the alpha decay of Sm to Nd with a half-life of 1. Accuracy levels of within twenty million years in ages of two-and-a-half billion years are achievable.
This involves electron capture or positron decay of potassium to argon Potassium has a half-life of 1. This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontium , with a half-life of 50 billion years. This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocks , and has also been used to date lunar samples. Closure temperatures are so high that they are not a concern.
Rubidium-strontium dating is not as precise as the uranium-lead method, with errors of 30 to 50 million years for a 3-billion-year-old sample. A relatively short-range dating technique is based on the decay of uranium into thorium, a substance with a half-life of about 80, years. It is accompanied by a sister process, in which uranium decays into protactinium, which has a half-life of 32, years.