Carbon-14 dating can give the correct age of anything - right?
by Terry Novich
Carbon 14 image by Hai Ah Nam and Andrew Sproles

Can you answer this question correctly: Does “Radio Carbon dating” (C-14, 14C) tell us about millions of years, or billions or years?

Actually, it’s a trick question; C-14 tells about neither millions nor billions of years. The C-14 technique is only useful in telling the age of something younger than about 50,000 years.

Also, C-14 can’t tell you the age of metal, it is only useful for once-living things that still have some carbon present, like wood, bone or flesh. So, rocks or fossils that contain only inorganic minerals can’t be dated this way.

Now, grab hold of your seats, here comes the science: Carbon as C-12 is common, but radioactive Carbon-14 only occasionally forms in our upper atmosphere, when nitrogen-14 (N-14) is altered through the effects of cosmic radiation bombardment. The newly created isotope is called "radiocarbon" because it is radioactive. Because C-14 is unstable it will decays back to N-14 over a period of time. The time it takes for half of a sample to decay is called a "half-life" and in C-14 that time is 5,730 years.

Take a living tree; it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, both the C-12 & C-14. When the tree dies no new carbon is absorbed and the C-14 begins its decay. When scientists check the ration of C-12 to C-14 they can discover the time since the tree died.

So, the next time someone tells you that an object has been dated by Carbon 14 dating or radio carbon dating to be anything older than 50,000 years, you can confidently deduce that they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about!

For more in-depth information see:

Reference: Wikipedia; Carbon 14 dating.
Hai Ah Nam and Andrew Sproles

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