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Potassium-Argon dating: The element potassium (symbol K) has three nuclides, K39, K40, and K41. K40 can decay in two different ways: it can break down into either calcium or argon.

The ratio of calcium formed to argon formed is fixed and known.

Radioactive elements "decay" (that is, change into other elements) by "half lives." If a half life is equal to one year, then one half of the radioactive element will have decayed in the first year after the mineral was formed; one half of the remainder will decay in the next year (leaving one-fourth remaining), and so forth.

The formula for the fraction remaining is one-half raised to the power given by the number of years divided by the half-life (in other words raised to a power equal to the number of half-lives).

Radiometric dating is a means of determining the "age" of a mineral specimen by determining the relative amounts present of certain radioactive elements.

By "age" we mean the elapsed time from when the mineral specimen was formed.

Because of radioactivity, the fraction of rubidium-87 decreases from an initial value of 100% at the time of formation of the mineral, and approaches zero with increasing number of half lives.

At the same time, the fraction of strontium-87 increases from zero and approaches 100% with increasing number of half-lives.(Note that this does not mean that the ratios are the same everywhere on earth.It merely means that the ratios are the same in the particular magma from which the test sample was later taken.) As strontium-87 forms, its ratio to strontium-86 will increase.The sum of protons plus neutrons is the mass number.We designate a specific group of atoms by using the term "nuclide." A nuclide refers to a group of atoms with specified atomic number and mass number.Any argon present in a mineral containing potassium-40 must have been formed as the result of radioactive decay.