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The Earth might, indeed, be much older than his calculations indicated.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy developed the concept of the half-life - For any radioactive substance, there is a specific period of time in which half of a sample will decay to a daughter substance. The other half will be the daughter product. After twenty years, 0. In , Rutherford made the first attempt to use this principle to estimate the age of a rock. His analysis was technically problematic because of his choice of a gas, helium as a radioactive product gasses have a way of migrating out of rocks , but it was a start.

In , Bertram Boltwood noted a specific parent-daughter relationship between an isotope of uranium, U, a radioactive isotope, and lead Pb suggesting that one decayed into the other - the uranium-lead system. Because lead is usually found as a solid, this method was more promising.


Like Rutherford's, Boltwood's attempt to apply the principle to the dating of rocks was technically flawed but a step forward. Beginning in , Arthur Holmes began a long career of applying the concept of radiometric dating to rocks, and is given credit for ironing out the technical issues that hampered earlier attempts. After a century of applying the method we now know that thet oldest known Earth rocks are aprox 4.

The oldest in the Solar System are 4. Some commonly used radiometric systems: Note that the effective range of these dating systems is limited by the degree of error in measurement. Which rocks are useful for radiometric dating? When you radiometrically date a mineral grain you are determining when it crystallized. Thus, you would like to use rocks whose crystals are roughly the same age.

The easiest are igneous rocks in which all crystals are roughly the same age, having solidified at about the same time.

The age of new minerals crystallizing in metamorphic rocks can also be determined by radiometric dating. The problem is that metamorphism - the pressure-cooking of rocks - can occur over long intervals.

Thus, different crystal grains can yield different ages. With sedimentary rocks, one would end up dating the individual grains of sediment comprising the rock, not the rock as a whole. These grains could have radically different ages. So, geologists prefer to work with igneous rocks.

Useful to archaeologists, maybe, but system is not typically used on rocks at all. Thus, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks can't be radiometrically dated. Although only igneous rocks can be radiometrically dated, ages of other rock types can be constrained by the ages of igneous rocks with which they are interbedded.

Magnetostratigraphy The Earth generates a magnetic field that encompasses the entire planet. In the last fifty years, a new dating method has emerged that exploits two aspects of rocks' interactions with the Earth's magnetic field. It is, in essence a form of relative dating. Some magnetic minerals, such as magnetite occur naturally in igneous rocks.

Chapter 8(Radiometric Ages)

When their grains form, they align themselves with the Earth's magnetic field. The Earth's magnetic field changes quickly i. Nevertheless, because of the orientation of their magnetic minerals, their intrinsic magnetic field records the orientation of the Earth's field as it existed when they formed. Such ancient magnetic fields are called remnant or paleomagnetism.

The Earth's magnetic field has a north and south pole. For unknown reasons, at intervals of very roughly , years, the north and south poles trade places.

The result is that the paleomagnetic polarity of igneous rocks is either: Magnetic north coincides roughly with geographic north. Magnetic north coincides roughly with geographic south. If we drill a core form layers of rocks with paleomagnetism, and color-code ones with normal and reverse polarity, we get a pattern like a bar code.

Any interval of time we designate will display a unique pattern of paleomagnetic reversals. What kinds of rocks retain paleomagnetism: Igneous, for reasons noted. Some sedimentary rocks retain paleomagentism when they contain minerals derived form earlier igneous rocks. Three requirements need to be met: Sediments consist of very small grains that settle slowly from water Sediments include magnetic minerals Sediments were deposited in very quiet body of water, like a lake.

Each of them typically exists in igneous rock, or rock made from cooled magma. Fossils, however, form in sedimentary rock -- sediment quickly covers a dinosaur's body, and the sediment and the bones gradually turn into rock.

How Do Scientists Determine the Age of Dinosaur Bones?

But this sediment doesn't typically include the necessary isotopes in measurable amounts. Fossils can't form in the igneous rock that usually does contain the isotopes. The extreme temperatures of the magma would just destroy the bones. So to determine the age of sedimentary rock layers, researchers first have to find neighboring layers of Earth that include igneous rock, such as volcanic ash. These layers are like bookends -- they give a beginning and an end to the period of time when the sedimentary rock formed.

By using radiometric dating to determine the age of igneous brackets , researchers can accurately determine the age of the sedimentary layers between them. Using the basic ideas of bracketing and radiometric dating, researchers have determined the age of rock layers all over the world. This information has also helped determine the age of the Earth itself. While the oldest known rocks on Earth are about 3. Based on the analysis of these samples, scientists estimate that the Earth itself is about 4.

In addition, the oldest known moon rocks are 4. Since the moon and the Earth probably formed at the same time, this supports the current idea of the Earth's age.

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