The work of geologists is to tell the true story of Earth's history-more precisely, a story of Earth's history that is ever truer. A hundred years ago, we had little idea of the story's length-we had no good yardstick for time. Today, with the help of isotopic dating methods, we can determine the ages of rocks nearly as well as we map the rocks themselves. For that, we can thank radioactivity, discovered at the turn of the last century. A hundred years ago, our ideas about the ages of rocks and the age of the Earth were vague. But obviously, rocks are very old things.
The solid mineral grain traps the radioactive atoms and their decay products, helping to ensure accurate results. Soon after radioactivity was discovered, experimenters published some trial dates of rocks.
Realizing that the decay of uranium produces helium, Ernest Rutherford in determined an age for a piece of uranium ore by measuring the amount of helium trapped in it. Bertram Boltwood in used lead, the end-product of uranium decay, as a method to assess the age of the mineral uraninite in some ancient rocks.
The results were spectacular but premature. The rocks appeared to be astonishingly old, ranging in age from million to more than 2 billion years. But at the time, no one knew about isotopes. Once isotopes were explicate during the s, it became clear that radiometric dating methods were not ready for prime time. With the discovery of isotopes, the dating problem went back to square one.
For instance, the uranium-to-lead decay cascade is really two-uranium decays to lead and uranium decays to lead, but the second process is nearly seven times slower.
That makes uranium-lead dating especially useful.
Oct 29, Answers. Best Answer: Isotopes with long half lives so that there is still likely to be some of the original isotope left after the ancient time the rocks are around. Isotopes with short half lives will have consumed themselves before much time has passed. Mar 13, The pioneers of radiocarbon dating used this method because carbon, the radioactive isotope of carbon, is very active, decaying with a half-life of just simplybeyondexpectations.com: Andrew Alden. Start studying Chapter 8 - Geologic Time. Learn vocabulary, terms, and more with flashcards, games, and other study tools. Which of the following radioactive isotopes would be best for age-dating a rock from 50, years ago? carbon The principle of is the concept that ancient life forms evolved in a definite order, and.
Some other isotopes were discovered in the next decades; those that are radioactive then had their decay rates determined in painstaking lab experiments. By the s, this fundamental knowledge and advances in instruments made it possible to start determining dates that mean something to geologists.
But techniques are still advancing today because, with every step forward, a host of new scientific questions can be asked and answered. There are two main methods of isotopic dating. One detects and counts radioactive atoms through their radiation. The pioneers of radiocarbon dating used this method because carbon, the radioactive isotope of carbon, is very active, decaying with a half-life of just years.
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The first radiocarbon laboratories were built underground, using antique materials from before the s era of radioactive contamination, with the aim of keeping background radiation low. Even so, it can take weeks of patient counting to get accurate results, especially in old samples in which very few radiocarbon atoms remain.
This method is still in use for scarce, highly radioactive isotopes like carbon and tritium hydrogen Most decay processes of geologic interest are too slow for decay-counting methods.
The other method relies on actually counting the atoms of each isotope, not waiting for some of them to decay. This method is harder but more promising. It involves preparing samples and running them through a mass spectrometerwhich sifts them atom by atom according to weight as neatly as one of those coin-sorting machines.
For an example, consider the potassium-argon dating method. Atoms of potassium come in three isotopes. Potassium and potassium are stable, but potassium undergoes a form of decay that turns it to argon with a half-life of 1, million years.
Carbon 14 Dating Problems - Nuclear Chemistry & Radioactive Decay
Thus the older a sample gets, the smaller the percentage of potassium, and conversely the greater the percentage of argon relative to argon and argon Counting a few million atoms easy with just micrograms of rock yields dates that are quite good. Isotopic dating has underlain the whole century of progress we have made on Earth's true history. This method requires at least one of the isotope systems to be very precisely calibrated, such as the Pb-Pb system.
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.
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. Accurate radiometric dating generally requires that the parent has a long enough half-life that it will be present in significant amounts at the time of measurement except as described below under "Dating with short-lived extinct radionuclides"the half-life of the parent is accurately known, and enough of the daughter product is produced to be accurately measured and distinguished from the initial amount of the daughter present in the material.
The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate. This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry. The precision of a dating method depends in part on the half-life of the radioactive isotope involved. 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.
