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An atom can occur with different numbers of "atomic particles". These different types of atoms are called isotopes. Some isotopes are unstable and degrades into another atoms by releasing radioactivity particles. This kind of radioactive decay takes place with a constant fixed speed (variable for different elements). This means that after a period 10 million years, for example, there is only half the amount of element X left; and after 20 million years, only one fourth is left. This decay effect is called "half-time", and is different for each type of radioactive isotope.

For some of the radioactive (unstable) isotopes, it is known in what amounts they appeared in comparison with stable isotopes, when the rock was formed. The ratio of these two types of isotopes allows us to investigate a rock; and calculate more or less the age of this rock. This is called radiometric dating.

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