The ratio of normal carbon (carbon-12) to carbon-14 in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant.Maybe one in a trillion carbon atoms are carbon-14.Both Carbon-12 and Carbon-13 are stable, but Carbon-14 decays by very weak beta decay to nitrogen-14 with a half-life of approximately 5,730 years.
Since Nitrogen gas makes up about 78 percent of the Earth's air, by volume, a considerable amount of Carbon-14 is produced.
The carbon-14 atoms combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which plants absorb naturally and incorporate into plant fibers by photosynthesis.
Animals and people take in carbon-14 by eating the plants.
As you learned in the previous page, carbon dating uses the half-life of Carbon-14 to find the approximate age of certain objects that are 40,000 years old or younger.
In the following section we are going to go more in-depth about carbon dating in order to help you get a better understanding of how it works.
Radiocarbon dating is a method of estimating the age of organic material.
It was developed right after World War II by Willard F.
Libby and coworkers, and it has provided a way to determine the ages of different materials in archeology, geology, geophysics, and other branches of science.
Some examples of the types of material that radiocarbon can determine the ages of are wood, charcoal, marine and freshwater shell, bone and antler, and peat and organic-bearing sediments.
Age determinations can also be obtained from carbonate deposits such as calcite, dissolved carbon dioxide, and carbonates in ocean, lake, and groundwater sources.
Cosmic rays enter the earth's atmosphere in large numbers every day and when one collides with an atom in the atmosphere, it can create a secondary cosmic ray in the form of an energetic neutron.