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The three key underlying assumptions are 1) the rate of decay of parent into daughter has remained constant throughout the unobservable past; 2) the specimen which we are examining hasn’t been contaminated in any way (that is, no parent or daughter has been added or taken away at any point during the unobservable past), and 3) we can determine how much parent and daughter were present at the beginning of the decay process – not all of the Pb206 present today necessarily came from decaying U238; Pb206 may have been part of the original constitution of the specimen.

If any of these assumptions are wrong, the method cannot accurately determine the age of a specimen.

The time it takes for half of a sample to decay is called a “half-life.” By measuring radioactive half-lives, by measuring how much parent and daughter are present in any given specimen, and by making certain key assumptions, scientists believe they are able to accurately determine the age of a specimen. The question is what are the underlying key assumptions and how reliable are they?This is at first glance surprising for long-agers, because of the ease with which one would expect helium (with its tiny, light, unreactive atoms) to escape from the spaces within the crystal structure.

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