Uranium thorium dating method

The two cascades are different—235U becomes 207Pb and 238U becomes 206Pb.

What makes this fact useful is that they occur at different rates, as expressed in their half-lives (the time it takes for half the atoms to decay).

Uranium comes in two common isotopes with atomic weights of 235 and 238 (we'll call them 235U and 238U).

Both are unstable and radioactive, shedding nuclear particles in a cascade that doesn't stop until they become lead (Pb).

and most refined of the radiometric dating schemes.

It can be used to date rocks that formed and crystallised from about 1 million years to over 4.5 billion years ago with routine precisions in the 0.1–1 percent range. This mineral incorporates uranium and thorium atoms into its crystal structure, but strongly rejects lead when forming.

Undamaged zircon retains the lead generated by radioactive decay of uranium and thorium up to very high temperatures (about 900 °C), though accumulated radiation damage within zones of very high uranium can lower this temperature substantially.

Zircon is very chemically inert and resistant to mechanical weathering—a mixed blessing for geochronologists, as zones or even whole crystals can survive melting of their parent rock with their original uranium-lead age intact.Of all the isotopic dating methods in use today, the uranium-lead method is the oldest and, when done carefully, the most reliable.Unlike any other method, uranium-lead has a natural cross-check built into it that shows when nature has tampered with the evidence.These types of minerals often produce lower precision ages than igneous and metamorphic minerals traditionally used for age dating, but are more common in the geologic record.During the alpha decay steps, the zircon crystal experiences radiation damage, associated with each alpha decay.If a series of zircon samples has lost different amounts of lead, the samples generate a discordant line.

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