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Carbon's most abundant and stable isotope has a mass of 12 (six protons and six neutrons).
However, there is also a neutron-rich radioactive isotope of carbon.
While the overall method of Radiometric Dating is the same through each type, the specific isotopes that are used changes.
With these changes in materials, different types of dating apply to different situations.
When a life form is alive and undergoing some sort of respiration, it will be gaining C-14 at a relatively high rate (it will equilibrate with the C-14 in the atmosphere) and losing it to decay at a different rate.
However, when the life form dies and is buried or otherwise stops interacting with atmospheric gases there will be no further increase in the amount of radioactive carbon in the system.
It is especially useful in determining the age of volcanic rocks which often contain potassium.
Like carbon, potassium has three natural isotopes, one of which is radioactive.
Every living organism on the planet contains the element carbon.
Since C-14 is formed in the atmosphere, it is most abundant in CO2 in the atmosphere.
This is how it is incorporated into life forms, both plants and animals readily incorporate atmospheric gases into their systems. Carbon-14 is a radioactive element, it spontaneously undergoes beta decay and forms Nitrogen-14, a stable isotope of a different element (one less proton).
Carbon-14 is present a level of about 1 part per trillion in the atmosphere--for every trillion particles of carbon one is C-14.
While this is an extremely trace amount, over time it is incorporated into the systems of most life forms.
The half-life of potassium-40 has been measured to be about 1.3 billion years.