Science behind radioactive dating

Radiometric dating or radioactive dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or carbon, in which trace radioactive impurities were selectively incorporated when they were formed. The method compares the abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive .. other areas of the geological sciences, including dating ice and sediments.
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What is Radioactive Dating? - Definition & Facts - Video & Lesson Transcript |

The isotopes are then measured within the same machine by an attached mass spectrometer an example of this is SIMS analysis. This is a common dating method mainly used by archaeologists, as it can only date geologically recent organic materials, usually charcoal, but also bone and antlers.

All living organisms take up carbon from their environment including a small proportion of the radioactive isotope 14C formed from nitrogen as a result of cosmic ray bombardment. The amount of carbon isotopes within living organisms reaches an equilibrium value, on death no more is taken up, and the 14C present starts to decay at a known rate. The amount of 14C present and the known rate of decay of 14C and the equilibrium value gives the length of time elapsed since the death of the organism.

This method faces problems because the cosmic ray flux has changed over time, but a calibration factor is applied to take this into account. Radiocarbon dating is normally suitable for organic materials less than 50 years old because beyond that time the amount of 14C becomes too small to be accurately measured. This scheme was developed in but became more useful when mass spectrometers were improved in the late s and early s. However, both Rb and Sr easily follow fluids that move through rocks or escape during some types of metamorphism. This technique is less used now.

The dual decay of potassium K to 40Ar argon and 40Ca calcium was worked out between and This technique has become more widely used since the late s. Its great advantage is that most rocks contain potassium, usually locked up in feldspars, clays and amphiboles.

Radiometric dating

However, potassium is very mobile during metamorphism and alteration, and so this technique is not used much for old rocks, but is useful for rocks of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras, particularly unaltered igneous rocks. This technique developed in the late s but came into vogue in the early s, through step-wise release of the isotopes. This technique uses the same minerals and rocks as for K-Ar dating but restricts measurements to the argon isotopic system which is not so affected by metamorphic and alteration events.

It is used for very old to very young rocks. The decay of Sm to Nd for dating rocks began in the mids and was widespread by the early s. It is useful for dating very old igneous and metamorphic rocks and also meteorites and other cosmic fragments.

However, there is a limited range in Sm-Nd isotopes in many igneous rocks, although metamorphic rocks that contain the mineral garnet are useful as this mineral has a large range in Sm-Nd isotopes. This technique also helps in determining the composition and evolution of the Earth's mantle and bodies in the universe. The Re-Os isotopic system was first developed in the early s, but recently has been improved for accurate age determinations. The main limitation is that it only works on certain igneous rocks as most rocks have insufficient Re and Os or lack evolution of the isotopes.

This technique is good for iron meteorites and the mineral molybdenite. This system is highly favoured for accurate dating of igneous and metamorphic rocks, through many different techniques. It was used by the beginning of the s, but took until the early s to produce accurate ages of rocks. The great advantage is that almost all igneous and metamorphic rocks contain sufficient U and Pb for this dating. It can be used on powdered whole rocks, mineral concentrates isotope dilution technique or single grains SHRIMP technique.

For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth. Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods. Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured. A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve. In we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26, years. Now the curve extends tentatively to 50, years. Radiocarbon dates are presented in two ways because of this complication. The uncalibrated date is given with the unit BP radiocarbon years before The calibrated date is also presented, either in BC or AD or with the unit calBP calibrated before present - before The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of 14 C.

Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer AMS , a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual 14 C atoms in a sample. Australia has two machines dedicated to radiocarbon analysis, and they are out of reach for much of the developing world. In addition, samples need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove carbon contamination from glues and soil before dating. This is particularly important for very old samples. Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials.

These new techniques can have a dramatic effect on chronologies. With the development of a new method of cleaning charcoal called ABOx-SC , Michael Bird helped to push back the date of arrival of the first humans in Australia by more than 10, years. Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.

Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins. In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning. Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation.

In this way large domed tombs known as tholos or beehive tombs in Greece were thought to predate similar structures in the Scottish Island of Maeshowe.

Dating history

This supported the idea that the classical worlds of Greece and Rome were at the centre of all innovations. The age of the sample can be obtained by choosing the origin at the y intercept. Note that the amounts of rubidium 87 and strontium 87 are given as ratios to an inert isotope, strontium However, in calculating the ratio of Rb87 to Sr87, we can use a simple analytical geometry solution to the plotted data.

Again referring to Fig. Since the half-life of Rb87 is When properly carried out, radioactive dating test procedures have shown consistent and close agreement among the various methods. 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. This like saying if my watch isn't running, then all watches are useless for keeping time.

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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. 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:.

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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.

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  • 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: