How does carbon 14 dating work

However, at the moment of death, the amount of carbon-14 begins to decrease because it is unstable, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.Half of the carbon-14 degrades every 5,730 years as indicated by its half-life.By measuring the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in the sample and comparing it to the ratio in a living organism, it is possible to determine the age of the artifact.Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.Radiocarbon dating is a method of estimating the age of organic material.It was developed right after World War II by Willard F.Libby and coworkers, and it has provided a way to determine the ages of different materials in archeology, geology, geophysics, and other branches of science.Some examples of the types of material that radiocarbon can determine the ages of are wood, charcoal, marine and freshwater shell, bone and antler, and peat and organic-bearing sediments.

Carbon-14 is continually formed in nature by the interaction of neutrons with nitrogen-14 in the Earth’s atmosphere; the neutrons required for this reaction are produced by cosmic rays interacting with the atmosphere.

Age determinations can also be obtained from carbonate deposits such as calcite, dissolved carbon dioxide, and carbonates in ocean, lake, and groundwater sources.

Cosmic rays enter the earth's atmosphere in large numbers every day and when one collides with an atom in the atmosphere, it can create a secondary cosmic ray in the form of an energetic neutron.

And it has seven protons, and it also has seven neutrons. So the different versions of a given element, those are each called isotopes. So anyway, we have our atmosphere, and then coming from our sun, we have what's commonly called cosmic rays, but they're actually not rays. You can view them as just single protons, which is the same thing as a hydrogen nucleus. But every now and then one of those neutrons will bump into one of the nitrogen-14's in just the right way so that it bumps off one of the protons in the nitrogen and essentially replaces that proton with itself. But this number 14 doesn't go down to 13 because it replaces it with itself. And now since it only has six protons, this is no longer nitrogen, by definition. And that proton that was bumped off just kind of gets emitted. But this process-- and once again, it's not a typical process, but it happens every now and then-- this is how carbon-14 forms. You can essentially view it as a nitrogen-14 where one of the protons is replaced with a neutron. It makes its way into oceans-- it's already in the air, but it completely mixes through the whole atmosphere-- and the air. And plants are really just made out of that fixed carbon, that carbon that was taken in gaseous form and put into, I guess you could say, into kind of a solid form, put it into a living form. It gets put into plants, and then it gets put into the things that eat the plants. Well, the interesting thing is the only time you can take in this carbon-14 is while you're alive, while you're eating new things.

And we talk about the word isotope in the chemistry playlist. But this number up here can change depending on the number of neutrons you have. And every now and then-- and let's just be clear-- this isn't like a typical reaction. So instead of seven protons we now have six protons. And a proton that's just flying around, you could call that hydrogen 1. If it doesn't gain an electron, it's just a hydrogen ion, a positive ion, either way, or a hydrogen nucleus. And so this carbon-14, it's constantly being formed. I've just explained a mechanism where some of our body, even though carbon-12 is the most common isotope, some of our body, while we're living, gets made up of this carbon-14 thing.

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