The unstable or more commonly known radioactive isotopes break down by radioactive decay into other isotopes.
This radioactivity can be used for dating, since a radioactive 'parent' element decays into a stable 'daughter' element at a constant rate.
The rate of decay (given the symbol λ) is the fraction of the 'parent' atoms that decay in unit time.
This method is useful for igneous and metamorphic rocks, which cannot be dated by the stratigraphic correlation method used for sedimentary rocks. Some do not change with time and form stable isotopes (i.e.
those that form during chemical reactions without breaking down).
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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.
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