A commonly used radiometric dating technique relies on the breakdown of potassium (Ar in an igneous rock can tell us the amount of time that has passed since the rock crystallized.
If an igneous or other rock is metamorphosed, its radiometric clock is reset, and potassium-argon measurements can be used to tell the number of years that has passed since metamorphism.
Since the 1950s, geologists have used radioactive elements as natural "clocks" for determining numerical ages of certain types of rocks. "Forms" means the moment an igneous rock solidifies from magma, a sedimentary rock layer is deposited, or a rock heated by metamorphism cools off.
It's this resetting process that gives us the ability to date rocks that formed at different times in earth history.
Additionally, elements may exist in different isotopes, with each isotope of an element differing in the number of neutrons in the nucleus.
A particular isotope of a particular element is called a nuclide. That is, at some point in time, an atom of such a nuclide will undergo radioactive decay and spontaneously transform into a different nuclide.
Carbon-14 is a method used for young (less than 50,000 year old) sedimentary rocks.
This method relies on the uptake of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope of carbon, carbon-14 by all living things.
Radiometric dating or radioactive dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or carbon, in which trace radioactive impurities were selectively incorporated when they were formed.
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.
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).
Another possibility is spontaneous fission into two or more nuclides.