Carbon dating earth science

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 carbon12 in a sample.

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A detailed description of radiocarbon dating is available at the Wikipedia radiocarbon dating web page.

Bottom line: is a technique used by scientists to learn the ages of biological specimens – for example, wooden archaeological artifacts or ancient human remains – from the distant past.

The unstable carbon-14 gradually decays to carbon-12 at a steady rate. Scientists measure the ratio of carbon isotopes to be able to estimate how far back in time a biological sample was active or alive.

This plot shows the level of carbon-14 in the atmosphere as measured in New Zealand (red) and Austria (green), representing the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, respectively.

However, radioisotope dating may not work so well in the future.

Anything that dies after the 1940s, when Nuclear bombs, nuclear reactors and open-air nuclear tests started changing things, will be harder to date precisely.

However, the principle of carbon-14 dating applies to other isotopes as well.

Potassium-40 is another radioactive element naturally found in your body and has a half-life of 1.3 billion years.

Learn about different types of radiometric dating, such as carbon dating.

Understand how decay and half life work to enable radiometric dating.

Other useful radioisotopes for radioactive dating include Uranium -235 (half-life = 704 million years), Uranium -238 (half-life = 4.5 billion years), Thorium-232 (half-life = 14 billion years) and Rubidium-87 (half-life = 49 billion years).