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If we knew the fraction of a radioactive element still remaining in a mineral, it would be a simple matter to calculate its age by the formula To determine the fraction still remaining, we must know both the amount now present and also the amount present when the mineral was formed.
Contrary to creationist claims, it is possible to make that determination, as the following will explain: By way of background, all atoms of a given element have the same number of protons in the nucleus; however, the number of neutrons in the nucleus can vary.
The amount of strontium-86 in a given mineral sample will not change.
Therefore the relative amounts of rubidium-87 and strontium-87 can be determined by expressing their ratios to strontium-86: Rb-87/Sr-86 and Sr87/Sr-86 We measure the amounts of rubidium-87 and strontium-87 as ratios to an unchanging content of strontium-86.
Strontium-86 is a stable element that does not undergo radioactive change.
In addition, it is not formed as the result of a radioactive decay process.
The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom is called its atomic number.(Note that this does not mean that the ratios are the same everywhere on earth.