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Define radioactive carbon dating

If you ever wondered why nuclear tests are now performed underground, this is why.Most radiocarbon dating today is done using an accelerator mass spectrometer, an instrument that directly counts the numbers of carbon-14 and carbon-12 in a sample.

Atmospheric nuclear weapon tests almost doubled the concentration of Radiocarbon dating, also known as the C14 dating method, is a way of telling how old an object is. Plants take up atmospheric carbon dioxide by photosynthesis, and are eaten by animals, so every living thing is constantly exchanging carbon-14 with its environment as long as it lives. In 1958 Hessel de Vries showed that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere varies with time and locality.

They have the same ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 as the atmosphere, and this same ratio is then carried up the food chain all the way to apex predators, like sharks.

But when gas exchange is stopped, be it in a particular part of the body like in deposits in bones and teeth, or when the entire organism dies, the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 begins to decrease.

Here’s an example using the simplest atom, hydrogen. Carbon-14 is an unstable isotope of carbon that will eventually decay at a known rate to become carbon-12.

Radiocarbon dating uses isotopes of the element carbon. Cosmic rays – high-energy particles from beyond the solar system – bombard Earth’s upper atmosphere continually, in the process creating the unstable carbon-14. Because it’s unstable, carbon-14 will eventually decay back to carbon-12 isotopes.

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