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Assumptions in the scientific community are extremely important.
The number of neutrons in the nucleus can vary in any given type of atom.
Protons and neutrons make up the center (nucleus) of the atom, and electrons form shells around the nucleus.
The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom determines the element.
The illustration below shows the three isotopes of carbon.
Some isotopes of certain elements are unstable; they can spontaneously change into another kind of atom in a process called “radioactive decay.” Since this process presently happens at a known measured rate, scientists attempt to use it like a “clock” to tell how long ago a rock or fossil formed.
Scientists use a technique called radiometric dating to estimate the ages of rocks, fossils, and the earth.