skip to content »

Scientific definition of carbon dating

scientific definition of carbon dating-78

By measuring the amount of carbon-14 left in the organism, it's possible to work out how old it is.

scientific definition of carbon dating-69scientific definition of carbon dating-82scientific definition of carbon dating-75

These examples are from the Cambridge English Corpus and from sources on the web.Radiocarbon present in molecules of atmospheric carbon dioxide enters the biological carbon cycle: it is absorbed from the air by green plants and then passed on to animals through the food chain.Radiocarbon decays slowly in a living organism, and the amount lost is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.This is why radiocarbon dating is only useful for dating objects up to around 50,000 years old (about 10 half-lives).Radioactive carbon-14 is continually formed in the atmosphere by the bombardment of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen-14 atoms.Once the organism dies, however, it ceases to absorb carbon-14, so that the amount of the radiocarbon in its tissues steadily decreases.

Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years—, half the amount of the radioisotope present at any given time will undergo spontaneous disintegration during the succeeding 5,730 years. It has proved to be a versatile technique of dating fossils and archaeological specimens from 500 to 50,000 years old.

Because atmospheric carbon 14 arises at about the same rate that the atom decays, Earth's levels of carbon 14 have remained fairly constant.

Once an organism is dead, however, no new carbon is actively absorbed by its tissues, and its carbon 14 gradually decays.

Because the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 present in all living organisms is the same, and because the decay rate of carbon 14 is constant, the length of time that has passed since an organism has died can be calculated by comparing the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14 in its remains to the known ratio in living organisms.

In the late 1940s, American chemist Willard Libby developed a method for determining when the death of an organism had occurred.

The technique used is called carbon dating, and in this lesson we will learn what this is and how it is used. Carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating, is a method used to date materials that once exchanged carbon dioxide with the atmosphere. In the late 1940s, an American physical chemist named Willard Libby first developed a method to measure radioactivity of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope.