Purpose of radioactive dating

Each “parent” radioactive isotope eventually decays into one or at most a few stable isotope “daughters” specific to that parent. Some radioactive isotopes are present as terrestrial radiation.

Radioactive isotopes of radium, thorium, and uranium, for example, are found naturally in rocks and soil.

Radioactive isotopes have many useful applications. In particular, they are central to the fields of nuclear medicine and radiotherapy.

Radiometric dating (often called radioactive dating) is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or carbon, usually based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates.

The use of radiometric dating was first published in 1907 by Bertram Boltwood and is now the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of the Earth itself, and can be used to date a wide range of natural and man-made materials.

All rocks and minerals contain long-lived radioactive elements that were incorporated into Earth when the Solar System formed.

These radioactive elements constitute independent clocks that allow geologists to determine the age of the rocks in which they occur.

For example, hydrogen, the lightest element, has three isotopes, which have mass numbers 1, 2, and 3.

Only hydrogen-3 (tritium), however, is a radioactive isotope; the other two are stable.

Other radioactive isotopes are produced by humans via nuclear reactions, which result in unstable combinations of neutrons and protons.

One way of artificially inducing nuclear transmutation is by bombarding stable isotopes with alpha particles.

This is well-established for most isotopic systems.

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