One of the ways you can determine the age of fossils or artifacts is by carbon-14 dating. If the artifacts or fossils have a biological origin (as in made by nature or with natural materials), scientists can determine the age of artifacts or fossils by Carbon-14 dating. As long as the artifact or fossil is at the most 50,000 years old, carbon-14 dating can determine its age. Carbon-14 is radioactive, and by measuring the half-life (how much radiation is left), the carbon-14 tells the age.
Radioactive dating, more commonly known in the form of carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating. Radioactive dating is the general principle of radioactive carbon dating applied to other radioactive isotopes.
As soon as a living organism dies, it stops taking in new carbon. The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 at the moment of death is the same as every other living thing, but the carbon-14 decays and is not replaced. 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.
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. However, the principle of carbon-14 dating applies to other isotopes as well. Potassium-40 is another radioactive element naturally found in your body and has a half-life of 1.3 billion years. Other useful radioisotopes for radioactive dating include Uranium -235 (half-life = 704 million years), Uranium -238 (half-life = 4.5 billion years), Thorium-232 (half-life = 14 billion years) and Rubidium-87 (half-life = 49 billion years).
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