Radioactive decay dating rocks argument for updating a systems network
Students often struggle with this concept; therefore, it should be stressed that it is impossible to know exactly when each of the radioactive elements in a rock will decay.Statistical probablity is the only thing we can know exactly.Only certain isotopes are radioactive and not all radioactive isotopes are appropriate for geological applications -- we have to choose wisely.Those that decay are called radioactive (or parent) isotopes; those that are generated by decay are called radiogenic (or daughter) isotopes.For example, all atoms of oxygen have 8 protons in the nucleus and hence have an atomic number of 8.However, oxygen atoms can have between 8 and 10 neutrons in the nucleus and therefore the isotopes of oxygen have atomic masses of 16, 17, and 18 a.m.u.(and none are radioactive! Samarium (Sm) has 7 naturally occurring isotopes (3 are radioactive).Mathematically, the half-life can be represented by an exponential function, a concept with which entry-level students may not have much experience and therefore may have little intuition about it.
The only way that this can happen is by changing the number of protons in the nucleus (an element is defined by its number of protons).
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Radioactivity and radioactive decay are spontaneous processes.
Fossils are generally found in sedimentary rock not igneous rock.
Sedimentary rocks can be dated using radioactive carbon, but because carbon decays relatively quickly, this only works for rocks younger than about 50 thousand years.