Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element.
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.
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Radiocarbon dating measures radioactive isotopes in once-living organic material instead of rock, using the decay of carbon-14 to nitrogen-14.
Because of the fairly fast decay rate of carbon-14, it can only be used on material up to about 60,000 years old.
They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years.
This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods.
Most directly measure the amount of isotopes in rocks, using a mass spectrometer.
Others measure the subatomic particles that are emitted as an isotope decays.Some measure the decay of isotopes more indirectly.For example, fission track dating measures the microscopic marks left in crystals by subatomic particles from decaying isotopes.So in order to date most older fossils, scientists look for layers of igneous rock or volcanic ash above and below the fossil.Scientists date igneous rock using elements that are slow to decay, such as uranium and potassium.Because of their unique decay rates, different elements are used for dating different age ranges.