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Radiometric datingradioactive dating or radioisotope dating is a technique which is used to date materials such as rocks or carbonin which trace radioactive impurities were selectively incorporated when they were formed.
The method compares the abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope within the material to the abundance of its decay products, which form at a known constant rate of decay.
Together with stratigraphic principlesradiometric dating methods are used in geochronology to establish the geologic time scale. By allowing the establishment of geological timescales, it provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and the deduced rates of evolutionary change. Radiometric dating is also used to date archaeological materials, including ancient artifacts.
Different methods of radiometric dating vary in the timescale over which they are accurate and the materials to which they can be applied. All ordinary matter is made up of combinations of chemical elementseach with its own atomic numberindicating the number of protons in the atomic nucleus.
Additionally, elements may exist in different isotopeswith each isotope of an element differing in the number of neutrons in the nucleus. A particular isotope of a particular element is called a nuclide. Some nuclides are inherently unstable. That is, at some point in time, an atom of such a nuclide will undergo radioactive decay and spontaneously transform into a different nuclide. This transformation may be accomplished in a number of different ways, including alpha decay emission of alpha particles and beta decay electron emission, positron emission, or electron capture.
Another possibility is spontaneous fission into two or more nuclides. While the moment in time at which a particular nucleus decays is utruthexchange-sow.comedictable, a collection of atoms of a radioactive nuclide decays exponentially at a rate described by a parameter known as the half-lifeusually given in units of years when discussing dating techniques. After one half-life has elapsed, one half of the atoms of the nuclide in question will have decayed into a "daughter" nuclide or decay product.
In many cases, the daughter nuclide itself is radioactive, resulting in a decay chaineventually ending 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, usually the half-life of interest in radiometric dating is the longest one in the chain, which is the rate-limiting factor in the ultimate transformation of the radioactive nuclide into its stable daughter. Isotopic systems that have been exploited for radiometric dating have half-lives ranging from only about 10 years e.
For most radioactive nuclides, the half-life depends solely on nuclear properties and is essentially constant.
Mar 25, Danielle McLeod-Henning Archaeologists have long used carbon dating (also known as radiocarbon dating) to estimate the age of certain objects. Traditional radiocarbon dating is applied to organic remains between and 50, years old and exploits the fact that trace amounts of radioactive carbon are found in the natural environment. Oct 03, t = 18, years old Because the half-life of carbon is 5, years, it is only reliable for dating objects up to about 60, years old. However, the principle of carbon dating applies to other isotopes as well. Potassium is another radioactive element naturally found in your body and has a half-life of billion years.
It is not affected by external factors such as temperaturepressurechemical environment, or presence of a magnetic or electric field. 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.
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.
Nature has conveniently provided us with radioactive nuclides that have half-lives which range from considerably longer than the age of the universeto less than a zeptosecond.
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This allows one to measure a very wide range of ages. Isotopes with very long half-lives are called "stable isotopes," and isotopes with very short half-lives are known as "extinct isotopes.
The radioactive decay constant, the probability that an atom will decay per year, is the solid foundation of the common measurement of radioactivity. The accuracy and precision of the determination of an age and a nuclide's half-life depends on the accuracy and precision of the decay constant measurement. Unfortunately for nuclides with high decay constants which are useful for dating very old sampleslong periods of time decades are required to accumulate enough decay products in a single sample to accurately measure them.
A faster method involves using particle counters to determine alpha, beta or gamma activity, and then dividing that by the number of radioactive nuclides.
An improved background limit for AMS dating has extended the dateable age range for bone and charcoal dating to 50, BP, around 10, years older than previously. In addition, the new INTCAL09 calibration curve spans the full range of the radiocarbon method, and allows correction of ages beyond the previous limit of 26, cal BP (Reimer et al., ). Apr 01, The maximum theoretical age obtainable by radiocarbon dating depends on the instrument used to do the analyses. The older beta counting instrument was stretched to get results of 50, years, whereas the AMS instrument should be effective up to 95, years. This makes carbon an ideal dating method to date the age of bones or the remains of an organism. The carbon dating limit lies around 58, to 62, years. The rate of creation of carbon appears to be roughly constant, as cross-checks of carbon dating with other dating methods show it gives consistent results.
However, it is challenging and expensive to accurately determine the number of radioactive nuclides. Alternatively, decay constants can be determined by comparing isotope data for rocks of known age.
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This method requires at least one of the isotope systems to be very precisely calibrated, such as the Pb-Pb system. 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 datingthe 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.
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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.
