The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate.
This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry. The precision of a dating method depends in part on the half-life of the radioactive isotope involved.
After one half-life has elapsed, one half of the atoms of the nuclide in question will have decayed into a "daughter" nuclide or decay product.
In many cases, the daughter nuclide itself is radioactive, resulting in a decay chain, eventually ending with the formation of a stable (nonradioactive) daughter nuclide; each step in such a chain is characterized by a distinct half-life.
In these cases, usually the half-life of interest in radiometric dating is the longest one in the chain, which is the rate-limiting factor in the ultimate transformation of the radioactive nuclide into its stable daughter.
Isotopic systems that have been exploited for radiometric dating have half-lives ranging from only about 10 years (e.g., tritium) to over 100 billion years (e.g., samarium-147).
The temperature at which this happens is known as the closure temperature or blocking temperature and is specific to a particular material and isotopic system.
If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusion, setting the isotopic "clock" to zero.
Precision is enhanced if measurements are taken on multiple samples from different locations of the rock body.
Alternatively, if several different minerals can be dated from the same sample and are assumed to be formed by the same event and were in equilibrium with the reservoir when they formed, they should form an isochron. In uranium–lead dating, the concordia diagram is used which also decreases the problem of nuclide loss.
For most radioactive nuclides, the half-life depends solely on nuclear properties and is essentially a constant.
It is not affected by external factors such as temperature, pressure, chemical environment, or presence of a magnetic or electric field.and is now the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of fossilized life forms or the age of the Earth itself, and can also be used to date a wide range of natural and man-made materials.Together with stratigraphic principles, radiometric dating methods are used in geochronology to establish the geologic time scale.For instance, carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years.