Radiometric dating of the oldest rocks on earth
Look for “absolute” ages such as cornerstones, dates carved into fresh concrete, or dates stamped on manhole covers.Absolute age dating: Have students work alone or in pairs to find an article or paper that uses radiometric age dating.For example, which is older, the bricks in a building or the building itself?
Radioisotope dating (also referred to as radiometric dating) is the process of estimating the age of rocks from the decay of their radioactive elements.
There are certain kinds of atoms in nature that are unstable and spontaneously change (decay) into other kinds of atoms.
But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric methods. Sedimentary rocks in particular are notoriously radioactive-free zones.
This method works because some unstable (radioactive) isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products. Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product. Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: geochronolgists just measure the ratio of the remaining parent atom to the amount of daughter and voila, they know how long the molecule has been hanging out decaying. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.
To determine the relative age of different rocks, geologists start with the assumption that unless something has happened, in a sequence of sedimentary rock layers, the newer rock layers will be on top of older ones. This rule is common sense, but it serves as a powerful reference point.
Geologists draw on it and other basic principles ( to determine the relative ages of rocks or features such as faults.Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: In reality, geologists tend to mix and match relative and absolute age dates to piece together a geologic history.If a rock has been partially melted, or otherwise metamorphosed, that causes complications for radiometric (absolute) age dating as well.What’s more, if the whole rock is badly weathered, it will be hard to find an intact mineral grain containing radioactive isotopes.You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon.Many accept radiometric dating methods as proof that the earth is millions of years old, in contrast to the biblical timeline.