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Figure 3 shows a graphical representation of this example. Snapshots of the rock are taken after multiples of 1.25 billion years (the half-life time of the parent isotope K-40).

So, how do geologists use radioactive decay as clocks to measure the age of a sample?

You might have seen the periodic table in your science textbook or displayed on a poster in the classroom. In the periodic table, each entry represents an element.

Science cannot predict which particular K-40 atom in this sample will decay and which will not during the next 1.25 billion years, but that is OK. It is like flipping a huge amount of coins: you know that the likelihood, or probability, is that you will end up with half of them heads up, but you have no idea which particular one will end up heads, or if even half of them will be heads for sure. Can geologists say that once the amount of K-40 isotopes in the sample has reduced to half its original amount, 1.25 billion years will have gone by?Or on a slightly smaller scale, where can paleontologists find a clock to tell the age of fossils, or how can archeologists determine how old ancient pottery and buried artifacts are? They are mostly empty space with a denser tiny area called the nucleus and a cloud of electrons surrounding the nucleus.Geologists (along with paleontologists, archeologists, and anthropologists) actually turn to the elements for answers to their geological time questions. The nucleus itself is made of protons and neutrons, collectively called nucleons.Yes — as long as they use a big enough sample so statistical fluctuations average out.To take it a step further, once only 1/4 of the original amount of K-40 isotopes are left (half of the half left over after 1.25 billion years), geologists can say that 2.5 billion years (double the half-life time) have gone by.

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