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What is radiocarbon dating or carbon-14 and how does it work?

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βˆ™ 2009-12-02 21:34:05

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Radiocarbon Dating
All organic matter contains carbon, which is an element. But there are different types of carbon, called isotopes. The most common isotope is carbon-12 (or 12C), which (according the article) makes up 98.89 percent of the naturally occurring carbon. There's carbon-13, or 13C, which is much rarer, accounting for only 1.11 percent, and then there's carbon-14, or 14C, which makes up a ridiculously tiny fraction of existing carbon. (The Periodic Table of the elements also reflects the existence of isotopes by showing a weighted average for the atomic weight of each element, but I digress.)

The first two isotopes, 12C and 13C, are stable, but 14C is unstable; that is, it's radioactive! So far, so good. Nothing hard to get your brain around. Living organic matter will have steady and predictable concentrations of each isotope of carbon, pretty much the percentages mentioned above. But dead stuff won't. After something dies, the 14C decays over time (because it is radioactive) and doesn't replenish as it would in a live specimen because the dead thing isn't eating and breathing or otherwise exchanging molecules with the outside world anymore). In other words, the amount of 14C in dead organic matter will grow smaller. And since scientists know exactly how long an amount of 14C takes to decay, they can compare the amount of 14C in a specimen to the amount of 14C a modern piece of organic matter and calculate the age of the specimen. Since it takes 5,568 years for an amount of 14C to decay by 50 percent (half), if a specimen has one half the amount of 14C as a modern piece of organic matter might have, we conclude it is about 5,568 years old.

Here's an analogy: Imagine you have a gallon of water to which you add one ounce of blue dye. And say that every 5,568 years you add another gallon of water to the mixture. Doing that basically cuts the concentration of blue dye in half. You then take a gallon of that diluted mixture and add another gallon of pure water to it 5,568 years later. The concentration of blue dye is cut in half again. Now imagine repeating this process for quite some time. If you take a sample of the diluted water and measure the concentration of blue dye, you will be able to determine how many dilutions took place, and since you know the dilutions happen every 5,568 years, you can estimate how old the sample is. See link below for more information.

Carbon-14 builds up in living tissue at a constant rate and starts to break down when the tissue dies. Scientists can measure the amount of carbon-14 in a piece of old wood for instance, and say that because there is only a certain amount left, the tree died 1000 years ago.
2009-12-02 21:34:05
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Related Questions

Who developed radiocarbon dating?

Radiocarbon dating was developed by Willard Libby in 1949.

How was radiocarbon dating discovered?

Radiocarbon dating was discovered in 1946 by Willard Libby.

Radiocarbon dating would be useful in dating the age of the earth?

Radiocarbon dating cannot be used to determine the age of fossils or "of the earth" because these materials no longer have radiocarbon or have negligible amount of radiocarbon.

What is a Radiocarbon dating specialist?

A specialist that dates radiocarbon

What is radiocarbon dating?

Radiocarbon dating is an radioactive isotope dating technique used in dating materials which contain the unstable carbon-14 isotope. Radiocarbon dating is used to determine the age of previously living organisms.

What is radioactivity dating?

It's radiocarbon dating, and it's finding out how old something is using radiocarbon.

What is another name for carbon dating?

It can be known as 'Radiocarbon dating' or 'Carbo-14 dating'.

What is measured in the radiocarbon dating of organic materials?

Carbon 14 is the isotope of carbon measured in radiocarbon dating.

Are carbon dating and radiocarbon dating the same?

Yes, carbon dating and radiocarbon dating refer to the same test, which is the analysis of the carbon 14 isotope.

Where can radiocarbon dating be done?

Radiocarbon dating can be done at a variety of research institutions including Woods Whole and UC Irvine. Radiocarbon dating is done in labs with equipment specific to carbon 14 analysis. Most radiocarbon dating labs have liquid scintillation counters for radiometric dating and accelerator mass spectrometers for AMS dating.

How does radiocarbon dating differ from thermoluminescence dating?


What is the history of radiocarbon dating?

The history of radiocarbon dating goes back to 1949, where it was introduced to the world by Willard Libby. Radiocarbon dating is technique that uses the decay of carbon-14 to estimate the age of organic material.

What do scientists use to determine a fossil's relative age?

Carbon14 dating (isotopic dating)

The radioisotopoe commonly used for radiocarbon dating is carbon 12?

The radioisotope commonly used for radiocarbon dating is carbon-14.

Who was involved on radiocarbon dating?

yes there is

For what purpose is radiocarbon dating used?

Radiocarbon dating is useful to evaluate the age of organic materials old to 50 000 years.

What substances are used in radiocarbon dating?

Only organic materials can be tested by the radiocarbon method.

Where is the nearest radiocarbon dating facility to Pa 18210?

Beta Analytic radiocarbon dating lab in Miami, Florida. The company's website is

Does radiocarbon dating determine the age of the earth?

Radiocarbon dating is useful only for materials containing carbon and not older than 45 000 years.

Are there other isotope dating techniques besides radiocarbon dating?

There are various isotopic dating methods other than radiocarbon dating, and even more in development. Some include:Uranium Series DatingLead 210 DatingPotassium Argon Dating

Radiocarbon dating is only accurate for objects no more than?

Radiocarbon dating is effective for material of an age up to around 45,000 years before present.

Is radiocarbon dating accurate?

Radiocarbon dating is incredibly accurate. However, on occasions it may not be particularly precise and the date given my include a range of several decades.

What methods do archaeologists use to date their finds?

Relative dating ,radiocarbon dating ,and absolute dating

What is the oldest age for which radiocarbon dating is reliable?

It depends on the material and the processes involved but normally about 50,000 years, which is why radiocarbon dating is mostly used by archaeologists. Geologists mainly use isotopic dating.

Why carbon 14 is useful in radiocarbon dating?