Click on the thesaurus category heading under the button in an entry to see the synonyms and related words for that This is the British English definition of carbon dating. Change your default dictionary to American English. Blog A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language.Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. 1979, 1986 © Harper Collins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012 Cite This Source radiocarbon dating A technique for measuring the age of organic remains based on the rate of decay of carbon 14.This procedure of radiocarbon dating has been widely adopted and is considered accurate enough for practical use to study remains up to 50,000 years old.
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.
However, once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 steadily decreases.
Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s.
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Each radioactive isotope decays by a fixed amount, and this amount is called the half-life.
Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen.
Carbon 14 has a half-life of 5,780 years, and is continuously created in Earth's atmosphere through the interaction of nitrogen and gamma rays from outer space.
Because atmospheric carbon 14 arises at about the same rate that the atom decays, Earth's levels of carbon 14 have remained fairly constant.
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.