Wed. Sep 28th, 2022

Ars explains: How do we find out how old some stones are? Click here for transcription.

For our first entry of our new science video series, we looked at unique hardware that moves things at nearly the speed of light. Today we are going to look at a process that is taking place all over the world. Although it requires some specialized equipment, the equipment is general enough that many universities have their own version. Despite being relatively common, we can still learn some amazing things from it.

The subject of this description is radiometric dating, which uses radioactive decay of some elements to find out how old things are. Putting an age on something may seem pretty mundane, but the simple answers offered by dating can influence a huge range of scientific fields.

Carbon dating helps us understand when cultural artifacts were created and when archaeological samples were deposited. It helps us figure out when lost environments flourished. Other isotopes allow us to age, figure out when extinct species lived and when evidence of past climate change was provided. Deeper back in time we can work through movements of supercontinents that no longer exist, the formation of Earth’s first rocks and (with the help of some alien samples) even the beginning of the solar system.

This process doesn’t work with every rock and every isotope, but there are ways we can build confidence in the data we have for rocks that are more than four billion years old. Watch the video to see how.

By akfire1

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