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Posted by / 11-Oct-2015 02:44

The ensuing atomic interactions create a steady supply of c14 that rapidly diffuses throughout the atmosphere.Plants take up c14 along with other carbon isotopes during photosynthesis in the proportions that occur in the atmosphere; animals acquire c14 by eating the plants (or other animals).The diminishing levels via decay means that the effective limit for using c14 to estimate time is about 50,000 years. Subsequent work has shown that the half-life of radiocarbon is actually 5730 ± 40 years, a difference of 3% compared to the Libby half-life.During the lifetime of an organism, the amount of c14 in the tissues remains at an equilibrium since the loss (through radioactive decay) is balanced by the gain (through uptake via photosynthesis or consumption of organically fixed carbon).However, when the organism dies, the amount of c14 declines such that the longer the time since death the lower the levels of c14 in organic tissue.Libby calculated the half-life of c14 as 5568 ± 30 years.This means that half of the c14 has decayed by the time an organism has been dead for 5568 years, and half of the remainder has decayed by 11,136 years after death, etc.

This is the clock that permits levels of c14 in organic archaeological, geological, and paleontological samples to be converted into an estimate of time.The measurement of the rate of radioactive decay is known as its half-life, the time it takes for half of a sample to decay.This discovery meant that there are three naturally occurring isotopes of carbon: Whereas carbon-12 and carbon-13 are stable isotopes, carbon-14 is unstable or radioactive.Carbon-14 is produced in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays bombard nitrogen atoms.Working with several collaboraters, Libby established the natural occurrence of radiocarbon by detecting its radioactivity in methane from the Baltimore sewer.

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