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Of all the isotopic dating methods in use today, the uranium-lead method is the oldest and, when done carefully, the most reliable. Unlike any other method, uranium-lead has Dating using uranium-238 isotopes natural cross-check built into it that shows when nature has tampered with the evidence.

Uranium comes in two common isotopes with atomic weights of and we'll call them U and U. Both are unstable and radioactive, shedding nuclear particles in a cascade that doesn't stop until they become Dating using uranium-238 isotopes Uraniun-238.

The two cascades are different—U becomes Pb and U becomes Pb.

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What makes this fact useful is that they occur at different rates, as expressed in their half-lives the time it takes for half the atoms to decay. The U—Pb cascade has a half-life of million years and the U—Pb cascade is considerably slower, with a half-life of Dating using uranium-238 isotopes.

Radioactive parent elements decay to stable daughter elements. the principle of radioactive decay to measure the age of rocks and minerals (using Uranium As uranium decays to lead, there are 13 intermediate radioactive daughter. Give examples of other isotopes used in radioactive dating. . To calculate the age of a substance using isotopic dating, use the equation below: For example, uranium (which decays in a series of steps into lead). Using Geological Layers & Radioactive Dating to Determine the Earth's Age . It works because we know the fixed radioactive decay rates of uranium

So when a mineral grain forms specifically, when it first cools below its trapping temperatureit effectively sets the uranium-lead "clock" to zero. Lead atoms created by Dating using uranium-238 isotopes decay are trapped in the crystal and ussing up in concentration with time.

If nothing disturbs the grain to release any of this radiogenic lead, dating it is straightforward in concept.

First, its chemical structure likes uranium and hates lead. Uranium easily substitutes for zirconium while lead is strongly excluded.

This means uxing clock is truly set at zero when zircon forms. Its clock is not easily disturbed by geologic events—not erosion or consolidation into sedimentary rocksnot even moderate metamorphism.

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Third, zircon is widespread in igneous rocks as a primary mineral. This makes it especially valuable for dating these rocks, which have no fossils to indicate their age. Fourth, zircon is physically tough and easily separated from crushed rock samples because of its high density.

Dating using uranium-238 isotopes

Other minerals sometimes used for uranium-lead dating include monazite, titanite and two other zirconium minerals, baddeleyite and zirconolite. However, zircon is so overwhelming a favorite that geologists often just refer to "zircon dating.

But even the best geologic methods are imperfect. Dating a Dating using uranium-238 isotopes involves uranium-lead measurements on many zirconsthen assessing the quality of the data. Some zircons are obviously disturbed and can be ignored, while other cases are harder to judge.

In these cases, the concordia diagram is a valuable tool. Consider the concordia: But now imagine that some geologic event disturbs things to make the lead escape.

Dating using uranium-238 isotopes

That would take the zircons on a straight line back to zero on the concordia diagram. The straight line takes the zircons off the concordia. This is where data from many zircons uranium-2388 important.

The disturbing event affects the zircons unequally, stripping all the lead from some, only part of it from others and leaving some untouched.

The results from these zircons therefore plot along that straight line, establishing what is called a discordia. Now consider the discordia.

If a million-year-old rock is disturbed to create a discordia, isotopfs is Dating using uranium-238 isotopes for another billion years, the whole discordia line will migrate along the curve of the concordia, always pointing to the age of the disturbance. This means that zircon data can tell us not only when a rock formed, but also when significant events occurred during its life.

Dating using uranium-238 isotopes oldest zircon yet found dates from 4. With this background in the uranium-lead method, you may have Datkng deeper appreciation of the research presented on the University of Wisconsin's " Earliest Piece of the Earth " page, including the paper in Nature that announced the record-setting date.

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Andrew Alden is a geologist who writes extensively about all aspects of geology, and leads research expeditions for professional organizations. Updated February 10, Continue Reading.

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