Simple explanation of how carbon dating works selected for updating

The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.The New Zealand curve is representative for the Southern Hemisphere, the Austrian curve is representative for the Northern Hemisphere. This makes it possible to tell the age of substances that contain carbon. Dates obtained are usually written as before present ('present' is 1950).Atmospheric nuclear weapon tests almost doubled the concentration of Radiocarbon dating, also known as the C14 dating method, is a way of telling how old an object is. Plants take up atmospheric carbon dioxide by photosynthesis, and are eaten by animals, so every living thing is constantly exchanging carbon-14 with its environment as long as it lives. In 1958 Hessel de Vries showed that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere varies with time and locality.For the most accurate work, variations are compensated by means of calibration curves.The method was developed by Willard Libby and his colleagues at the University of Chicago in 1949. The method was developed by Willard Libby in the late 1940s and soon became a standard tool for archaeologists.Libby received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1960.

For more information on cosmic rays and half-life, as well as the process of radioactive decay, see How Nuclear Radiation Works.

However, once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 steadily decreases.

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

Co­smic rays enter the earth's atmosphere in large numbers every day.

For example, every person is hit by about half a million cosmic rays every hour.

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