# Radiometric age dating rocks and fossils

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May 20, Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find. Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods. Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a rock or fossil through radiometric dating methods. This uses radioactive minerals that occur in rocks and. Using relative and radiometric dating methods, geologists are able to answer the question: how old is Relative dating to determine the age of rocks and fossils.

This happens at any time when addition of the fleeting "weak nuclear force" to the ever-present electrostatic repulsion exceeds the binding energy required to hold the nucleus together. In other words, during million years, half the U atoms that existed at the beginning of that time will decay to Pb This is known as the half life of U- Many elements have some isotopes that are unstable, essentially because they have too many neutrons to be balanced by the number of protons in the nucleus.

Each of these unstable isotopes has its own characteristic half life. Some half lives are several billion years long, and others are as short as a ten-thousandth of a second. On a piece of notebook paper, each piece should be placed with the printed M facing down.

This represents the parent isotope. The candy should be poured into a container large enough for them to bounce around freely, it should be shaken thoroughly, then poured back onto the paper so that it is spread out instead of making a pile.

This first time of shaking represents one half life, and all those pieces of candy that have the printed M facing up represent a change to the daughter isotope. Then, count the number of pieces of candy left with the M facing down. These are the parent isotope that did not change during the first half life. The teacher should have each team report how many pieces of parent isotope remain, and the first row of the decay table Figure 2 should be filled in and the average number calculated.

The same procedure of shaking, counting the "survivors", and filling in the next row on the decay table should be done seven or eight more times. Each time represents a half life. Each team should plot on a graph Figure 3 the number of pieces of candy remaining after each of their "shakes" and connect each successive point on the graph with a light line.

AND, on the same graph, each group should plot points where, after each "shake" the starting number is divided by exactly two and connect these points by a differently colored line.

After the graphs are plotted, the teacher should guide the class into thinking about: Is it the single group's results, or is it the line based on the class average? U is found in most igneous rocks. Unless the rock is heated to a very high temperature, both the U and its daughter Pb remain in the rock.

A geologist can compare the proportion of U atoms to Pb produced from it and determine the age of the rock. The next part of this exercise shows how this is done. Each team is given a piece of paper marked TIME, on which is written either 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 minutes.

The team should place each marked piece so that "U" is showing. This represents Uranium, which emits a series of particles from the nucleus as it decays to Lead Pb- When each team is ready with the pieces all showing "U", a timed two-minute interval should start. During that time each team turns over half of the U pieces so that they now show Pb This represents one "half-life" of U, which is the time for half the nuclei to change from the parent U to the daughter Pb A new two-minute interval begins.

Continue through a total of 4 to 5 timed intervals.

**How Does Radiocarbon Dating Work? - Instant Egghead #28**

That is, each team should stop according to their TIME paper at the end of the first timed interval 2 minutesor at the end of the second timed interval 4 minutesand so on.

After all the timed intervals have occurred, teams should exchange places with one another as instructed by the teacher. The task now for each team is to determine how many timed intervals that is, how many half-lives the set of pieces they are looking at has experienced.

The half life of U is million years. Both the team that turned over a set of pieces and the second team that examined the set should determine how many million years are represented by the proportion of U and Pb present, compare notes, and haggle about any differences that they got. Right, each team must determine the number of millions of years represented by the set that they themselves turned over, PLUS the number of millions of years represented by the set that another team turned over.

Pb atoms in the pegmatite is 1: Using the same reasoning about proportions as in Part 2b above, students can determine how old the pegmatite and the granite are. There are two basic approaches: Here is an easy-to understand analogy for your students: Absolute age dating is like saying you are 15 years old and your grandfather is 77 years old. To determine the relative age of different rocks, geologists start with the assumption that unless something has happened, in a sequence of sedimentary rock layers, the newer rock layers will be on top of older ones.

This is called the Rule of Superposition. This rule is common sense, but it serves as a powerful reference point. Geologists draw on it and other basic principles http: Relative age dating also means paying attention to crosscutting relationships. Say for example that a volcanic dike, or a fault, cuts across several sedimentary layers, or maybe through another volcanic rock type. Pretty obvious that the dike came after the rocks it cuts through, right?

With absolute age dating, you get a real age in actual years.

Based on the Rule of Superposition, certain organisms clearly lived before others, during certain geologic times. The narrower a range of time that an animal lived, the better it is as an index of a specific time.

## Radiometric dating

No bones about it, fossils are important age markers. But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric methods. This method works because some unstable radioactive isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products.

This rate of decay is called a half-life.

### Geologic Age Dating Explained - Kids Discover

Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product. Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: There are a couple catches, of course.

Not all rocks have radioactive elements. Sedimentary rocks in particular are notoriously radioactive-free zones. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.