Radioactive dating using potassium argon
However, there is a limited range in Sm-Nd isotopes in many igneous rocks, although metamorphic rocks that contain the mineral garnet are useful as this mineral has a large range in Sm-Nd isotopes.This technique also helps in determining the composition and evolution of the Earth's mantle and bodies in the universe.For an element to be useful for geochronology (measuring geological time), the isotope must be reasonably abundant and produce daughter isotopes at a good rate.Either a whole rock or a single mineral grain can be dated.All living organisms take up carbon from their environment including a small proportion of the radioactive isotope 14C (formed from nitrogen-14 as a result of cosmic ray bombardment).The amount of carbon isotopes within living organisms reaches an equilibrium value, on death no more is taken up, and the 14C present starts to decay at a known rate.Radioactive decay is a natural process and comes from the atomic nucleus becoming unstable and releasing bits and pieces.
This is a common dating method mainly used by archaeologists, as it can only date geologically recent organic materials, usually charcoal, but also bone and antlers.
The amount of 14C present and the known rate of decay of 14C and the equilibrium value gives the length of time elapsed since the death of the organism.
This method faces problems because the cosmic ray flux has changed over time, but a calibration factor is applied to take this into account.
The Re-Os isotopic system was first developed in the early 1960s, but recently has been improved for accurate age determinations.
The main limitation is that it only works on certain igneous rocks as most rocks have insufficient Re and Os or lack evolution of the isotopes.