Because plants use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, this isotope ends up inside the plant, and because animals eat plants, they get some as well.
When a plant or an animal dies, it stops taking in carbon-14.
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.
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.
The methods work because radioactive elements are unstable, and they are always trying to move to a more stable state. This process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by releasing radiation is called radioactive decay.
The thing that makes this decay process so valuable for determining the age of an object is that each radioactive isotope decays at its own fixed rate, which is expressed in terms of its half-life.
Free 5-day trial Radiometric dating is used to estimate the age of rocks and other objects based on the fixed decay rate of radioactive isotopes.
Learn about half-life and how it is used in different dating methods, such as uranium-lead dating and radiocarbon dating, in this video lesson. As we age, our hair turns gray, our skin wrinkles and our gait slows.