How do we know the age of the surfaces we see on planets and moons? If a world has a surface as opposed to being mostly gas and liquid , astronomers have developed some techniques for estimating how long ago that surface solidified. Note that the age of these surfaces is not necessarily the age of the planet as a whole. On geologically active objects including Earth , vast outpourings of molten rock or the erosive effects of water and ice, which we call planet weathering, have erased evidence of earlier epochs and present us with only a relatively young surface for investigation. One way to estimate the age of a surface is by counting the number of impact craters.
Potassium-Argon Dating Methods
Radiometric dating methods | Geology (modification for Lehman College, CUNY)
Relative time allows scientists to tell the story of Earth events, but does not provide specific numeric ages, and thus, the rate at which geologic processes operate. Relative dating principles was how scientists interpreted Earth history until the end of the 19th Century. Because science advances as technology advances, the discovery of radioactivity in the late s provided scientists with a new scientific tool called radioisotopic dating. Using this new technology, they could assign specific time units, in this case years, to mineral grains within a rock. These numerical values are not dependent on comparisons with other rocks such as with relative dating, so this dating method is called absolute dating [ 5 ]. There are several types of absolute dating discussed in this section but radioisotopic dating is the most common and therefore is the focus on this section.
Geologists do not use carbon-based radiometric dating to determine the age of rocks. Carbon dating only works for objects that are younger than about 50, years, and most rocks of interest are older than that. Carbon dating is used by archeologists to date trees, plants, and animal remains; as well as human artifacts made from wood and leather; because these items are generally younger than 50, years.
Radiometric dating - internal clocks in rocks Geochronology: the science of dating geologic materials. Radioactive decay occurs at an exponential rate, meaning that it can be described in terms of a half life. After one half live, half of the original radioactive isotope material in the system under consideration decays. Another half life and half of the remaining material decays, and so on.