# What is radioactive decay dating

### Radioactive Dating

Radioactive elements "decay" (that is, change into other elements) by "half lives." If a half life is equal to one year, then one half of the radioactive element will. Radioactive dating. Carbon dating. Carbon is a The carbon it contained at the time of death decays over a long period of time. By measuring the amount. Dating Methods using Radioactive Isotopes. Oliver Seely. Radiocarbon method. The age of ancient artifacts which contain carbon can be determined by a.

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 unpredictable, 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. 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.

Accuracy of radiometric dating[ edit ] Thermal ionization mass spectrometer used in radiometric dating. 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.

## Radioactive dating

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. The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate. This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry.

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. Closure temperature If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusionsetting 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. 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 age is calculated from the slope of the isochron line and the original composition from the intercept of the isochron with the y-axis. It is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay, but given a large number of similar atoms, the decay rate on average is predictable.

This predictable decay is called the half-life of the parent atom, the time it takes for one half of all of the parent atoms to transform into the daughter. If carbon is so short-lived in comparison to potassium or uranium, why is it that in terms of the media, we mostly about carbon and rarely the others?

This may simply have to do with what the media is talking about. When there is a scientific discussion about the age of, say a meteorite or the Earth, the media just talks about the large numbers and not about the dating technique e.

On the other hand, when the media talk about "more recent events," ages that are more comprehendible, such as when early Man built a fire or even how old a painting is or some ancient parchmentthen we bring up the dating technique in order to better validate the findings. Is there a chemical test for carbon? Carbon is unreactive with a number of common lab substances: It does burn in oxygen, and if you can pass the combusted gas through limewater, the carbon dioxide will turn the limewater milky by producing calcium carbonate.

While not a chemical test, the presence of carbon in a sample like a meteorite can be found by vaporizing the sample and passing it through a mass spectrometer. This is also a way to get at the abundance of the various isotopes of carbon. Are carbon isotopes used for age measurement of meteorite samples?

We hear a lot of time estimates, X hundred millions, X million years, etc. When properly carried out, radioactive dating test procedures have shown consistent and close agreement among the various methods.

### BBC - GCSE Bitesize: Radioactive dating

If the same result is obtained sample after sample, using different test procedures based on different decay sequences, and carried out by different laboratories, that is a pretty good indication that the age determinations are accurate. Of course, test procedures, like anything else, can be screwed up. Mistakes can be made at the time a procedure is first being developed. Creationists seize upon any isolated reports of improperly run tests and try to categorize them as representing general shortcomings of the test procedure.

**Radioactive Dating**

This like saying if my watch isn't running, then all watches are useless for keeping time. Creationists also attack radioactive dating with the argument that half-lives were different in the past than they are at present.

There is no more reason to believe that than to believe that at some time in the past iron did not rust and wood did not burn.

### Radiometric dating - Wikipedia

Furthermore, astronomical data show that radioactive half-lives in elements in stars billions of light years away is the same as presently measured. On pages and of The Genesis Flood, creationist authors Whitcomb and Morris present an argument to try to convince the reader that ages of mineral specimens determined by radioactivity measurements are much greater than the "true" i.

The mathematical procedures employed are totally inconsistent with reality. Henry Morris has a PhD in Hydraulic Engineering, so it would seem that he would know better than to author such nonsense.

Apparently, he did know better, because he qualifies the exposition in a footnote stating: This discussion is not meant to be an exact exposition of radiogenic age computation; the relation is mathematically more complicated than the direct proportion assumed for the illustration.

Nevertheless, the principles described are substantially applicable to the actual relationship. Morris states that the production rate of an element formed by radioactive decay is constant with time.

This is not true, although for a short period of time compared to the length of the half life the change in production rate may be very small.

Radioactive elements decay by half-lives. At the end of the first half life, only half of the radioactive element remains, and therefore the production rate of the element formed by radioactive decay will be only half of what it was at the beginning. The authors state on p. If these elements existed also as the result of direct creation, it is reasonable to assume that they existed in these same proportions.

Say, then, that their initial amounts are represented by quantities of A and cA respectively. Morris makes a number of unsupported assumptions: This is not correct; radioactive elements decay by half lives, as explained in the first paragraphs of this post. There is absolutely no evidence to support this assumption, and a great deal of evidence that electromagnetic radiation does not affect the rate of decay of terrestrial radioactive elements.

He sums it up with the equations: He then calculates an "age" for the first element by dividing its quantity by its decay rate, R; and an "age" for the second element by dividing its quantity by its decay rate, cR.

It's obvious from the above two equations that the result shows the same age for both elements, which is: Of course, the mathematics are completely wrong. The correct relation can obtained by rearranging the equation given at the beginning of this post: For a half life of years, the following table shows the fraction remaining for various time periods: