(The nucleus of an atom is made up of protons and neutrons.) For example, the element carbon, which always has six protons in its nucleus, has three isotopes: one with six neutrons in the nucleus, one with seven, and one with eight.
However, rocks and other objects in nature do not give off such obvious clues about how long they have been around.So, we rely on radiometric dating to calculate their ages.The discovery gave scientists a tool for dating rocks that contain radioactive elements.Many elements have naturally occurring isotopes, varieties of the element that have different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus.By establishing geological timescales, radiometric dating provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and rates of evolutionary change, and it is also used to date archaeological materials, including ancient artifacts.
The different methods of radiometric dating are accurate over different timescales, and they are useful for different materials.The rates of decay of various radioactive isotopes have been accurately measured in the laboratory and have been shown to be constant, even in extreme temperatures and pressures.These rates are usually expressed as the isotope's half-life--that is, the time it takes for one-half of the parent isotopes to decay.The methods work because radioactive elements are unstable, and they are always trying to move to a more stable state. This process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by releasing radiation is called radioactive decay.The thing that makes this decay process so valuable for determining the age of an object is that each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life.Radioactive elements were incorporated into the Earth when the Solar System formed.