how do scientists determine the age of fossils using radioactive dating

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How Do Scientists Determine the Age of Dinosaur Bones? | HowStuffWorks

Since the rock formation contains both types of fossils the ago of the rock formation must be in the overlapping date range of to million years. Other Fossil Shellfish. Fossils are collected along with rocks that occur from the same strata. Unfortunately, fossils like our jawbone, as well as the dinosaurs on view in the new "Fossil Hall—Deep Time" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History , are just too old for radiocarbon dating. By comparing this ratio to the half-life logarithmic scale of the parent isotope, they are able to find the age of the rock or fossil in question. Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to infer the ages of fossils contained within those rocks. These radioactive isotopes are unstable, decaying over time at a predictable rate. In the Afar, scientists are attempting to date the actual layers from which the fossils erode, rather than relying on the presence of volcanic ash. Video Ingenuity Awards.

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Love-hungry teenagers and archaeologists agree: dating is hard. But while the difficulties of single life may be intractable, the challenge of determining the age of prehistoric artifacts and fossils is greatly aided by measuring certain radioactive isotopes. Until this century, relative dating was the only technique for identifying the age of a truly ancient object. By examining the object's relation to layers of deposits in the area, and by comparing the object to others found at the site, archaeologists can estimate when the object arrived at the site. Though still heavily used, relative dating is now augmented by several modern dating techniques. Radiocarbon dating involves determining the age of an ancient fossil or specimen by measuring its carbon content. Carbon, or radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that forms when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere strike nitrogen molecules, which then oxidize to become carbon dioxide. Green plants absorb the carbon dioxide, so the population of carbon molecules is continually replenished until the plant dies. Carbon is also passed onto the animals that eat those plants. After death the amount of carbon in the organic specimen decreases very regularly as the molecules decay.

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When paleontologist Mary Schweitzer found soft tissue in a Rzdioactive rex fossilher discovery raised an obvious question -- how the tissue could have survived so long? The bone was 68 million years old, and radioactivee wisdom about fossilization is that all soft tissue, from blood to brainsdecomposes. Only hard parts, like bones and teeth, can become fossils. But for some people, the discovery raised a different question. How do scientists know the bones are really 68 million years old?

Check this out knowledge of fossil ages comes primarily from radiometric datingalso known as radioactive dating. Radiometric dating relies usung the properties of isotopes.

These are chemical elements, like carbon or uranium, that are identical except for one key feature -- the number of neutrons in their nucleus. Atoms may have an equal number of protons and neutrons. If, however, there are too dting or too few neutrons, the atom is unstable, and it sheds dating site until its nucleus reaches a stable state. Think of the nucleus as a pyramid of building blocks. If you try to add extra blocks to the sides pyramid, they may stay put for a while, but they'll eventually fall away.

The same is true if you take a block away from one of the pyramid's sides, making the rest unstable. Eventually, some of the blocks can fall away, leaving a smaller, more stable structure. The result is like a radioactive clock that ticks away as unstable isotopes decay into stable ones. You can't predict when a specific unstable atom, or parentwill decay how do scientists determine the age of fossils using radioactive dating a stable atom, or fowsils. But you can predict how long it will take a large group of atoms to decay.

The element's half-life is the amount of time it takes for half the parent atoms in a sample to become daughters. To read the time on this radioactive clock, scientists use a device called a mass spectrometer to measure the number of parent and daughter atoms. The ratio of parents to daughters can tell the researcher how old the specimen is.

The more parent isotopes there are -- and the fewer daughter isotopes -- the younger the sample. The half-life of the isotope being measured determines how useful it is at dating very old samples. Once all the parents have become daughters, there's no more basis for comparison between the two isotopes. Scientists can't radioative whether the clock ran down a few days or millions of years ago.

This means that isotopes with a short half-life won't work to date dinosaur bones. The short half-life is only part of the problem when dating dinosaur bones -- researchers also have to find enough of the parent and daughter atoms to measure. Read on to see what it takes to date a fossil and what volcanic ash has to do with it.

The most widely known form of radiometric dating is carbon dating. This is fossis archaeologists use to determine the age of human-made artifacts. But carbon dating won't work on dinosaur bones. The half-life of carbon is only 5, years, so carbon dating is only effective on samples that are less than 50, years old. Dinosaur bones, on the other hand, are sckentists of years old -- some fossils are billions of years old.

To determine the ages of these specimens, scientists need an isotope with a very long half-life. Some of the isotopes used for this purpose are uranium, uranium and potassiumeach of which has a half-life of more than a million years.

Unfortunately, these elements don't exist in dinosaur fossils themselves. 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.

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 bracketsresearchers can accurately determine the age of the sedimentary layers between them. Using the basic ideas of how do scientists determine the age of fossils using radioactive dating and radiometric dating, researchers have determined the age rzdioactive rock layers all over the world.

This information has continue reading 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 please click for source 4.

Since the moon and the Earth probably formed at the same time, this supports the current idea of the Earth's age. You can learn more about fossils, dinosaurs, radiometric dating and related topics by reading through the links below. Radiometric dating isn't the only method of determining the age of rocks. Other techniques include analyzing amino acids and measuring changes in an object's magnetic field.

Scientists have also made improvements to the standard radiometric measurements. For example, by using a laser, researchers can measure parent and daughter atoms in extremely small amounts of matter, making it possible to determine the age of very small samples [source: New Scientist ]. Dating Sedimentary Rock.

An eagle flies over the Grand Radioaftive in Arizona, April 5, You can see the layers of sedimentary rock. Lots More Information. Lewin, Roger. Radiometric dating!

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