Relative dating the rocks
Unlike people, you can’t really guess the age of a rock from looking at it.Yet, you’ve heard the news: Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That corn cob found in an ancient Native American fire pit is 1,000 years old. Geologic age dating—assigning an age to materials—is an entire discipline of its own.Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: In reality, geologists tend to mix and match relative and absolute age dates to piece together a geologic history.If a rock has been partially melted, or otherwise metamorphosed, that causes complications for radiometric (absolute) age dating as well.In a way this field, called geochronology, is some of the purest detective work earth scientists do.There are two basic approaches: relative age dating, and absolute age dating.Relative age dating also means paying attention to crosscutting relationships.
No bones about it, fossils are important age markers.Here is an easy-to understand analogy for your students: relative age dating is like saying that your grandfather is older than you.Absolute age dating is like saying you are 15 years old and your grandfather is 77 years old.On the other hand, the half-life of the isotope potassium 40 as it decays to argon is 1.26 billion years.So carbon 14 is used to date materials that aren’t that old geologically, say in the tens of thousands of years, while potassium-argon dating can be used to determine the ages of much older materials, in the millions and billions year range.
Search for relative dating the rocks:
Look for “absolute” ages such as cornerstones, dates carved into fresh concrete, or dates stamped on manhole covers.