Carbon dating fun facts

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A type of carbon called carbon-14 decays after an organism dies, so by measuring how much of it is remaining in a dead organism, scientists can figure out how old the organism is. We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities.

Carbon-14 is a radioactive form of carbon, which sounds scary, but it's not dangerous, it just means that it's not stable, so after an organism dies, carbon-14 decays or goes away.

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.

The half-life is always the same regardless of how many nuclei you have left, and this very useful property lies at the heart of radiocarbon dating. The graph below shows the decay curve (you may recognize it as an exponential decay) and it shows the amount, or percent, of carbon-14 remaining.

You might be wondering how we know that the Iceman is more than 5,000 years old. Carbon dating is a way of telling the age of a once living thing by measuring the amount of carbon inside of it.

Carbon dating was such an important discovery that American scientist Willard Libby won the top science award called the Nobel Prize for discovering it.

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