Radiometric dating equation

No one can predict the moment when a particular grain will fall through the neck, but an estimate can be made for how long the whole pile of sand will take to fall.

A similar process takes place with the radioactive decay of atoms.

Radiometric dating can be compared to an hourglass.

When the timepiece is turned over, sand grains fall from the top of the hourglass to the bottom.

There are over forty such techniques, each using a different radioactive element or a different way of measuring them.

The methods work because radioactive elements are unstable, and they are always trying to move to a more stable state. This process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by releasing radiation is called radioactive decay.

The thing that makes this decay process so valuable for determining the age of an object is that each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life.

In radiometric dating, the decaying matter is called the parent isotope and the stable outcome of the decay is called the daughter product.

Since the half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years, scientists can measure the age of a sample by determining how many times its original carbon-14 amount has been cut in half since the death of the organism.

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The isotope potassium-40 (k-40) decays into a fixed ratio of calcium and argon (88.8 percent calcium, 11.2 percent argon).

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