How do scientists figure out how old things are? | Live Science
The ability to precisely date, or identify the age of an object, can teach us when Earth formed, help reveal past climates and tell us how early humans lived. So how do scientists do it? Radiocarbon dating is the most common method by far, according to experts. This method involves measuring quantities of carbon, a radioactive carbon isotope — or version of an atom with a different number of neutrons. Carbon is ubiquitous in the environment. After it forms high up in the atmosphere, plants breathe it in and animals breathe it out, said Thomas Higham, an archaeologist and radiocarbon dating specialist at the University of Oxford in England. Related: What's the oldest living thing alive today?
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Radiometric dating or radioactive dating is any technique used to date organic and also inorganic materials from a process involving radioactive decay. The method compares the abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope within the material to the abundance of its decay products, which form at a known constant rate of decay. All these methods are based on the fact the rate at which radioactive nuclei disintegrate is unaffected by their environment, it can be used to estimate the age of any material sample or object which contains a radioactive isotope. Calculations of the decay of radioactive nuclei are relatively straightforward, owing to the fact that there is only one fundamental law governing all decay process. The radioactive decay law states that the probability per unit time that a nucleus will decay is a constant, independent of time.
Most absolute age determinations in geology rely on radiometric methods. The earth is billions of years old. The main condition for the method is that the production rate of isotopes stays the same through ages, i. The production of isotopes from chemical elements is known as decay rate and it is considered a constant. Because it is driven by sun activity it was always questioned.