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Cosmogenic nuclide dating is useful for directly dating rocks on the Earth’s surface.It gives an Exposure Age: that is, how long the rock has been exposed to cosmic radiation.
Organic matter needs to have been buried and preserved for this technique. It assumes that organic material is not contaminated with older radiocarbon (which, for example, is a common problem with organic material from marine sediment cores around Antarctica).
For example, fission track dating measures the microscopic marks left in crystals by subatomic particles from decaying isotopes.
Another example is luminescence dating, which measures the energy from radioactive decay that is trapped inside nearby crystals.
When ‘parent’ uranium-238 decays, for example, it produces subatomic particles, energy and ‘daughter’ lead-206.
Isotopes are important to geologists because each radioactive element decays at a constant rate, which is unique to that element.
For example, the decay of potassium-40 to argon-40 is used to date rocks older than 20,000 years, and the decay of uranium-238 to lead-206 is used for rocks older than 1 million years.