Carbon dating facts
The radiocarbon half-life or decay rate has been determined at 5,730 years.
Next comes the question of how scientists use this knowledge to date things.
And as far as we know, it has been forming in the earth’s upper atmosphere since the atmosphere was made back on Day Two of Creation Week (part of the expanse, or firmament, described in Genesis 1:6–8). Cosmic rays from outer space are continually bombarding the upper atmosphere of the earth, producing fast-moving neutrons (subatomic particles carrying no electric charge) (Figure 1a).1 These fast-moving neutrons collide with atoms of nitrogen-14, the most abundant element in the upper atmosphere, converting them into radiocarbon (carbon-14) atoms.
CARBON-14 IS CREATED (Figure 1a): When cosmic rays bombard the earth’s atmosphere, they produce neutrons.
Carbon-14 can yield dates of only “thousands of years” before it all breaks down.
Since each beta particle represents one decayed carbon-14 atom, we know how many carbon-14 atoms decay during a month.
Chemists have already determined how many atoms are in a given mass of each element, such as carbon.4 So if we weigh a lump of carbon, we can calculate how many carbon atoms are in it.
If we know what fraction of the carbon atoms are radioactive, we can also calculate how many radiocarbon atoms are in the lump.
Knowing the number of atoms that decayed in our sample over a month, we can calculate the radiocarbon decay rate.
After radiocarbon forms, the nuclei of the carbon-14 atoms are unstable, so over time they progressively decay back to nuclei of stable nitrogen-14.3 A neutron breaks down to a proton and an electron, and the electron is ejected. The ejected electrons are called beta particles and make up what is called beta radiation. Different carbon-14 atoms revert to nitrogen-14 at different times, which explains why radiocarbon decay is considered a random process.