The relationship between the two is: T = 0.693 / λ Many different radioactive isotopes and techniques are used for dating.
All rely on the fact that certain elements (particularly uranium and potassium) contain a number of different isotopes whose half-life is exactly known and therefore the relative concentrations of these isotopes within a rock or mineral can measure the age.
The amount of 14C present and the known rate of decay of 14C and the equilibrium value gives the length of time elapsed since the death of the organism.
This method faces problems because the cosmic ray flux has changed over time, but a calibration factor is applied to take this into account.
The Re-Os isotopic system was first developed in the early 1960s, but recently has been improved for accurate age determinations.
The main limitation is that it only works on certain igneous rocks as most rocks have insufficient Re and Os or lack evolution of the isotopes.
Radioactive decay is a natural process and comes from the atomic nucleus becoming unstable and releasing bits and pieces.
Others place mineral grains under a special microscope, firing a laser beam at the grains which ionises the mineral and releases the isotopes.
For an element to be useful for geochronology (measuring geological time), the isotope must be reasonably abundant and produce daughter isotopes at a good rate.
Either a whole rock or a single mineral grain can be dated.
This technique uses the same minerals and rocks as for K-Ar dating but restricts measurements to the argon isotopic system which is not so affected by metamorphic and alteration events. The decay of 147Sm to 143Nd for dating rocks began in the mid-1970s and was widespread by the early 1980s.
It is useful for dating very old igneous and metamorphic rocks and also meteorites and other cosmic fragments.