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By measuring the amount of original and transformed atoms in an object, scientists can determine the age of that object.Cosmic rays: Invisible, high-energy particles that constantly bombard Earth from all directions in space.Radioactive decay: The predictable manner in which a population of atoms of a radioactive element spontaneously disintegrate over time.Stratigraphy: Study of layers of rocks or the objects embedded within those layers.When the organism dies, the supply stops, and the carbon-14 contained in the organism begins to spontaneously decay into nitrogen-14.
Using thermoluminescence, pottery pieces as old as 100,000 years can be dated with precision. Known as dendrochronology (pronounced den-dro-crow-NOL-o-gee), tree-ring dating is based on the fact that trees produce one growth ring each year.The nucleus of every radioactive element (such as radium and uranium) spontaneously disintegrates over time, transforming itself into the nucleus of an atom of a different element.In the process of disintegration, the atom gives off radiation (energy emitted in the form of waves). Each element decays at its own rate, unaffected by external physical conditions.This method is based on the assumption (which nearly always holds true) that deeper layers of rock were deposited earlier in Earth's history, and thus are older than more shallow layers.The successive layers of rock represent successive intervals of time.