Dating rock strata

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Teach your students about absolute dating: Determining age of rocks and fossils, a classroom activity for grades 9-12.

Find additional lessons, activities, videos, and articles that focus on relative and absolute dating.

Radioactive atoms are inherently unstable; over time, radioactive "parent atoms" decay into stable "daughter atoms." When molten rock cools, forming what are called igneous rocks, radioactive atoms are trapped inside. By measuring the quantity of unstable atoms left in a rock and comparing it to the quantity of stable daughter atoms in the rock, scientists can estimate the amount of time that has passed since that rock formed.

Fossils are generally found in sedimentary rock — not igneous rock.

In terms of geology, Relative Age is the age of an object in relation to the ages of other objects.

Layers of rock, called strata, show the order of events that took place in the past and Absolute Age is…

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However, there are radiometric dating methods that can be used on sedimentary rock, including luminescence dating.

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.

Because of their unique decay rates, different elements are used for dating different age ranges.

The table below shows characteristics of some common radiometric dating methods.

Geologists choose a dating method that suits the materials available in their rocks. Measuring isotopes is particularly useful for dating igneous and some metamorphic rock, but not sedimentary rock.

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