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When ‘parent’ uranium-238 decays, for example, it produces subatomic particles, energy and ‘daughter’ lead-206.
Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element.
However, there are radiometric dating methods that can be used on sedimentary rock, including luminescence dating.
These rates of decay are known, so if you can measure the proportion of parent and daughter isotopes in rocks now, you can calculate when the rocks were formed.
Because of their unique decay rates, different elements are used for dating different age ranges.
Each original isotope, called the parent, gradually decays to form a new isotope, called the daughter.
Each isotope is identified with what is called a ‘mass number’.