The closure temperature or blocking temperature represents the temperature below which the mineral is a closed system for the studied isotopes. If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated above this temperature, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusionresetting the isotopic "clock" to zero. 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. 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.
These temperatures are experimentally determined in the lab by artificially resetting sample minerals using a high-temperature furnace. This field is known as thermochronology or thermochronometry. The mathematical expression that relates radioactive decay to geologic time is  .
The equation is most conveniently expressed in terms of the measured quantity N t rather than the constant initial value N o. The above equation makes use of information on the composition of parent and daughter isotopes at the time the material being tested cooled below its closure temperature.
This is well-established for most isotopic systems. An isochron plot is used to solve the age equation graphically and calculate the age of the sample and the original composition. Radiometric dating has been carried out since when it was invented by Ernest Rutherford as a method by which one might determine the age of the Earth. In the century since then the techniques have been greatly improved and expanded.
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The mass spectrometer was invented in the s and began to be used in radiometric dating in the s. It operates by generating a beam of ionized atoms from the sample under test.
The ions then travel through a magnetic field, which diverts them into different sampling sensors, known as " Faraday cups ", depending on their mass and level of ionization. On impact in the cups, the ions set up a very weak current that can be measured to determine the rate of impacts and the relative concentrations of different atoms in the beams. Uranium-lead radiometric dating involves using uranium or uranium to date a substance's absolute age.
This scheme has been refined to the point that the error margin in dates of rocks can be as low as less than two million years in two-and-a-half billion years. Uranium-lead dating is often performed on the mineral zircon ZrSiO 4though it can be used on other materials, such as baddeleyiteas well as monazite see: monazite geochronology. Zircon has a very high closure temperature, is resistant to mechanical weathering and is very chemically inert.
Zircon also forms multiple crystal layers during metamorphic events, which each may record an isotopic age of the event. One of its great advantages is that any sample provides two clocks, one based on uranium's decay to lead with a half-life of about million years, and one based on uranium's decay to lead with a half-life of about 4.
This can be seen in the concordia diagram, where the samples plot along an errorchron straight line which intersects the concordia curve at the age of the sample. This involves the alpha decay of Sm to Nd with a half-life of 1. Accuracy levels of within twenty million years in ages of two-and-a-half billion years are achievable. This involves electron capture or positron decay of potassium to argon Potassium has a half-life of 1.
This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontiumwith a half-life of 50 billion years. This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocksand has also been used to date lunar samples. Closure temperatures are so high that they are not a concern. Rubidium-strontium dating is not as precise as the uranium-lead method, with errors of 30 to 50 million years for a 3-billion-year-old sample. Application of in situ analysis Laser-Ablation ICP-MS within single mineral grains in faults have shown that the Rb-Sr method can be used to decipher episodes of fault movement.
A relatively short-range dating technique is based on the decay of uranium into thorium, a substance with a half-life of about 80, years. It is accompanied by a sister process, in which uranium decays into protactinium, which has a half-life of 32, years. While uranium is water-soluble, thorium and protactinium are not, and so they are selectively precipitated into ocean-floor sedimentsfrom which their ratios are measured.
The scheme has a range of several hundred thousand years. A related method is ionium-thorium datingwhich measures the ratio of ionium thorium to thorium in ocean sediment. Radiocarbon dating is also simply called carbon dating. Carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon, with a half-life of 5, years   which is very short compared with the above isotopesand decays into nitrogen.
Carbon, though, is continuously created through collisions of neutrons generated by cosmic rays with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere and thus remains at a near-constant level on Earth. The carbon ends up as a trace component in atmospheric carbon dioxide CO 2.
A carbon-based life form acquires carbon during its lifetime. Plants acquire it through photosynthesisand animals acquire it from consumption of plants and other animals. When an organism dies, it ceases to take in new carbon, and the existing isotope decays with a characteristic half-life years.
The proportion of carbon left when the remains of the organism are examined provides an indication of the time elapsed since its death. This makes carbon an ideal dating method to date the age of bones or the remains of an organism. The carbon dating limit lies around 58, to 62, years. The rate of creation of carbon appears to be roughly constant, as cross-checks of carbon dating with other dating methods show it gives consistent results.
However, local eruptions of volcanoes or other events that give off large amounts of carbon dioxide can reduce local concentrations of carbon and give inaccurate dates.
