This is a learning project for exploration of scientific methods that have been used to measure the age of the Earth. Until the Scientific revolution there was no way for people to systematically explore the age of the Earth. People in some cultures imagined that the Earth was very old maybe even infinitely old and others imagined that it was young, possibly only a few thousand years old. Even after modern science began to develop in Western Europe, exploration of topics such as the age of the Earth was inhibited by cultural momentum. When Galileo was led by his astronomical observations to “radical” ideas such as the Earth moving around the Sun, he was ordered to abandon his heliocentric ideas. This religiously-motivated ban on advocacy of heliocentrism lasted more than years. Ernst Mayr suggested that new discoveries such as recognition by astronomers of the large distance to the stars was important in allowing Europeans to begin to think about both vast space and long durations of time . In response to astronomical observations made using telescopes, some philosophers such as Immanuel Kant , Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven eventually began to discuss cosmological theories in which the universe might have “infinite extent, both in space and time”.
Dating Rocks and Fossils Using Geologic Methods
Radioactive dating is a method of dating rocks and minerals using radioactive isotopes. This method is useful for igneous and metamorphic rocks, which cannot be dated by the stratigraphic correlation method used for sedimentary rocks. Over naturally-occurring isotopes are known. Some do not change with time and form stable isotopes i. The unstable or more commonly known radioactive isotopes break down by radioactive decay into other isotopes.
It is an accurate way to date specific geologic events. This is an enormous branch of geochemistry called Geochronology. There are many radiometric clocks and when applied to appropriate materials, the dating can be very accurate. As one example, the first minerals to crystallize condense from the hot cloud of gasses that surrounded the Sun as it first became a star have been dated to plus or minus 2 million years!!
That is pretty accurate!!! Other events on earth can be dated equally well given the right minerals. For example, a problem I have worked on involving the eruption of a volcano at what is now Naples, Italy, occurred years ago with a plus or minus of years. Yes, radiometric dating is a very accurate way to date the Earth. We know it is accurate because radiometric dating is based on the radioactive decay of unstable isotopes.
For example, the element Uranium exists as one of several isotopes, some of which are unstable. When an unstable Uranium U isotope decays, it turns into an isotope of the element Lead Pb. We call the original, unstable isotope Uranium the “parent”, and the product of decay Lead the “daughter”.
How Old is Earth, and How Do We Know?
The discovery of the radioactive properties of uranium in by Henri Becquerel subsequently revolutionized the way scientists measured the age of artifacts and supported the theory that the earth was considerably older than what some scientists believed. There are several methods of determining the actual or relative age of the earth’s crust: examination of fossil remains of plants and animals, relating the magnetic field of ancient days to the current magnetic field of the earth, and examination of artifacts from past civilizations.
However, one of the most widely used and accepted method is radioactive dating. All radioactive dating is based on the fact that a radioactive substance, through its characteristic disintegration, eventually transmutes into a stable nuclide. When the rate of decay of a radioactive substance is known, the age of a specimen can be determined from the relative proportions of the remaining radioactive material and the product of its decay.
C carbon dating can be compared an alpha particle and uranium years, years can be isolated and thorium are thought to determine fossil ages. Video: carbon 14 with a half life is the available evidence for life is called the earth?
Since the early twentieth century scientists have found ways to accurately measure geological time. The discovery of radioactivity in uranium by the French physicist, Henri Becquerel , in paved the way of measuring absolute time. Shortly after Becquerel’s find, Marie Curie , a French chemist, isolated another highly radioactive element, radium. The realisation that radioactive materials emit rays indicated a constant change of those materials from one element to another.
The New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford , suggested in that the exact age of a rock could be measured by means of radioactivity. For the first time he was able to exactly measure the age of a uranium mineral. When Rutherford announced his findings it soon became clear that Earth is millions of years old. These scientists and many more after them discovered that atoms of uranium, radium and several other radioactive materials are unstable and disintegrate spontaneously and consistently forming atoms of different elements and emitting radiation, a form of energy in the process.
The original atom is referred to as the parent and the following decay products are referred to as the daughter. For example: after the neutron of a rubidiumatom ejects an electron, it changes into a strontium atom, leaving an additional proton. Carbon is a very special element. In combination with hydrogen it forms a component of all organic compounds and is therefore fundamental to life. Willard F.
Clocks in the Rocks
For the first time he was able to exactly measure the age of a uranium mineral. When Rutherford announced his findings it soon became clear that Earth is.
Uranium—lead dating , abbreviated U—Pb dating , is one of the oldest  and most refined of the radiometric dating schemes. It can be used to date rocks that formed and crystallised from about 1 million years to over 4. The method is usually applied to zircon. This mineral incorporates uranium and thorium atoms into its crystal structure , but strongly rejects lead when forming.
