Radioactive dating using uranium
Radioactive elements "decay" (that is, change into other elements) by "half lives." If a half life is equal to one year, then one half of the radioactive element will have decayed in the first year after the mineral was formed; one half of the remainder will decay in the next year (leaving one-fourth remaining), and so forth.
The formula for the fraction remaining is one-half raised to the power given by the number of years divided by the half-life (in other words raised to a power equal to the number of half-lives).
The decrease in the amount of potassium required to form the original mineral has consistently confirmed the age as determined by the amount of argon formed.
Carbon-14 dating: See Carbon 14 Dating in this web site.
Potassium-Argon dating: The element potassium (symbol K) has three nuclides, K39, K40, and K41. K40 can decay in two different ways: it can break down into either calcium or argon.
At this point the fraction of Rb87 = Sr87 = 0.500; at half life = 2.00, Rb87 = 25% and Sr87 = 75%, and so on. 131, Strahler, Science and Earth History: Points are taken from these curves and a plot of fraction Sr-87/Sr-86 (as ordinate) vs. It turns out to be a straight line with a slope of -1.00.The amount of strontium-86 in a given mineral sample will not change.Therefore the relative amounts of rubidium-87 and strontium-87 can be determined by expressing their ratios to strontium-86: Rb-87/Sr-86 and Sr87/Sr-86 We measure the amounts of rubidium-87 and strontium-87 as ratios to an unchanging content of strontium-86.Because of radioactivity, the fraction of rubidium-87 decreases from an initial value of 100% at the time of formation of the mineral, and approaches zero with increasing number of half lives.
At the same time, the fraction of strontium-87 increases from zero and approaches 100% with increasing number of half-lives.
Therefore the amount of argon formed provides a direct measurement of the amount of potassium-40 present in the specimen when it was originally formed.