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  • Pranjal Mishra

What is Carbon Dating?

Carbon Dating is a technique developed by Willard Libby in the late 1940s to find the age of an object. It is a brilliant technique that involves radiocarbon (A radioactive carbon isotope). When the cosmic neutrons interact with nitrogen - 14 in the atmosphere carbon-14 is formed. It is a continuous process and the neutrons needed in this process are produced by the reaction of cosmic rays with the atmosphere. This carbon - 14 enters the biosphere and is absorbed by plants and subsequently by animals. The radiocarbon however keeps decreasing but is balanced by the intake of air and food. As the organism dies, it stops absorbing radiocarbon as a result radiocarbon level decreases. By this, we get to know how many years old the organism’s fossils are.

It is said that half of the radioactive carbon in anybody will disintegrate during the next 5730 (+-40) years. As the radiocarbon decays constantly after the death of the organism, an estimate of the age of the organism can be made by measuring the amount of left-out carbon in its body/fossils.

This is an efficient method and is used in various fields such as geology, anthropology and archaeology. There have been many archaeological specimens dating 500-50000 years old and with the use of accelerator mass spectrometry, it was assumed that maximum carbon-14 ages predictable can go up to 100000 years. But due to natural fluctuations in carbon -14 production and also release of large quantities of fossil fuels such as CO2 and production of carbon -14 from nuclear testing, the ages calculated using the radiocarbon dating process are not coming accurate now.

As we enter our bright future we may be able to create a more accurate way of finding the age of objects extremely old, hidden in the depths of the earth’s soil…

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