Radiogenic dating techniques

Many radioactive dating methods are based on minute additions of daughter products to a rock or mineral in which a considerable amount of daughter-type isotopes already exists.

These isotopes did not come from radioactive decay in the system but rather formed during the original creation of the elements.

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. By measuring the quantity of unstable atoms left in a rock and comparing it to the quantity of stable daughter atoms in the rock, scientists can estimate the amount of time that has passed since that rock formed.

So in order to date most older fossils, scientists look for layers of igneous rock or volcanic ash above and below the fossil.

Scientists date igneous rock using elements that are slow to decay, such as uranium and potassium.

Fossils are generally found in sedimentary rock — not igneous rock.

Sedimentary rocks can be dated using radioactive carbon, but because carbon decays relatively quickly, this only works for rocks younger than about 50 thousand years.

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Teach your students about absolute dating: Determining age of rocks and fossils, a classroom activity for grades 9-12.Here he can see that some curved sedimentary rocks have been cut vertically by a sheet of volcanic rock called a dyke.

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