The closure temperature or blocking temperature represents the temperature below which the mineral is a closed system for the studied isotopes. If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated above this temperature, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusionresetting the isotopic "clock" to zero. 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. 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. These temperatures are experimentally determined in the lab by artificially resetting sample minerals using a high-temperature furnace.
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. An isochron plot 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 4though it can be used on other materials, such as baddeleyiteas well as monazite see: monazite geochronology. 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. 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.
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This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontiumwith a half-life of 50 billion years. This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocksand 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.
Application of in situ analysis Laser-Ablation ICP-MS within single mineral grains in faults have shown that the Rb-Sr method can be used to decipher episodes of fault movement.
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. While uranium is water-soluble, thorium and protactinium are not, and so they are selectively precipitated into ocean-floor sedimentsfrom which their ratios are measured. The scheme has a range of several hundred thousand years.
A related method is ionium-thorium datingwhich measures the ratio of ionium thorium to thorium in ocean sediment. Radiocarbon dating is also simply called carbon dating. Carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon, with a half-life of 5, years   which is very short compared with the above isotopesand decays into nitrogen.
Carbon, though, is continuously created through collisions of neutrons generated by cosmic rays with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere and thus remains at a near-constant level on Earth.
The carbon ends up as a trace component in atmospheric carbon dioxide CO 2. A carbon-based life form acquires carbon during its lifetime. Plants acquire it through photosynthesisand animals acquire it from consumption of plants and other animals. When an organism dies, it ceases to take in new carbon, and the existing isotope decays with a characteristic half-life years. The proportion of carbon left when the remains of the organism are examined provides an indication of the time elapsed since its death.
This makes carbon an ideal dating method to date the age of bones or the remains of an organism. The carbon dating limit lies around 58, to 62, years. The rate of creation of carbon appears to be roughly constant, as cross-checks of carbon dating with other dating methods show it gives consistent results. However, local eruptions of volcanoes or other events that give off large amounts of carbon dioxide can reduce local concentrations of carbon and give inaccurate dates. The releases of carbon dioxide into the biosphere as a consequence of industrialization have also depressed the proportion of carbon by a few percent; conversely, the amount of carbon was increased by above-ground nuclear bomb tests that were conducted into the early s.
Also, an increase in the solar wind or the Earth's magnetic field above the current value would depress the amount of carbon created in the atmosphere. This involves inspection of a polished slice of a material to determine the density of "track" markings left in it by the spontaneous fission of uranium impurities.
The uranium content of the sample has to be known, but that can be determined by placing a plastic film over the polished slice of the material, and bombarding it with slow neutrons.
Dating - the Radiocarbon Way
This causes induced fission of U, as opposed to the spontaneous fission of U. The fission tracks produced by this process are recorded in the plastic film.
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The uranium content of the material can then be calculated from the number of tracks and the neutron flux. This scheme has application over a wide range of geologic dates. For dates up to a few million years micastektites glass fragments from volcanic eruptionsand meteorites are best used.
Older materials can be dated using zirconapatitetitaniteepidote and garnet which have a variable amount of uranium content. The technique has potential applications for detailing the thermal history of a deposit. The residence time of 36 Cl in the atmosphere is about 1 week.
Thus, as an event marker of s water in soil and ground water, 36 Cl is also useful for dating waters less than 50 years before the present. When the neutron collides, a nitrogen seven protons, seven neutrons atom turns into a carbon atom six protons, eight neutrons and a hydrogen atom one proton, zero neutrons. Carbon is radioactive, with a half-life of about 5, years.
For more information on cosmic rays and half-life, as well as the process of radioactive decay, see How Nuclear Radiation Works.
Animals and people eat plants and take in carbon as well.
The ratio of normal carbon carbon to carbon in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant. Maybe one in a trillion carbon atoms are carbon The carbon atoms are always decaying, but they are being replaced by new carbon atoms at a constant rate.
At this moment, your body has a certain percentage of carbon atoms in it, and all living plants and animals have the same percentage. The ratio of carbon to carbon at the moment of death is the same as every other living thing, but the carbon decays and is not replaced. The carbon decays with its half-life of 5, years, while the amount of carbon remains constant in the sample.
By looking at the ratio of carbon to carbon in the sample and comparing it to the ratio in a living organism, it is possible to determine the age of a formerly living thing fairly precisely. So, if you had a fossil that had 10 percent carbon compared to a living sample, then that fossil would be:. Because the half-life of carbon is 5, years, it is only reliable for dating objects up to about 60, years old.
However, the principle of carbon dating applies to other isotopes as well. Potassium is another radioactive element naturally found in your body and has a half-life of 1. The use of various radioisotopes allows the dating of biological and geological samples with a high degree of accuracy.