Definition of radiocarbon dating for kids

There are three main types of radiation or radioactive decay depending on the isotope.

When isotopes are unstable they emit energy in the form of radiation.

Others measure the subatomic particles that are emitted as an isotope decays.

Some measure the decay of isotopes more indirectly.

Radioactive Decay to other Elements When isotopes decay they can lose some of their atomic particles (i.e.

electrons and protons) and turn from one element into another.

These rates of decay are known, so if you can measure the proportion of parent and daughter isotopes in rocks now, you can calculate when the rocks were formed.

They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years.When ‘parent’ uranium-238 decays, for example, it produces subatomic particles, energy and ‘daughter’ lead-206.Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element.Each original isotope, called the parent, gradually decays to form a new isotope, called the daughter.Each isotope is identified with what is called a ‘mass number’.

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