Alpha Particle emits a particle from its nucleus called an alpha particle (2 protons + 2 neutrons).
Uranium - Thorium Decay U He + Th 238 92 4 2 234 90 spontaneous decay parentdaughter product alpha particle = 2 protons + 2 neutrons = positively charged ion of Helium Thorium: 90 protons + 144 neutrons
Beta Particle Emission But, Th is also unstable, and it emits a beta particle … 234 90
Th + Pa 234 90 234 91 Thorium - Protactinium Decay beta particle beta particle = an electron discharged from the nucleus when a neutron splits into a proton and an electron Protactinium: 91 protons + 143 neutrons
U Pb Series This process is called radioactive decay, and eventually uranium (parent) decays to lead (daughter product).
U Pb Series The rate at which this process occurs is measured in terms of the half life.
Half Life Half Life = Number of years for 1/2 of the original number of atoms to decay from U to Pb
The phenomenon of radioactivity relates to our story about the age of the Earth in two ways: (1) As radioactive elements decay in the Earth, they heat up the surrounding rocks. (2) Radiometric Dating
Radiometric Dating Assume: Rate of decay (half life) of long-lived elements has not varied since the Earth was formed. This is an example of uniformitarianism. The Principle of Uniformitarianism The physical, chemical and biological laws that operate today have also operated in the geologic past.
To estimate the age of a rock: D = amount of daughter product. P = amount of parent. For a particular radioactive element in a rock, determine the present ratio = D/P. D P
Rate of decay (from theory and measurement) Make assumptions about original ratios (from theory of geochemistry). As time passes, the amount of parent decreases, and the amount of daughter product increases. This provides a way of estimating the amount of time since the "clock" got started (i.e., since the rock solidified). D P D P
Examples of Very Old Rocks Found on Earth: 3.4 billion year old granites - South Africa. 3.7 billion year old granites - Greenland. Oldest terrestrial rocks > 4.6 billion years. Central Canada and Central Australia Oldest terrestrial rocks (4.0 billion years?) are deep in the interiors of continents.