It is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium K into argon Ar. Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas , clay minerals , tephra , and evaporites. In these materials, the decay product 40 Ar is able to escape the liquid molten rock, but starts to accumulate when the rock solidifies recrystallizes.
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The amount of argon sublimation that occurs is a function of the purity of the sample, the composition of the mother material, and a number of other factors. Time since recrystallization is calculated by measuring the ratio of the amount of 40 Ar accumulated to the amount of 40 K remaining. The long half-life of 40 K allows the method to be used to calculate the absolute age of samples older than a few thousand years.
The quickly cooled lavas that make nearly ideal samples for K—Ar dating also preserve a record of the direction and intensity of the local magnetic field as the sample cooled past the Curie temperature of iron. The geomagnetic polarity time scale was calibrated largely using K—Ar dating. Potassium naturally occurs in 3 isotopes: Conversion to stable 40 Ca occurs via electron emission beta decay in Conversion to stable 40 Ar occurs via electron capture in the remaining Argon, being a noble gas , is a minor component of most rock samples of geochronological interest: When 40 K decays to 40 Ar argon , the atom typically remains trapped within the lattice because it is larger than the spaces between the other atoms in a mineral crystal.
Entrained argon—diffused argon that fails to escape from the magma—may again become trapped in crystals when magma cools to become solid rock again. The potassium-argon dating method has been used to measure a wide variety of ages.
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The potassium-argon age of some meteorites is as old as 4,,, years, and volcanic rocks as young as 20, years old have been measured by this method. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind. Your contribution may be further edited by our staff, and its publication is subject to our final approval. Unfortunately, our editorial approach may not be able to accommodate all contributions.
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Learn More in these related Britannica articles: This is possible in potassium-argon K-Ar dating, for example, because most minerals do not take argon into their structures initially. In rubidium-strontium dating, micas exclude strontium when they form but accept much rubidium. In uranium-lead U-Pb dating of zircon, the zircon is found to exclude initial lead…. The radioactive decay scheme involving the breakdown of potassium of mass 40 40 K to argon gas of mass 40 40 Ar formed the basis of the first widely used isotopic dating method.
One problem with argon-argon dating has been a slight discrepancy with other methods of dating.
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