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Radiometric dating

The science of radiometric dating allows us to date rock layers relatively accurate, based on the decay of radioactive isotopes. Radiometric dating is a form of absolute dating. This is in contrast to the relative dating of layers.

Certain atoms come in several types (with different number of atomic particles) which are called isotopes. Some isotopes are unstable and change into another atom while radioactivity is released. It is important that this decay occurs at a constant speed, which is often expressed by the term 'half-life'. This is the time that is required so that the half of the number of isotopes present has been converted to decay products. The half-life is different for each type of radioactive isotope.

Of some of the radioactive (unstable ) isotopes, it is known in what ratio they appeared in comparison with stable isotopes when the rock was formed. By examining the current  ratio of these two types of isotopes in a rock, it is possible to calculate fairly accurate the age of the rock.

For a detailed example, see the information page: How old are fossils?


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