As a result, newly-formed zircon deposits will contain no lead, meaning that any lead found in the mineral is radiogenic. Since the exact rate at which uranium decays into lead is known, the current ratio of lead to uranium in a sample of the mineral can be used to reliably determine its age. The method relies on two separate decay chains , the uranium series from U to Pb, with a half-life of 4. Uranium decays to lead via a series of alpha and beta decays, in which U with daughter nuclides undergo total eight alpha and six beta decays whereas U with daughters only experience seven alpha and four beta decays.
The existence of two ‘parallel’ uranium—lead decay routes U to Pb and U to Pb leads to multiple dating techniques within the overall U—Pb system. The term U—Pb dating normally implies the coupled use of both decay schemes in the ‘concordia diagram’ see below. However, use of a single decay scheme usually U to Pb leads to the U—Pb isochron dating method, analogous to the rubidium—strontium dating method. Finally, ages can also be determined from the U—Pb system by analysis of Pb isotope ratios alone.
This is termed the lead—lead dating method.
The Age of the Earth
Uranium-lead dating computes the age of the earth at 4. It is one of the oldest and most refined radiometric dating schemes, with a routine age range of about 1 million years to over 4. The method relies on the coupled chronometer provided by the decay of U to Pb, with a half-life of 4. One of the advantages of uranium-lead dating is the two separate, chemically identical chronometers and is accepted as the most reliable measurement of the age of the Earth.
Radioactive dating is a method of dating rocks and minerals using radioactive Since the s, several discoveries have led to a new understanding of how the Earth works All rely on the fact that certain elements (particularly uranium and potassium) of these isotopes within a rock or mineral can measure the age.
Lead isotopes are commonly used in dating rocks and provide some of the best evidence for the Earth’s age. In order to be used as a natural clock to calculate the age of the earth, the processes generating lead isotopes must meet the four conditions of a natural clock: an irreversible process, a uniform rate, an initial condition, and a final condition. Dalrymple cites examples of lead isotope dating that give an age for the earth of about 4. Lead isotopes are important because two different lead isotopes Pb and Pb are produced from the decay series of two different uranium isotopes U and U.
Since both decay series contain a unique set of intermediate radioactive isotopes, and because each has its own half-life, independent age calculations can be made from each Dalrymple The presence of a stable lead isotope that is not the product of any decay series Pb allows lead isotopes to be normalized, allowing for the use of isochrons and concordia-discordia diagrams as dating tools.
Two other characteristics of lead isotope measurements make it superior to other methods. First, measuring the isotope ratio of a single element can be done much more precisely than measuring isotope ratios of two differing elements. Second, using two isotopes of the same element makes the sample immune to chemical fractionation during a post-crystallization disturbance Dalrymple The commonly accepted 4.
This model, which describes the accumulation of lead isotopes in meteorites, the Earth, and the Solar System, was proposed independently by E. Gerling, Arthur Holmes, and Fritz G. Houtermans in the s Dalrymple This model ultimately led to the development of isochrons, in which two isotopes are plotted against each other to calculate an age for the mineral or rock.
FAQ – Radioactive Age-Dating
Geochronology is the science of providing ages of events in the history of the Earth and extraterrestrial material and of determining the temporal rates of geological processes by using a number of different dating methods. The ages can be absolute e. Most absolute dating methods rely on the analysis of radioactive isotopes and their radiogenic decay products.
Among the best-known techniques are radiocarbon dating, uranium-lead dating and block of organic compounds and is therefore an essential part of life on earth. The U-Th method can be used to date subjects with ages ranging between.
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Despite seeming like a relatively stable place, the Earth’s surface has changed dramatically over the past 4. Mountains have been built and eroded, continents and oceans have moved great distances, and the Earth has fluctuated from being extremely cold and almost completely covered with ice to being very warm and ice-free. These changes typically occur so slowly that they are barely detectable over the span of a human life, yet even at this instant, the Earth’s surface is moving and changing.
As these changes have occurred, organisms have evolved, and remnants of some have been preserved as fossils. A fossil can be studied to determine what kind of organism it represents, how the organism lived, and how it was preserved. However, by itself a fossil has little meaning unless it is placed within some context.
The age of the fossil must be determined so it can be compared to other fossil species from the same time period. Understanding the ages of related fossil species helps scientists piece together the evolutionary history of a group of organisms. For example, based on the primate fossil record, scientists know that living primates evolved from fossil primates and that this evolutionary history took tens of millions of years. By comparing fossils of different primate species, scientists can examine how features changed and how primates evolved through time.
However, the age of each fossil primate needs to be determined so that fossils of the same age found in different parts of the world and fossils of different ages can be compared. There are three general approaches that allow scientists to date geological materials and answer the question: “How old is this fossil? Relative dating puts geologic events in chronological order without requiring that a specific numerical age be assigned to each event.