Radiometric age dating accuracy

Recent puzzling observations of tiny variations in nuclear decay rates have led some to question the science behind carbon-14 dating and similar techniques.However scientists tested the hypothesis that solar radiation might affect the rate at which radioactive elements decay and found no detectable effect.On the other hand, the half-life of the isotope potassium 40 as it decays to argon is 1.26 billion years.So carbon 14 is used to date materials that aren’t that old geologically, say in the tens of thousands of years, while potassium-argon dating can be used to determine the ages of much older materials, in the millions and billions year range.Recent puzzling observations of tiny variations in nuclear decay rates have led some to question the science of using decay rates to determine the relative ages of rocks and organic materials.

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.I also like this simple exercise, a spin-off from an activity described on the USGS site above.Take students on a neighborhood walk and see what you can observe about age dates around you.Pretty obvious that the dike came after the rocks it cuts through, right?With absolute age dating, you get a real age in actual years.

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