Line graphs and radiometric dating

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Radioisotopic dating is a key tool for studying the timing of both Earth's and life's history.This suite of techniques allows scientists to figure out the dates that ancient rock strata were laid down — and hence, provides information about geologic processes, as well as evolutionary processes that acted upon the organisms preserved as fossils in interleaved strata.Radioactive decay Radioisotopic dating relies on the process of radioactive decay, in which the nuclei of radioactive atoms emit particles.

The geology behind radioisotopic dating Though the basic logic behind radioisotopic dating relies on nuclear physics and quantum theory, many geologic processes also factor into our ability to date a particular rock. How do they know that the rock isn't contaminated with elements that would throw off the dating?Thus, when a geologist dates a rock using uranium-lead dating, he or she is actually getting an estimate on the age of its zircon crystals, which formed "shortly" before the volcanic eruption.Of course, in this case "shortly" is meant in terms of geologic timescales.For example, carbon-14 decays into nitrogen-14 and has a half-life of just 5,730 years.Hence, carbon-14 dating can only be used to estimate much younger ages, up to around 60,000 years.

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