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The problem becomes intricate if more than one event that affected the radiogenic isotope systems has occurred during the evolution of the rock.
Many rocks have complex histories, and the challenge in isotopic age determination is to unravel and date not one, but each of the events that affected their evolution.] To date, only terrestrial, lunar, and meteoritic samples have been dated by isotopic methods.
If the rate at which craters are formed is known, then it is possible to estimate the absolute age of the surface.
To establish a surface history, it is necessary to determine the sequence of various geologic events and, if possible, their duration.
Two basic types of dating are possible: absolute and relative.
On the other hand, most solid bodies in the solar system display a record of accumulated impact cratering on their surfaces.
The total number of craters recorded by a surface is a measure of its age.
The isotopic method of determining absolute age is the most accurate and desirable way of dating planetary surfaces, but collecting and returning rock samples from distant planets and satellites is a difficult and expensive endeavor.Furthermore, some surfaces, such as those of the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, may not yield rocks that are datable by current isotopic techniques.Absolute age dating determines the "calendar" time at which a rock, surface, or feature formed; relative age dating determines the order-but not the time-of formation. If the rocks have remained as closed isotopic systems, it is possible to calculate their age by measuring the amount of radiogenic isotopes relative to the amount of stable isotopes now present.In practice, this procedure requires an accurate assessment of the initial abundances of the isotopes produced in the radioactive decay.] One of the major goals of planetary exploration is to determine the surface histories of the solid planets and satellites.
Surface histories tell us how these bodies evolved through time and provide information on the probable causes for observed differences.