Radio active rock dating

Certain isotopes are unstable and undergo a process of radioactive decay, slowly and steadily transforming, molecule by molecule, into a different isotope.

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Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work! Because of this decay, the helium content of any mineral or rock capable of retaining helium will increase during the lifetime of that mineral or rock, and the ratio of helium to its radioactive progenitors then becomes a measure of geologic time.

Before then, the Bible had provided the only estimate for the age of the world: about 6,000 years, with Genesis as the history book.

Hutton's theories were short on evidence at first, but by 1830 most scientists concurred that Noah's ark was more allegory than reality as they documented geological layering.

Measuring the uranium-to-lead ratios in the oldest rocks on Earth gave scientists an estimated age of the planet of 4.6 billion years.

Segment from A Science Odyssey: "Origins."Geologists have calculated the age of Earth at 4.6 billion years.

Using this technique, called radiometric dating, scientists are able to "see" back in time.

any method of determining the age of earth materials or objects of organic origin based on measurement of either short-lived radioactive elements or the amount of a long-lived radioactive element plus its decay product.

For organic materials, the comparison is between the current ratio of a radioactive isotope to a stable isotope of the same element and the known ratio of the two isotopes in living organisms.

Radiocarbon dating is one such type of radiometric dating.

Scientists discovered that rocks could be timepieces -- literally.

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