Radioactive decay and dating
Thus, when a geologist dates a rock using uranium-lead dating, he or she is actually getting an estimate on the age of its zircon crystals, which formed "shortly" before the volcanic eruption.
Of course, in this case "shortly" is meant in terms of geologic timescales.
The geology behind radioisotopic dating Though the basic logic behind radioisotopic dating relies on nuclear physics and quantum theory, many geologic processes also factor into our ability to date a particular rock. How do they know that the rock isn't contaminated with elements that would throw off the dating?
Radioactive decay Radioisotopic dating relies on the process of radioactive decay, in which the nuclei of radioactive atoms emit particles.
This releases energy (in the form of radiation) and often transforms one element into another.
Because lead (the stable daughter of uranium) has a very different arrangement of electrons, it does not make its way into the crystal as it is forming.
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The formation of crystals in the magma marks the moment that the radio-isotopic clock starts ticking.
For practice, use the graph above to estimate the age of a rock sample that contains 10% uranium and 90% lead.
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