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Radioactive carbon-14 is continually formed in the atmosphere by the bombardment of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen-14 atoms.After it forms, carbon-14 naturally decomposes, with a half-life of 5,730 years, through beta-particle decay.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contains a constant amount of carbon-14, and as long as an organism is living, the amount of carbon-14 inside it is the same as the atmosphere.Scientists often use the value of 10 half-lives to indicate when a radioactive isotope will be gone, or rather, when a very negligible amount is still left.This is why radiocarbon dating is only useful for dating objects up to around 50,000 years old (about 10 half-lives).You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree.Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.Radiocarbon dating has been used extensively since its discovery.Examples of use include analyzing charcoal from prehistoric caves, ancient linen and wood, and mummified remains.Carbon dating was used routinely from the 1950s onward, and it confirmed the age of these historical remains.Radiocarbon dating is a method used to date materials that once exchanged carbon dioxide with the atmosphere; in other words, things that were living.For the record, a beta-particle is a specific type of nuclear decay. Image 1 shows carbon-14 production by high energy neutrons hitting nitrogen-14 atoms, while in Image 2, carbon-14 naturally decomposes through beta-particle production.Notice that the nitrogen-14 atom is recreated and goes back into the cycle.

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