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and is now the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of fossilized life forms or the age of the Earth itself, and can also be used to date a wide range of natural and man-made materials.Together with stratigraphic principles, radiometric dating methods are used in geochronology to establish the geologic time scale.
For all other nuclides, the proportion of the original nuclide to its decay products changes in a predictable way as the original nuclide decays over time.This predictability allows the relative abundances of related nuclides to be used as a clock to measure the time from the incorporation of the original nuclides into a material to the present.The basic equation of radiometric dating requires that neither the parent nuclide nor the daughter product can enter or leave the material after its formation.For most radioactive nuclides, the half-life depends solely on nuclear properties and is essentially a constant.It is not affected by external factors such as temperature, pressure, chemical environment, or presence of a magnetic or electric field.Radiometric dating is also used to date archaeological materials, including ancient artifacts.
Different methods of radiometric dating vary in the timescale over which they are accurate and the materials to which they can be applied.
A particular isotope of a particular element is called a nuclide. That is, at some point in time, an atom of such a nuclide will undergo radioactive decay and spontaneously transform into a different nuclide.
This transformation may be accomplished in a number of different ways, including alpha decay (emission of alpha particles) and beta decay (electron emission, positron emission, or electron capture).
In these cases, usually the half-life of interest in radiometric dating is the longest one in the chain, which is the rate-limiting factor in the ultimate transformation of the radioactive nuclide into its stable daughter.
Isotopic systems that have been exploited for radiometric dating have half-lives ranging from only about 10 years (e.g., tritium) to over 100 billion years (e.g., samarium-147).
For instance, carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years.