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17.6: Radiocarbon Dating- Using Radioactivity to Measure the Age of Fossils and Other Artifacts
Uses of Radioactive Isotopes
The ability to precisely date, or identify the age of an object, can teach us when Earth formed, help reveal past climates and tell us how early humans lived. So how do scientists do it? Radiocarbon dating is the most common method by far, according to experts. This method involves measuring quantities of carbon, a radioactive carbon isotope — or version of an atom with a different number of neutrons. Carbon is ubiquitous in the environment. After it forms high up in the atmosphere, plants breathe it in and animals breathe it out, said Thomas Higham, an archaeologist and radiocarbon dating specialist at the University of Oxford in England. Related: What's the oldest living thing alive today?
Most absolute age determinations in geology rely on radiometric methods. The earth is billions of years old. The main condition for the method is that the production rate of isotopes stays the same through ages, i. The production of isotopes from chemical elements is known as decay rate and it is considered a constant.
Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Radiocarbon dating has transformed our understanding of the past 50, years. Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts. Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon. Isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons.