# When did radiocarbon dating begin

Knowing the number of atoms that decayed in our sample over a month, we can calculate the radiocarbon decay rate.

It’s assumed to be the same number of carbon-14 atoms as in elephants living today.

With time, those sand grains fell to the bottom bowl, so the new number represents the carbon-14 atoms left in the mammoth skull when we found it.

The most well-known of all the radiometric dating methods is radiocarbon dating.

Although many people think radiocarbon is used to date rocks, it is limited to dating things that contain carbon and were once alive (fossils).

So even we humans are radioactive because of trace amounts of radiocarbon in our bodies.

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 radioactive decay is considered a random process.

Radiocarbon (carbon-14 or C) forms continually today in the earth’s upper atmosphere.

And as far as we know, it has been forming in the earth’s upper atmosphere at least since the Fall, after 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 (sub-atomic particles carrying no electric charge) (figure 1).1 These fast-moving neutrons collide with nitrogen-14 atoms, the most abundant element in the upper atmosphere, converting them into radiocarbon (carbon-14) atoms.

The difference in the number of sand grains represents the number of carbon-14 atoms that have decayed back to nitrogen-14 since the mammoth died. The sand grains in the top bowl fall to the bottom bowl to measure the passage of time.

Because we have measured the rate at which the sand grains fall (the radiocarbon decay rate), we can then calculate how long it took those carbon-14 atoms to decay, which is how long ago the mammoth died. If all the sand grains are in the top bowl, then it takes exactly an hour for them all to fall.

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.

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