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    Radioactive age dating

    Terrestrial planets have hard surfaces that can be re-shaped by several different processes: impact cratering, volcanism, erosion, and tectonics. Links to external sites will be displayed in another window.

    Scientists determined the Earth's age using a technique called radiometric dating.

    With the exception of Carbon-14, radiometric dating is used to date either igneous or metamorphic rocks that contain radioactive elements such as uranium. Now when the uranium or thorium disintegrates, the alpha particles which are emitted are slowed down by the crystals in which the grains of the uranium- or thorium-bearing minerals are embedded.

    And even though various radioactive elements have been used to "date" these rocks, for the most part, the methods are basically the same. This means that if you had some pure uranium-238 with no lead in it, 4.5 billion years later one half of it would have decayed into its stable daughter product (lead-206). Where these alpha particles finally stop, crystal deformation occurs (and) shows up as a discolouration or a darkening of the crystals.

    Many elements have naturally occurring isotopes, varieties of the element that have different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus.

    (The nucleus of an atom is made up of protons and neutrons.) For example, the element carbon, which always has six protons in its nucleus, has three isotopes: one with six neutrons in the nucleus, one with seven, and one with eight.

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