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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.
The possible confounding effects of contamination of parent and daughter isotopes have to be considered, as do the effects of any loss or gain of such isotopes since the sample was created.
It is therefore essential to have as much information as possible about the material being dated and to check for possible signs of alteration.
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.