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Potassium 40 (K40) decays to argon 40, which is an inert gas, and to calcium.
Potassium is present in most geological materials, making potassium-argon dating highly useful if it really works.
Back to top Radioactive elements decay gradually into other elements.
The original element is called the parent, and the result of the decay process is called the daughter element.
Since there doesn't seem to be any systematic error that could cause so many methods to agree with each other so often, it seems that there is no other rational conclusion than to accept these dates as accurate.
However, this causes a problem for those who believe based on the Bible that life has only existed on the earth for a few thousand years, since fossils are found in rocks that are dated to be over 500 million years old by radiometric methods, and some fossils are found in rocks that are dated to be billions of years old.
Perhaps the earth was made from older pre-existing matter, or perhaps decay rates were briefly faster for some reason. Geologic time is divided up into periods, beginning with the Precambrian, followed by the Cambrian and a number of others, leading up to the present.
We are told that these methods are accurate to a few percent, and that there are many different methods.
We can assume that the Precambrian rocks already existed when life began, and so the ages of the Precambrian rocks are not necessarily related to the question of how long life has existed on earth.
The Cambrian period is conventionally assumed to have begun about 550 million years ago.
Thus radiometric dating methods appear to give evidence that the earth and meteorites are old, if one accepts the fact that decay rates have been constant.
However, there may be other explanations for this apparent age. I also believe that the evidence indicates that the earth has recently undergone a violent catastrophe.