Although both relative and absolute dating methods are used to estimate the age of historical remains, the results produced by both these techniques for the same sample may be ambiguous. Geological specimens that are unearthed need to be assigned an appropriate age. To find their age, two major geological dating methods are used. These are called relative and absolute dating techniques. Absolute dating, also called numerical dating, arranges the historical remains in order of their ages.
At first, there were not many methods of dating were available, but now with advancement in the technology, we mainly have two types of the techniques to ascertain ages of ancient belongings. Relative Dating and Absolute Dating are two types of such techniques which are under practice to determine the age of the fossils, objects or civilizations.
The relative dating is the technique in the Geology through which the age is determined with relation to the other objects. In other words, we can say that in relative dating the archaeologist determines that which of the two fossil or the artifacts are older.
Contrary to this, the absolute dating is the technique, using which the exact age of the artifacts, fossils, or sites are ascertained. The relative dating is the technique to ascertain the age of the artifacts, rocks or even sites while comparing one from the other. In relative dating the exact age of the object is not known; the only thing which made clear using this is that which of the two artifacts is older.
The relative dating is less advanced technique as compared to the absolute dating. In relative dating, mostly the common sense principles are applied, and it is told that which artifact or object is older than the other one. Radiometric dating is based on the known and constant rate of decay of radioactive isotopes into their radiogenic daughter isotopes. Particular isotopes are suitable for different applications due to the types of atoms present in the mineral or other material and its approximate age.
For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as carbon, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments. One of the most widely used and well-known absolute dating techniques is carbon or radiocarbon dating, which is used to date organic remains.
This is a radiometric technique since it is based on radioactive decay. Carbon moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals.
With death, the uptake of carbon stops. It takes 5, years for half the carbon to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon After another 5, years only one-quarter of the original carbon will remain.
After yet another 5, years only one-eighth will be left. By measuring the carbon in organic material , scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact. The relatively short half-life of carbon, 5, years, makes dating reliable only up to about 50, years. The technique often cannot pinpoint the date of an archeological site better than historic records, but is highly effective for precise dates when calibrated with other dating techniques such as tree-ring dating.Relative and Absolute Dating
An additional problem with carbon dates from archeological sites is known as the "old wood" problem. It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record.
Thus dating that particular tree does not necessarily indicate when the fire burned or the structure was built. For this reason, many archaeologists prefer to use samples from short-lived plants for radiocarbon dating.
The development of accelerator mass spectrometry AMS dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard. Other radiometric dating techniques are available for earlier periods. One of the most widely used is potassium—argon dating K—Ar dating. Potassium is a radioactive isotope of potassium that decays into argon The half-life of potassium is 1.
Potassium is common in rocks and minerals, allowing many samples of geochronological or archeological interest to be dated. Argon , a noble gas, is not commonly incorporated into such samples except when produced in situ through radioactive decay. The date measured reveals the last time that the object was heated past the closure temperature at which the trapped argon can escape the lattice.
K—Ar dating was used to calibrate the geomagnetic polarity time scale. Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were heated.
This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment. This process frees electrons within minerals that remain caught within the item.
Interleaved impact cratering and volcanic eruption events have been used to establish a relative time scale for the Moon, with names for periods and epochs, just as fossils have been used to establish a relative time scale for Earth. The chapter draws on five decades of work going right back to the origins of planetary geology. The Moon's history is divided into pre-Nectarian, Nectarian, Imbrian, Eratosthenian, and Copernican periods from oldest to youngest.
The oldest couple of chronostratigraphic boundaries are defined according to when two of the Moon's larger impact basins formed: There were many impacts before Nectaris, in the pre-Nectarian period including 30 major impact basins , and there were many more that formed in the Nectarian period, the time between Nectaris and Imbrium. The Orientale impact happened shortly after the Imbrium impact, and that was pretty much it for major basin-forming impacts on the Moon.
