Over time, carbon-14 decays in predictable ways. And with the help of radiocarbon dating, researchers can use that decay as a kind of clock that allows them to peer into the past and determine absolute dates for everything from wood to food, pollen, poop, and even dead animals and humans.
How do scientists use half-life and radiocarbon dating?
Carbon-14 (C-14), a radioactive isotope of carbon, is produced in the upper atmosphere by cosmic radiation. Scientists know the half-life of C-14 (5,730 years), so they can figure out how long ago the organism died. Carbon-14 dating can only be used to determine the age of something that was once alive.
Do scientists use carbon-14?
For older objects, scientists dont use carbon-14 as a measure of age. Instead, they often look to radioactive isotopes of other elements present in the environment. In this method, scientists measure the quantity of a variety of different radioactive isotopes, all of which decay into stable forms of lead.
How carbon-14 can be used to determine the age of a specimen?
Radiocarbon decays slowly in a living organism, and the amount lost is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food. Because carbon-14 decays at this constant rate, an estimate of the date at which an organism died can be made by measuring the amount of its residual radiocarbon.
How is carbon-13 stable?
Both 12C and 13C are called stable isotopes since they do not decay into other forms or elements over time. The rare carbon-14 (14C) isotope contains eight neutrons in its nucleus. Unlike 12C and 13C, this isotope is unstable, or radioactive. Over time, a 14C atom will decay into a stable product.
Is carbon-14 a radionuclide?
Carbon-14 (14C), or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. The primary natural source of carbon-14 on Earth is cosmic ray action on nitrogen in the atmosphere, and it is therefore a cosmogenic nuclide.