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If carbon-14 has formed at a constant rate for a very long time and continually mixed into the biosphere, then the level of carbon-14 in the atmosphere should remain constant.If the level is constant, living plants and animals should also maintain a constant carbon-14 level in them.And as far as we know, it has been forming in the earth’s upper atmosphere since the atmosphere was made back on Day Two of Creation Week (part of the expanse, or firmament, described in Genesis 1:6–8). Cosmic rays from outer space are continually bombarding the upper atmosphere of the earth, producing fast-moving neutrons (subatomic particles carrying no electric charge) (Figure 1a).1 These fast-moving neutrons collide with atoms of nitrogen-14, the most abundant element in the upper atmosphere, converting them into radiocarbon (carbon-14) atoms.CARBON-14 IS CREATED (Figure 1a): When cosmic rays bombard the earth’s atmosphere, they produce neutrons.It’s assumed to be the same number of carbon-14 atoms as in elephants living today.With time those sand grains fall to the bottom bowl, so the new number represents the carbon-14 atoms left in the mammoth skull when we found it.The radiocarbon half-life or decay rate has been determined at 5,730 years.
Carbon-14 can yield dates of only “thousands of years” before it all breaks down.
After radiocarbon forms, the nuclei of the carbon-14 atoms are unstable, so over time they progressively decay back to nuclei of stable nitrogen-14.3 A neutron breaks down to a proton and an electron, and the electron is ejected. The ejected electrons are called beta particles and make up what is called beta radiation. Different carbon-14 atoms revert to nitrogen-14 at different times, which explains why radiocarbon decay is considered a random process.
To measure the rate of decay, a suitable detector records the number of beta particles ejected from a measured quantity of carbon over a period of time, say a month (for illustration purposes).
When animals eat the plants, the carbon-14 enters their bodies.
The carbon-14 in their bodies breaks down to nitrogen-14 and escapes at the same rate as new carbon-14 is added. CARBON-14 IS DEPLETED (Figure 1c): When an animal dies the carbon-14 continues to break down to nitrogen-14 and escapes, while no new carbon-14 is added.
Although many people think radiocarbon dating is used to date rocks, it is limited to dating things that contain the element carbon and were once alive (like fossils).