How radioactive dating is done

It must be 1 carbon 14 half-life or years old. So in the real world, looking at a sample like say a bone dug up by an archaeologist, how do we know how much carbon 14 we started with? That's actually kind of cool. It's a semi-long story, so bear with me. In the atmosphere, cosmic rays smash into normal carbon 12 atoms in atmospheric carbon dioxide , and create carbon 14 isotopes. This process is constantly occurring, and has been for a very long time, so there is a fairly constant ratio of carbon 14 atoms to carbon 12 atoms in the atmosphere.

Now living plants 'breathe' CO 2 indiscriminately they don't care about isotopes one way or the other , and so while they are living they have the same ratio of carbon 14 in them as the atmosphere. Animals, including humans, consume plants a lot and animals that consume plants , and thus they also tend to have the same ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 atoms.

This equilibrium persists in living organisms as long as they continue living, but when they die, they no longer 'breathe' or eat new 14 carbon isotopes Now it's fairly simple to determine how many total carbon atoms should be in a sample given its weight and chemical makeup.

How is carbon dating done?

And given the fact that the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in living organisms is approximately 1: In actually measuring these quantities, we take advantage of the fact that the rate of decay how many radioactive emissions occur per unit time is dependent on how many atoms there are in a sample this criteria leads to an exponential decay rate. We have devices to measure the radioactivity of a sample, and the ratio described above translates into a rate of For example, uranium is an isotope of uranium, because it has 3 more neutrons in the nucleus.

It has the same number of protons, otherwise it wouldn't be uranium. The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom is called its atomic number. The sum of protons plus neutrons is the mass number.

Radioactive Dating

We designate a specific group of atoms by using the term "nuclide. The element potassium symbol K has three nuclides, K39, K40, and K Only K40 is radioactive; the other two are stable. K40 can decay in two different ways: The ratio of calcium formed to argon formed is fixed and known.

Therefore the amount of argon formed provides a direct measurement of the amount of potassium present in the specimen when it was originally formed. Because argon is an inert gas , it is not possible that it might have been in the mineral when it was first formed from molten magma. Any argon present in a mineral containing potassium must have been formed as the result of radioactive decay. F, the fraction of K40 remaining, is equal to the amount of potassium in the sample, divided by the sum of potassium in the sample plus the calculated amount of potassium required to produce the amount of argon found.


  1. Radiometric Dating: Methods, Uses & the Significance of Half-Life.
  2. How is carbon dating done?!
  3. academics dating!

The age can then be calculated from equation 1. In spite of the fact that it is a gas, the argon is trapped in the mineral and can't escape.

Dating advances

Creationists claim that argon escape renders age determinations invalid. However, any escaping argon gas would lead to a determined age younger, not older, than actual. The creationist "argon escape" theory does not support their young earth model. The argon age determination of the mineral can be confirmed by measuring the loss of potassium.

In old rocks, there will be less potassium present than was required to form the mineral, because some of it has been transmuted to argon. The decrease in the amount of potassium required to form the original mineral has consistently confirmed the age as determined by the amount of argon formed.

See Carbon 14 Dating in this web site.

What Is Radioactive Dating, and How Does It Work?

The nuclide rubidium decays, with a half life of Strontium is a stable element; it does not undergo further radioactive decay. Do not confuse with the highly radioactive isotope, strontium Strontium occurs naturally as a mixture of several nuclides, including the stable isotope strontium If three different strontium-containing minerals form at the same time in the same magma, each strontium containing mineral will have the same ratios of the different strontium nuclides, since all strontium nuclides behave the same chemically.

Radiometric Dating

Note that this does not mean that the ratios are the same everywhere on earth. It merely means that the ratios are the same in the particular magma from which the test sample was later taken. As strontium forms, its ratio to strontium will increase.

Strontium is a stable element that does not undergo radioactive change. In addition, it is not formed as the result of a radioactive decay process.

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The amount of strontium in a given mineral sample will not change. Therefore the relative amounts of rubidium and strontium can be determined by expressing their ratios to strontium It turns out to be a straight line with a slope of The corresponding half lives for each plotted point are marked on the line and identified. It can be readily seen from the plots that when this procedure is followed with different amounts of Rb87 in different minerals , if the plotted half life points are connected, a straight line going through the origin is produced.

These lines are called "isochrons". The steeper the slope of the isochron, the more half lives it represents. When the fraction of rubidium is plotted against the fraction of strontium for a number of different minerals from the same magma an isochron is obtained. If the points lie on a straight line, this indicates that the data is consistent and probably accurate. An example of this can be found in Strahler, Fig If the strontium isotope was not present in the mineral at the time it was formed from the molten magma, then the geometry of the plotted isochron lines requires that they all intersect the origin, as shown in figure However, if strontium 87 was present in the mineral when it was first formed from molten magma, that amount will be shown by an intercept of the isochron lines on the y-axis, as shown in Fig Thus it is possible to correct for strontium initially present.

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.