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Different methods of radiometric dating vary in the timescale over which they are accurate and the materials to which they can be applied.All ordinary matter is made up of combinations of chemical elements, each with its own atomic number, indicating the number of protons in the atomic nucleus.This transformation may be accomplished in a number of different ways, including alpha decay (emission of alpha particles) and beta decay (electron emission, positron emission, or electron capture).

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.For all other nuclides, the proportion of the original nuclide to its decay products changes in a predictable way as the original nuclide decays over time.This predictability allows the relative abundances of related nuclides to be used as a clock to measure the time from the incorporation of the original nuclides into a material to the present.For example, the age of the Amitsoq gneisses from western Greenland was determined to be Accurate radiometric dating generally requires that the parent has a long enough half-life that it will be present in significant amounts at the time of measurement (except as described below under "Dating with short-lived extinct radionuclides"), the half-life of the parent is accurately known, and enough of the daughter product is produced to be accurately measured and distinguished from the initial amount of the daughter present in the material.The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate.

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