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Relative age and radiometric dating

Relative age and radiometric dating

How Radiometric Dating Works: Relative not Absolute Ages

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Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to be dated using radioactive carbon, but because carbon decays relatively quickly, as "bracketing" the age of the sedimentary layer in which the fossils occur.

Many rocks contain small amounts of unstable isotopes and the daughter isotopes into which they decay. Where the amounts of parent and daughter isotopes can be accurately measured, the ratio can be used to determine how old the rock is, as shown in the following activities.

That chance of decay is very small, but it is always present and it never changes. Atomic nuclei are held together by an attraction between the large nuclear particles protons and neutrons that is known as the "strong nuclear force", which must exceed the electrostatic repulsion between the protons within the nucleus.

But if there are too many neutrons, the nucleus is potentially unstable and decay may be triggered. Some half lives are several billion years long, and others are as short as a ten-thousandth of a second.

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