As radioactive isotopes of elements decay, they lose their radio activity and become a brand new element known as a daughter isotope.
By measuring the ratio of the amount of the original radioactive element to the daughter isotope, scientists can determine how many half-lives the element has undergone and from there can figure out the absolute age of the sample.
Atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. Most carbon on Earth exists as the very stable isotope carbon-12, with a very small amount as carbon-13.
Here’s an example using the simplest atom, hydrogen. Carbon-14 is an unstable isotope of carbon that will eventually decay at a known rate to become carbon-12.
This technique relies on the property of half-life.
Half-life is defined as the time it takes for one half of a radioactive element to decay into a daughter isotope.
This technique is not restricted to bones; it can also be used on cloth, wood and plant fibers.
Carbon-14 dating has been used successfully on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Minoan ruins and tombs of the pharaohs among other things. The half-life of carbon-14 is approximately 5,730 years. dinosaurs the evolution alleges lived millions of years ago.
But, how can we determine how old a rock formation is, if it hasn’t previously been dated?
Organisms at the base of the food chain that photosynthesize – for example, plants and algae – use the carbon in Earth’s atmosphere.
They have the same ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 as the atmosphere, and this same ratio is then carried up the food chain all the way to apex predators, like sharks.
There are two main methods determining a fossils age, relative dating and absolute dating.
Relative dating is used to determine a fossils approximate age by comparing it to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.