Virtual carbon dating

01 Feb

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Measuring carbon-14 in bones or a piece of wood provides an accurate date, but only within a limited range.

Says Shea: “Beyond 40,000 years old, the sample is so small, and the contamination risk so great, that the margin of error is thousands of years.

The uranium-thorium method is often helpful for dating finds in the 40,000- to 500,000-year-old range, too old for radiocarbon but too young for K-Ar or Ar-Ar.

Over time, certain kinds of rocks and organic material, such as coral and teeth, are very good at trapping electrons from sunlight and cosmic rays pummeling Earth.

Certain unstable isotopes of trace radioactive elements in both organic and inorganic materials decay into stable isotopes. By measuring the proportion of different isotopes present, researchers can figure out how old the material is.

Here are some of the most common radiometric methods: Radiocarbon dating: Sometimes called carbon-14 dating, this method works on organic material.

Both plants and animals exchange carbon with their environment until they die.

Afterward, the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 in their remains decreases.

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