It is an accurate way to date specific geologic events. This is an enormous branch of geochemistry called Geochronology. There are many radiometric clocks and when applied to appropriate materials, the dating can be very accurate. As one example, the first minerals to crystallize condense from the hot cloud of gasses that surrounded the Sun as it first became a star have been dated to plus or minus 2 million years!! That is pretty accurate!!! Other events on earth can be dated equally well given the right minerals.
How can radioactive decay be used to date rocks?
Half-life and carbon dating (video) | Nuclei | Khan Academy
Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to infer the ages of fossils contained within those rocks. Radioactive elements decay The universe is full of naturally occurring radioactive elements. Radioactive atoms are inherently unstable; over time, radioactive "parent atoms" decay into stable "daughter atoms. When molten rock cools, forming what are called igneous rocks, radioactive atoms are trapped inside. Afterwards, they decay at a predictable rate. By measuring the quantity of unstable atoms left in a rock and comparing it to the quantity of stable daughter atoms in the rock, scientists can estimate the amount of time that has passed since that rock formed. Sedimentary rocks can be dated using radioactive carbon, but because carbon decays relatively quickly, this only works for rocks younger than about 50 thousand years.
Radioactive decay can be used to date igneous rocks by assuming making some assumptions, finding the percentages of parent to daughter products and using experimentally determined half-lives. Start with the assumptions that the rock 1. That there have been no factors that have influenced the rate of radioactive decay during the "life" of the rock. Second determine the percentages of the parent to the daughter elements in the rock. The percentages can be be used to calculate the number or fractions of the half lives that have occurred to create the percentages.
Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find. They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years. This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time order.