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    Relative chronometric dating techniques

    A few days ago, I wrote a post about the basins of the Moon -- a result of a trip down a rabbit hole of book research.

    Here's the next step in that journey: the Geologic Time Scales of Earth and the Moon.

    In the science of geology, there are two main ways we use to describe how old a thing is or how long ago an event took place. When you say that I am 38 years old or that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, or that the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago, those are absolute ages.

    There are absolute ages and there are relative ages. We use a variety of laboratory techniques to figure out absolute ages of rocks, often having to do with the known rates of decay of radioactive elements into detectable daughter products.

    Aspartic acid is the compound most often used because it has a of 15,000-20,000 years and allows dates from 5,000-100,000 years to be calculated.

    However, racemization is very much affected by environmental factors such as temperature change.

    Specific changes in its amino acid structure (racemization or epimerization) which occur at a slow, relatively uniform rate, are measured after the organism's death.

    The basis for the technique is the fact that almost all amino acids change from optically active to optically passive compounds (racemize) over a period of time.

    The method drastically reduces the quantity of datable material required.

    In archaeology, dating techniques fall into two broad categories: chronometric (sometimes called “absolute”) and relative.

    Chronometric dating techniques produce a specific chronological date or date range for some event in the past. Relative dating techniques, on the other hand, provide only the relative order in which events took place.

    Unfortunately, those methods don't work on all rocks, and they don't work at all if you don't have rocks in the laboratory to age-date. They are descriptions of how one rock or event is older or younger than another.

    There's no absolute age-dating method that works from orbit, and although scientists are working on age-dating instruments small enough to fly on a lander (I'm looking at you, Barbara Cohen), nothing has launched yet. Relative age dating has given us the names we use for the major and minor geologic time periods we use to split up the history of Earth and all the other planets.

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