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Isotopes of potassium
Potassium (K) has 24 known isotopes. Three isotopes occur naturally: 39K (93.3%), 40K (0.012%) and 41K (6.7%). The standard atomic mass is 39.0983(1) u. Naturally occurring 40K decays to stable 40Ar (11.2%) by electron capture and by positron emission, and decays to stable 40Ca (88.8%) by beta decay; 40K has a half-life of 1.250×109 years. The decay of 40K to 40Ar enables a commonly used method for dating rocks. The conventional K-Ar dating method depends on the assumption that the rocks contained no argon at the time of formation and that all the subsequent radiogenic argon (i.e., 40Ar) was quantitatively retained. Minerals are dated by measurement of the concentration of potassium and the amount of radiogenic 40Ar that has accumulated. The minerals that are best suited for dating include biotite, muscovite, plutonic/high grade metamorphic hornblende, and volcanic feldspar; whole rock samples from volcanic flows and shallow instrusives can also be dated if they are unaltered.
Additional recommended knowledge
Outside of dating, potassium isotopes have been used extensively as tracers in studies of weathering. They have also been used for nutrient cycling studies because potassium is a macronutrient required for life.
40K occurs in natural potassium (and thus in some commercial salt substitutes) in sufficient quantity that large bags of those substitutes can be used as a radioactive source for classroom demonstrations. In healthy animals and people, 40K represents the largest source of radioactivity, greater even than 14C. In a human body of 70 kg mass, about 4,400 nuclei of 40K decay per second.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Isotopes_of_potassium". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|