Some limitations carbon dating

To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.Since 1947, scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain.Using a mass spectrometer, an instrument that accelerates streams of atoms and uses magnets to sort them out according to mass and electric charge, the group has learned to measure the ratio of uranium to thorium very precisely.The Lamont-Doherty scientists conducted their analyses on samples of coral drilled from a reef off the island of Barbados.After 5,730 years, the amount of carbon 14 left in the body is half of the original amount.

But when a plant or animal dies, it can no longer accumulate fresh carbon 14, and the supply in the organism at the time of death is gradually depleted.In the case of radiocarbon dating, the half-life of carbon 14 is 5,730 years.This half life is a relatively small number, which means that carbon 14 dating is not particularly helpful for very recent deaths and deaths more than 50,000 years ago.Archaeologists use the exponential, radioactive decay of carbon 14 to estimate the death dates of organic material.The stable form of carbon is carbon 12 and the radioactive isotope carbon 14 decays over time into nitrogen 14 and other particles.

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