The releases of carbon dioxide into the biosphere as a consequence of industrialization have also depressed the proportion of carbon by a few percent; conversely, the amount of carbon was increased by above-ground nuclear bomb tests that were conducted into the early s. Also, an increase in the solar wind or the Earth's magnetic field above the current value would depress the amount of carbon created in the atmosphere.
This involves inspection of a polished slice of a material to determine the density of "track" markings left in it by the spontaneous fission of uranium impurities.
The uranium content of the sample has to be known, but that can be determined by placing a plastic film over the polished slice of the material, and bombarding it with slow neutrons. This causes induced fission of U, as opposed to the spontaneous fission of U. The fission tracks produced by this process are recorded in the plastic film. The uranium content of the material can then be calculated from the number of tracks and the neutron flux.
This scheme has application over a wide range of geologic dates. For dates up to a few million years micastektites glass fragments from volcanic eruptionsand meteorites are best used. Older materials can be dated using zirconapatitetitaniteepidote and garnet which have a variable amount of uranium content.
The technique has potential applications for detailing the thermal history of a deposit.
Which isotopes would be best for dating ancient rocks
The residence time of 36 Cl in the atmosphere is about 1 week. Thus, as an event marker of s water in soil and ground water, 36 Cl is also useful for dating waters less than 50 years before the present. Luminescence dating methods are not radiometric dating methods in that they do not rely on abundances of isotopes to calculate age. Instead, they are a consequence of background radiation on certain minerals. Over time, ionizing radiation is absorbed by mineral grains in sediments and archaeological materials such as quartz and potassium feldspar.
The radiation causes charge to remain within the grains in structurally unstable "electron traps". Exposure to sunlight or heat releases these charges, effectively "bleaching" the sample and resetting the clock to zero. The trapped charge accumulates over time at a rate determined by the amount of background radiation at the location where the sample was buried.
Stimulating these mineral grains using either light optically stimulated luminescence or infrared stimulated luminescence dating or heat thermoluminescence dating causes a luminescence signal to be emitted as the stored unstable electron energy is released, the intensity of which varies depending on the amount of radiation absorbed during burial and specific properties of the mineral.
These methods can be used to date the age of a sediment layer, as layers deposited on top would prevent the grains from being "bleached" and reset by sunlight. Pottery shards can be dated to the last time they experienced significant heat, generally when they were fired in a kiln.
which isotopes would be best for dating ancient rocks?
Absolute radiometric dating requires a measurable fraction of parent nucleus to remain in the sample rock. For rocks dating back to the beginning of the solar system, this requires extremely long-lived parent isotopes, making measurement of such rocks' exact ages imprecise.
To be able to distinguish the relative ages of rocks from such old material, and to get a better time resolution than that available from long-lived isotopes, short-lived isotopes that are no longer present in the rock can be used.
At the beginning of the solar system, there were several relatively short-lived radionuclides like 26 Al, 60 Fe, 53 Mn, and I present within the solar nebula. These radionuclides-possibly produced by the explosion of a supernova-are extinct today, but their decay products can be detected in very old material, such as that which constitutes meteorites.
By measuring the decay products of extinct radionuclides with a mass spectrometer and using isochronplots, it is possible to determine relative ages of different events in the early history of the solar system. Dating methods based on extinct radionuclides can also be calibrated with the U-Pb method to give absolute ages.
Thus both the approximate age and a high time resolution can be obtained. Generally a shorter half-life leads to a higher time resolution at the expense of timescale. The iodine-xenon chronometer  is an isochron technique. Samples are exposed to neutrons in a nuclear reactor.
This converts the only stable isotope of iodine I into Xe via neutron capture followed by beta decay of I.
After irradiation, samples are heated in a series of steps and the xenon isotopic signature of the gas evolved in each step is analysed. Samples of a meteorite called Shallowater are usually included in the irradiation to monitor the conversion efficiency from I to Xe. This in turn corresponds to a difference in age of closure in the early solar system.
Another example of short-lived extinct radionuclide dating is the 26 Al - 26 Mg chronometer, which can be used to estimate the relative ages of chondrules. The 26 Al - 26 Mg chronometer gives an estimate of the time period for formation of primitive meteorites of only a few million years 1. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. A technique used to date materials such as rocks or carbon.
See also: Radioactive decay law. Main article: Closure temperature.