Explain radio carbon dating kids

Look for “absolute” ages such as cornerstones, dates carved into fresh concrete, or dates stamped on manhole covers.

Absolute age dating: Have students work alone or in pairs to find an article or paper that uses radiometric age dating.

It’s based either on fossils which are recognized to represent a particular interval of time, or on radioactive decay of specific isotopes. Based on the Rule of Superposition, certain organisms clearly lived before others, during certain geologic times.

After all, a dinosaur wouldn’t be caught dead next to a trilobite.

To determine the relative age of different rocks, geologists start with the assumption that unless something has happened, in a sequence of sedimentary rock layers, the newer rock layers will be on top of older ones. This rule is common sense, but it serves as a powerful reference point.

Geologists draw on it and other basic principles ( to determine the relative ages of rocks or features such as faults.

In a way this field, called geochronology, is some of the purest detective work earth scientists do.

No bones about it, fossils are important age markers.

What’s more, if the whole rock is badly weathered, it will be hard to find an intact mineral grain containing radioactive isotopes.

You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon.

On the other hand, the half-life of the isotope potassium 40 as it decays to argon is 1.26 billion years.

So carbon 14 is used to date materials that aren’t that old geologically, say in the tens of thousands of years, while potassium-argon dating can be used to determine the ages of much older materials, in the millions and billions year range.

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