# What is the procedure of carbon dating

So in the real world, looking at a sample like say a bone dug up by an archaeologist, how do we know how much carbon 14 we started with? How is carbon dating done? Now living plants 'breathe' CO2 indiscriminately they don't care about isotopes one way or the other , and so while they are living they have the same ratio of carbon 14 in them as the atmosphere. It's a semi-long story, so bear with me. That's actually kind of cool.

Voila, now you can tell how old a sample of organic matter is. This process is constantly occurring, and has been for a very long time, so there is a fairly constant ratio of carbon 14 atoms to carbon 12 atoms in the atmosphere. And given the fact that the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in living organisms is approximately 1: William Baker Answer Carbon 14 C14 is an isotope of carbon with 8 neutrons instead of the more common 6 neutrons. In actually measuring these quantities, we take advantage of the fact that the rate of decay how many radioactive emissions occur per unit time is dependent on how many atoms there are in a sample this criteria leads to an exponential decay rate. Now living plants 'breathe' CO2 indiscriminately they don't care about isotopes one way or the other , and so while they are living they have the same ratio of carbon 14 in them as the atmosphere. On the other hand, if tons of half-lives have passed, there is almost none of the sample carbon 14 left, and it is really hard to measure accurately how much is left. In the atmosphere, cosmic rays smash into normal carbon 12 atoms in atmospheric carbon dioxide , and create carbon 14 isotopes. This equilibrium persists in living organisms as long as they continue living, but when they die, they no longer 'breathe' or eat new 14 carbon isotopes Now it's fairly simple to determine how many total carbon atoms should be in a sample given its weight and chemical makeup. It must be 1 carbon 14 half-life or years old. It's a semi-long story, so bear with me. How is carbon dating done? It is unstable, and scientists know that it radioactively decays by electron emission to Nitrogen 14, with a half life of years. Since physics can't predict exactly when a given atom will decay, we rely on statistical methods in dealing with radioactivity, and while this is an excellent method for a bazillion atoms, it fails when we don't have good sample sizes. For more info on carbon dating go to: That's actually kind of cool. Animals, including humans, consume plants a lot and animals that consume plants , and thus they also tend to have the same ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 atoms. We have devices to measure the radioactivity of a sample, and the ratio described above translates into a rate of However it is possible, when dating very old rocks for instance, to use longer lived isotopes for dating on a longer time scale. Carbon 14 dating is not great for dating things like a year old because if much less than 1 half-life has passed, barely any of the carbon 14 has decayed, and it is difficult to measure the difference in rates and know with certainty the time involved. So in the real world, looking at a sample like say a bone dug up by an archaeologist, how do we know how much carbon 14 we started with? Or in other words, if we have a box, and we don't know how old it is but we know it started with carbon 14 atoms, and we open it and find only 50 carbon 14 atoms and some other stuff, we could say, 'Aha! This means that given a statistically large sample of carbon 14, we know that if we sit it in a box, go away, and come back in years, half of it will still be carbon 14, and the other half will have decayed.

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