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Each original isotope, called the parent, gradually decays to form a new isotope, called the daughter.Geologists choose a dating method that suits the materials available in their rocks. Measuring isotopes is particularly useful for dating igneous and some metamorphic rock, but not sedimentary rock.Sedimentary rock is made of particles derived from other rocks, so measuring isotopes would date the original rock material, not the sediments they have ended up in.Because of their unique decay rates, different elements are used for dating different age ranges.For example, the decay of potassium-40 to argon-40 is used to date rocks older than 20,000 years, and the decay of uranium-238 to lead-206 is used for rocks older than 1 million years.

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Some measure the decay of isotopes more indirectly.

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