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A very small percentage of carbon, however, consists of the isotope carbon 14, or radiocarbon, which is unstable.
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.
Of course, the best method is to check the account of a reliable eyewitness, if one is available. Since it is the written Word of God, we can trust it to tell us the truth about the past.
Carefully studying the Biblical record, we find that the universe has an age of around 6,000 years, and that a world-changing, global Flood occurred about 4,300 years ago.
C in the atmosphere haven’t been constant throughout history (for instance, Noah’s Flood lowered the total amount of available carbon by burying lots of animals and plants).
So something that lived (and died) when the proportion of C was less than normal would appear to have died more years ago than it actually did (for example, it might give an age of 3,000 years before the present, rather than its true age of 2,000 years).
For example, if you start off with 1000 radioactive nuclei with a half-life of 10 days, you would have 500 left after 10 days; you would have 250 left after 20 days (2 half-lives); and so on.
Did you ever wonder how scientists know a fossil is 10,000 years old or a piece of paper is 2,000 years old? In this lesson you'll learn about carbon dating and how it works.
Imagine going for a hike in the mountains and finding a 5,000-year-old body frozen in a block of ice!
Because atmospheric carbon 14 arises at about the same rate that the atom decays, Earth's levels of carbon 14 have remained fairly constant.
Once an organism is dead, however, no new carbon is actively absorbed by its tissues, and its carbon 14 gradually decays.