Radiometric dating decay curves
An isotope is defined by its atomic number and its atomic weight.In the example in the previous paragraph, we have shown the notation used for isotopes.With the exception of gamma decay, which need not concern us here, this will involve changing the number of protons, or neutrons, or both, and so also changing the atomic number, the atomic weight, or both.There are a number of mechanisms by which decay may take place.Not all isotopes undergo decay: those that do are called unstable isotopes (or radioactive isotopes) and conversely those that don't are called stable. As we can see from this example, it is perfectly possible for different isotopes of the same element to differ in their stability.The reader should note that when a parent atom decays to a daughter atom, the daughter is not necessarily stable; sometimes the daughter will undergo further decay. It is important to understand how and why radioactive decay takes place.
If it is completely stripped of all its electrons, its half-life falls from 43 billion years to 33 years!The number of electrons is equal to the number of protons.The number of protons in an atom is its atomic number, and the sum of the protons and the neutrons gives its atomic weight.However, two atoms can have the same atomic number and different atomic weights.So, for example, C (carbon-14) has six protons and eight neutrons.
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As a prelude to the articles on radiometric dating, it is desirable that the reader should know something about the mechanisms of radioactive decay.