Carbon dating animation

For example, the decay of potassium-40 to argon-40 is used to date rocks older than 20,000 years, and the decay of uranium-238 to lead-206 is used for rocks older than 1 million years.Radiocarbon dating measures radioactive isotopes in once-living organic material instead of rock, using the decay of carbon-14 to nitrogen-14.The atoms of some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes.These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive decay.Each original isotope, called the parent, gradually decays to form a new isotope, called the daughter.Each isotope is identified with what is called a ‘mass number’.Because it reacts identically to C-12 and C-13, C-14 becomes attached to complex organic molecules through photosynthesis in plants and becomes part of their molecular makeup.Animals eating those plants in turn absorb Carbon-14 as well as the stable isotopes.

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C-14 Decay Profile Clicking on the "Show Movie" button below will bring up an animation that illustrates how a C-14 sample is processed and the calculations involved in arriving at a date.Because of the fairly fast decay rate of carbon-14, it can only be used on material up to about 60,000 years old.Geologists use radiocarbon to date such materials as wood and pollen trapped in sediment, which indicates the date of the sediment itself.This process of ingesting C-14 continues as long as the plant or animal remains alive.The C-14 within an organism is continually decaying into stable carbon isotopes, but since the organism is absorbing more C-14 during its life, the ratio of C-14 to C-12 remains about the same as the ratio in the atmosphere.

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