I talked about all of these basins in my previous blog post. There was some volcanism happening during the Nectarian and early Imbrian period, but it really got going after Orientale. Vast quantities of lava erupted onto the Moon's nearside, filling many of the older basins with dark flows. So the Imbrian period is divided into the Early Imbrian epoch -- when Imbrium and Orientale formed -- and the Late Imbrian epoch -- when most mare volcanism happened. People have done a lot of work on crater counts of mare basalts, establishing a very good relative time sequence for when each eruption happened.
Mare Ingenii, the "Sea of Cleverness," is a small area of mare basalt dark filling an impact basin that is itself inside the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the Moon's farside.
The basalt has fewer, smaller craters than the adjacent highlands.
Relative and absolute dating geology
Even though it is far away from the nearside basalts, geologists can use crater statistics to determine whether it erupted before, concurrently with, or after nearside maria did. Over time, mare volcanism waned, and the Moon entered a period called the Eratosthenian -- but where exactly this happened in the record is a little fuzzy. Tanaka and Hartmann lament that Eratosthenes impact did not have widespread-enough effects to allow global relative age dating -- but neither did any other crater; there are no big impacts to use to date this time period.
Tanaka and Hartmann suggest that the decline in mare volcanism -- and whatever impact crater density is associated with the last gasps of mare volcanism -- would be a better marker than any one impact crater.
Most recently, a few late impact craters, including Copernicus, spread bright rays across the lunar nearside. Presumably older impact craters made pretty rays too, but those rays have faded with time. Rayed craters provide another convenient chronostratigraphic marker and therefore the boundary between the Eratosthenian and Copernican eras. Here is a graphic showing the chronostratigraphy for the Moon -- our story for how the Moon changed over geologic time, put in graphic form.
Basins and craters dominate the early history of the Moon, followed by mare volcanism and fewer craters. Can we put absolute ages on this time scale? Well, we can certainly try. The Moon is the one planet other than Earth for which we have rocks that were picked up in known locations.
We also have several lunar meteorites to play with. Most moon rocks are very old. All the Apollo missions brought back samples of rocks that were produced or affected by the Imbrium impact, so we can confidently date the Imbrium impact to about 3. And we can pretty confidently date mare volcanism for each of the Apollo and Luna landing sites -- that was happening around 3.
Not quite as old, but still pretty old.
Beyond that, the work to pin numbers on specific events gets much harder. There is an enormous body of science on the age-dating of Apollo samples and Moon-derived asteroids. We have a lot of rock samples and a lot of derived ages, but it's hard to be certain where a particular chunk of rock picked up by an astronaut originated.
The Moon's surface has been so extensively "gardened" over time by smaller impacts that there was no intact bedrock available to the Apollo astronauts to sample. And it's impossible to know where a lunar meteorite originated. So we can get incredibly precise dates on the ages of these rocks, but can't really know for sure what we're dating.
Relative and absolute ages in the histories of Earth and the Moon: The Geologic Time Scale
Consequently, there is a lot of uncertainty about the ages of even the biggest events in the Moon's history, like the Nectarian impact. There's some evidence suggesting that it's barely older than Imbrium, which means that there was a period of incredibly intense asteroid impacts -- the Late Heavy Bombardment. There are other people who argue that the rocks we think are from the Nectaris are either actually from Imbrium or were affected by Imbrium, so that we don't actually know when Nectaris happened and consequently can't say for sure whether the Late Heavy Bombardment happened.
Dating lunar asteroids doesn't help; none have been found that are older than 3. It seems like there's a lot of evidence supporting the idea that it happened, and there's a workable explanation of why it might have happened, but there's a problematic lack of geologic record for the time before it happened. But we do the best we can with what we've got. Here is the same diagram I showed above, but this time I've squished and stretched parts of it to fit a linear time scale on the right.
I drew in a billion years' worth of lines for the boundary between the Eratosthenian and Copernican ages, because we really don't have data that tells us where precisely to draw that line.
Look how squished the Moon's history is! Almost all the cratering happened in the bottom bit of the diagram. The volcanism pretty much ended halfway through the Moon's history.
For more than two billion years -- half the diagram -- almost no action. A crater here, a little squirt of volcanism there.
That stack of numbers on the right side of the diagram is comforting; it seems like we've got a good handle on the history of the Moon if we can label it so neatly.