How does potassium 40 dating work carbon dating mayan pyramids

All the clocks are zeroed at the moment when the rock was formed.So by measuring the ratio between the amount of radioactive isotope and the amount of its decay product (for example the ratio of potassium-40 to argon-40) and knowing the half-life (from laboratory measurements) you can calculate how many millions of years have elapsed since the rock was formed.

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The rate of decay - the rate at which the clock ticks - is measured as the half-life, which is the time it takes for the quantity of isotope to be halved.

Potassium 40, for example, decays to argon 40 with a half-life of 1.3 billion years. You might wonder why we speak of "half-life" not just "life". It takes 28 years for the first half of the strontium-90 to decay.

Since the 1950s, geologists have used radioactive elements as natural "clocks" for determining numerical ages of certain types of rocks. "Forms" means the moment an igneous rock solidifies from magma, a sedimentary rock layer is deposited, or a rock heated by metamorphism cools off.

It's this resetting process that gives us the ability to date rocks that formed at different times in earth history.

Very occasionally, however, rocks take up some kind of permanent imprint of the body and preserve it for us to see even after millions of years. Often a fossil retains only the external shape of the body.

Last modified 15-Nov-2019 10:53