Have you ever heard someone at a museumor
on TV say something like this “
. . . this T-rex
lived 65 million years ago . . .” and
wonder how they come up with an age likethat for something that we know from theBible is positively not that old? Scientistsget these dates through radioisotope(pronounced radio
iso-tope) dating, whichcan sound like a very frightening thing tostudy, and it very well can be if you study itin detail. However, we will not be going intotoo much detai
l about it here, so don’t worry.
What is a Radioisotope?
The word radioisotope is just short forradioactive isotope. Radioactive means verytiny bits of stuff that shoot out even smallerpieces very quickly, like a BB-gun shootingout little BB
just much faster and smaller.This is why radioactive things are sometimesdangerous. Isotopes are like a jar of jellybeans. There are many different colorsbut they are all jellybeans, not M&Ms orSkittles. Carbon-14 would be like red jellybeans and Carbon-12 would be like blue jellybeans. The name, Carbon, tells youwhat it is (jellybeans, M&Ms, or Skittles)and the number tells you what kind it is(red, yellow, or blue).
Case of the Jellybean Jar
Imagine that you have a jar of jellybeansmixed in with cereal and nuts. You cancount how many jellybeans of each color you
have in the jar, but that’s all you can
knowfor sure about the jellybeans. You can guesshow many were in the mix at first, but you
can’t know for sure because you did not put
them in the jar and have not been watchingthem all the time. Also, someone else mighthave eaten a bunch of red jellybeans before
you got the jar, or someone who didn’t like
the white ones might have put some extra inthe jar. You may know how fast people aretaking the jellybeans out now, but they mayhave been taking them out faster or slowerbefore you got the jar. When a scientist uses
radioisotopes to “date” a rock that he or she
found, they have the same problems withknowing what happened in the past to therock that we had about knowing whathappened to the jellybeans in the jar beforeyou got the jar.
Carbon-14 dating is a special kind of
radioisotope dating that can’t come up with
ages more than about 50 or 60 thousandyears because this kind of radioisotope runsout fairly quickly. A man named HughMiller and several other people sent severaldinosaur fossils to well-known Carbon-14