Simple definition of radioactive dating
These two uranium isotopes decay at different rates. The half-life of the uranium-238 to lead-206 is 4.47 billion years.
For example, with potassium-argon dating, we can tell the age of materials that contain potassium because we know that potassium-40 decays into argon-40 with a half-life of 1.3 billion years.
With radiocarbon dating, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 is measured.
Compared to some of the other radioactive isotopes we have discussed, carbon-14's half-life of 5,730 years is considerably shorter, as it decays into nitrogen-14.
In fact, this form of dating has been used to date the age of rocks brought back to Earth from the moon.
So, we see there are a number of different methods for dating rocks and other non-living things, but what if our sample is organic in nature?
So, if you know the radioactive isotope found in a substance and the isotope's half-life, you can calculate the age of the substance. Well, a simple explanation is that it is the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its starting value.