Half life and radiocarbon dating
In AMS, the filiamentous carbon or "graphite" derived from a sample is compressed into a small cavity in an aluminum "target" which acts as a cathode in the ion source.
The surface of the graphite is sputtered with heated, ionized cesium and the ions produced are extracted and accelerated in the AMS system.
Every time a living being dies a stopwatch starts ticking. is used to determine the age of previously living things based on the abundance of an unstable isotope of carbon.
The isotopic distribution of carbon on the Earth is roughly 99% carbon 12 (with 6 protons and 6 neutrons) and 1% carbon 13 (with 6 protons and 7 neutrons).
These highly energetic nuclear bullets wreak havoc on the atoms in the upper atmosphere: tearing electrons from their orbitals and setting them free, knocking neutrons and protons from the tight confines of the nucleus and setting them free, generating x-rays and gamma rays as they decelerate, and creating exotic particles like muons and pions directly from their excessive kinetic energy.
These are also highly energetic and will ionize atoms, transmute nuclei, and generate x-rays themselves.
However, limiting ages or "backgrounds" are also determined by process blanks which correspond to the method used to extract the carbon from the sample.
» NOSAMS General Statement of C from contamination introduced during chemical preparation, collection or handling.
Some examples of the types of material that radiocarbon can determine the ages of are wood, charcoal, marine and freshwater shell, bone and antler, and peat and organic-bearing sediments.
Organic materials, which require the most processing, are limited to younger ages by their corresponding process blank.
Due to counting and measurement errors for the blanks and samples, statistical errors are higher for very old samples.
The carbon-14 decays with its half-life of 5,700 years, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.
By looking at the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 in the sample and comparing it to the ratio in a living organism, it is possible to determine the age of a formerly living thing fairly precisely. So, if you had a fossil that had 10 percent carbon-14 compared to a living sample, then that fossil would be: t = [ ln (0.10) / (-0.693) ] x 5,700 years t = [ (-2.303) / (-0.693) ] x 5,700 years t = [ 3.323 ] x 5,700 years Because the half-life of carbon-14 is 5,700 years, it is only reliable for dating objects up to about 60,000 years old.
This rare, unstable isotope is produced from ordinary nitrogen 14.