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.

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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.

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