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This is also a way to get at the abundance of the various isotopes of carbon.
We have an activity in one of the PSI workshops "Exploring the Terrestrial Planets," that deals with this topic.
So, you can use the radioactive elements to measure the age of rocks and minerals. Their useful range is from about 1/10 their half-life (the time it takes for half of the radioactive element/isotope-- the parent, to convert into a non-radioactive element/isotope-- the daughter) to 10 times their half-life. You can use this to measure the age of a rock from about 128 million years to more than 10 billion years (the Solar System is 4.56 billion years old).
So, Carbon-14 can only measure things up to just over 50,000 years old, great for determining when someone built a wood fire, but not good for determining the age of a meteorite. It occurs whenever an atom has an unbalanced number of protons and neutrons in its nucleus.
When there is a scientific discussion about the age of, say a meteorite or the Earth, the media just talks about the large numbers and not about the dating technique (e.g. On the other hand, when the media talk about "more recent events," ages that are more comprehendible, such as when early Man built a fire or even how old a painting is (or some ancient parchment), then we bring up the dating technique in order to better validate the findings.
Carbon is unreactive with a number of common lab substances: sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, chlorine, or any of the alkalis.
This predictable decay is called the half-life of the parent atom, the time it takes for one half of all of the parent atoms to transform into the daughter.
These differing atoms are called isotopes and they are represented by the sum of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Carbon has 6 protons in its nucleus, but the number of neutrons its nucleus can host range from 6 to 8.
For others, all we are doing is getting a relative age, using things like the formation of craters and other features on a surface.
By studying other planets, we are learning more about our own planet.
We can then use radioactive age dating in order to date the ages of the surfaces (when the rocks first formed, i.e. We also have meteorites from asteroids and can date them, too.
These are the surfaces that we can get absolute ages for.
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The effects of impacts and how they might affect us here on Earth, global climate change (Venus vs.