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These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive decay.Each original isotope, called the parent, gradually decays to form a new isotope, called the daughter.Each isotope is identified with what is called a ‘mass number’.

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Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element.

These rates of decay are known, so if you can measure the proportion of parent and daughter isotopes in rocks now, you can calculate when the rocks were formed.

Because of their unique decay rates, different elements are used for dating different age ranges.

The age of a rock can be calculated if its ratio of uranium to lead is known.

This is unstable and eventually decays to lead, which is stable.

Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find.

They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years.

This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time order.

Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods.

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