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Using these methods, the geologists determine if they want to examine the entire grain of zircon or certain parts of it to date only a certain spot. Thanks to the zircon dating system, we know how the world was before the dinosaurs even existed, and what the earth was like when it was first formed.
Another option is to dissolve the zircon grain in hydrofluoric acid to separate the uranium and the lead. Now imagine how old the pyramids in Egypt are; and how old Canada is; and how old you are.
Geologists then break up the rock into mineral grains and set them in a very thick liquid.
Because zircon is one of the densest minerals, the rest of the minerals raise to the top and the zircon sinks.
Since igneous rocks have no fossils, this makes zircon valuable in dating them.
Separating out the zircons is, therefore, a very meticulous process.
When a grain of mineral forms, the clock starts at zero.
Uranium decay traps lead atoms in the crystal; these atoms get more concentrated over time.
The zircons are studied with an electron microprobe; they hit the zircons with an electron beam to see the cathodoluminescent light that results after it.
All of the atoms in the sample give off X-rays with different wavelengths after being hit with the electron beam, according to their atomic makeup.