Radioactive age dating definition
Love-hungry teenagers and archaeologists agree: dating is hard.
But while the difficulties of single life may be intractable, the challenge of determining the age of prehistoric artifacts and fossils is greatly aided by measuring certain radioactive isotopes.
We call the original, unstable isotope (Uranium) the "parent", and the product of decay (Lead) the "daughter".
From careful physics and chemistry experiments, we know that parents turn into daughters at a very consistent, predictable rate.
The ratio of the parent to daughter then can be used to back-calculate the age of that rock. The reason we know that radiometric dating works so well is because we can use several different isotope systems (for example, Uranium-Lead, Lutetium-Halfnium, Potassium-Argon) on the same rock, and they all come up with the same age.
A mass spectrometer is an instrument that separates atoms based on their mass.
It is commonly used in earth science to determine the age of rock formations or features or to figure out how fast geologic processes take place (for example, how fast marine terraces on Santa Cruz island are being uplifted).
Radiometric dating relies on the principle of radioactive decay.
There are many radiometric clocks and when applied to appropriate materials, the dating can be very accurate.
As one example, the first minerals to crystallize (condense) from the hot cloud of gasses that surrounded the Sun as it first became a star have been dated to 4568 plus or minus 2 million years....!! Other events on earth can be dated equally well given the right minerals.