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These isotopes break down at a constant rate over time through radioactive decay.By measuring the ratio of the amount of the original (parent) isotope to the amount of the (daughter) isotopes that it breaks down into an age can be determined.Some fossils, called index fossils, are particularly useful in correlating rocks.
But, how can we determine how old a rock formation is, if it hasn’t previously been dated?
The same rock formation also contains a type of trilobite that was known to live 415 to 425 million years ago.
Since the rock formation contains both types of fossils the ago of the rock formation must be in the overlapping date range of 415 to 420 million years.
Studying the layers of rock or strata can also be useful. If a layer of rock containing the fossil is higher up in the sequence that another layer, you know that layer must be younger in age. This can often be complicated by the fact that geological forces can cause faulting and tilting of rocks.
Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a rock or fossil through radiometric dating methods.
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We define the rate of this radioactive decay in half-lives.