Dating rocks using radioactive decay
Carbon-14 is continually being created in the atmosphere due to the action of cosmic rays on nitrogen in the air.Carbon-14 combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide.For example, uranium-lead dating can be used to find the age of a uranium-containing mineral.It works because we know the fixed radioactive decay rates of uranium-238, which decays to lead-206, and for uranium-235, which decays to lead-207.
So, we rely on radiometric dating to calculate their ages.
With radiocarbon dating, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 is measured.
Compared to some of the other radioactive isotopes we have discussed, carbon-14's half-life of 5,730 years is considerably shorter, as it decays into nitrogen-14.
With rubidium-strontium dating, we see that rubidium-87 decays into strontium-87 with a half-life of 50 billion years.
By anyone's standards, 50 billion years is a long time.
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When the isotope is halfway to that point, it has reached its half-life.