How does carbon dating work

There is always an error range associated with results, which is given with a and - sign.A result of 550 -50 BC means that a sample is likely to date from 500-600BC.

Continue Reading Carbon-14 is only a small percentage of the total carbon in the environment and originates in the atmosphere when cosmic rays and high-speed particles from space hit nitrogen atoms.Although the physics are more complicated than this, essentially the nitrogen atoms lose a proton and gain a neutron to become carbon-14.Plants take up carbon-14 when they convert CO2 into sugar and build cellular structures.Scientists can measure the amount of carbon-14 in a piece of old wood for instance, and say that because there is only a certain amount left, the tree died 1000 years ago.

Carbon-14 dating uses the ratio of radioactive carbon-14 to non-radioactive carbon-12 to determine if the ratio is the same as in living organisms, or if it is lower, indicating that the carbon-14 has decayed during a period of thousands of years.

Carbon dating is used to work out the age of organic material — in effect, any living thing.