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What radiocarbon dating be used on
So even we humans are radioactive because of trace amounts of radiocarbon in our bodies.After radiocarbon forms, the nuclei of the carbon-14 atoms are unstable, so over time they progressively decay back to nuclei of stable nitrogen-14.3 A neutron breaks down to a proton and an electron, and the electron is ejected. The ejected electrons are called beta particles and make up what is called beta radiation. Different carbon-14 atoms revert to nitrogen-14 at different times, which explains why radioactive decay is considered a random process.Through photosynthesis carbon dioxide enters plants and algae, bringing radiocarbon into the food chain.
Radiocarbon decays slowly in a living organism, and the amount lost is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.
Once the organism dies, however, it ceases to absorb carbon-14, so that the amount of the radiocarbon in its tissues steadily decreases.
To measure the rate of decay, a suitable detector records the number of beta particles ejected from a measured quantity of carbon over a period of time, say a month (for illustration purposes).
Since each beta particle represents one decayed carbon-14 atom, we know how many carbon-14 atoms decayed during that month.
Since the atmosphere is composed of about 78 percent nitrogen,2 a lot of radiocarbon atoms are produced—in total about 16.5 lbs. These rapidly combine with oxygen atoms (the second most abundant element in the atmosphere, at 21 percent) to form carbon dioxide (CO This carbon dioxide, now radioactive with carbon-14, is otherwise chemically indistinguishable from the normal carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is slightly lighter because it contains normal carbon-12.
Radioactive and non-radioactive carbon dioxide mix throughout the atmosphere, and dissolve in the oceans.So if we started with 2 million atoms of carbon-14 in our measured quantity of carbon, then the half-life of radiocarbon will be the time it takes for half, or 1 million, of these atoms to decay.The radiocarbon half-life or decay rate has been determined at 5,730 years.Radiocarbon (carbon-14 or C) forms continually today in the earth’s upper atmosphere.And as far as we know, it has been forming in the earth’s upper atmosphere at least since the Fall, after the atmosphere was made back on Day Two of creation week (part of the expanse, or firmament, described in Genesis 1:6–8). Cosmic rays from outer space are continually bombarding the upper atmosphere of the earth, producing fast-moving neutrons (sub-atomic particles carrying no electric charge) (figure 1).1 These fast-moving neutrons collide with nitrogen-14 atoms, the most abundant element in the upper atmosphere, converting them into radiocarbon (carbon-14) atoms.If we assume that the mammoth originally had the same number of carbon-14 atoms in its bones as living animals do today (estimated at one carbon-14 atom for every trillion carbon-12 atoms), then, because we also know the radiocarbon decay rate, we can calculate how long ago the mammoth died. This dating method is also similar to the principle behind an hourglass (figure 4).The sand grains that originally filled the top bowl represent the carbon-14 atoms in the living mammoth just before it died.It’s assumed to be the same number of carbon-14 atoms as in elephants living today.With time, those sand grains fell to the bottom bowl, so the new number represents the carbon-14 atoms left in the mammoth skull when we found it.Let’s suppose we find a mammoth’s skull, and we want to date it to determine how long ago it lived.We can measure in the laboratory how many carbon-14 atoms are still in the skull.