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Creation v. Evolution: How Carbon Dating Works

Radiocarbon dating also referred to as carbon dating or carbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon , a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late s by Willard Libby , who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in It is based on the fact that radiocarbon 14 C is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting 14 C combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide , which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis ; animals then acquire 14 C by eating the plants. When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and from that point onwards the amount of 14 C it contains begins to decrease as the 14 C undergoes radioactive decay.

The rate of decay of all radioactive matter on earth is dependent on the environment of earth, how many free neutrons, protons, neutrinos, even electrons see electron capture are available. If you want to know more, Wikipedia has info on this: Assuming that the sample is properly handled from the beginning to avoid any possible contamination by exposing it to air or carbon-holding substances including human skin , accuracies are determined by the availability of proxies.

Answers to Creationist Attacks on Carbon-14 Dating

Of course, you also must understand what you are measuring. A medieval house may be built from planks of a tree that sprung up during the Roman Empire. Based on that measurement result, the age can be estimated by comparing the result to a calibration curve.

For the period 3. That relies on detailed calibration curves for the C14 content based on known historical dates in the civilized portions of the antique world; and on tree ring growth.

The origin of C14 from cosmic rays is more or less homogeneously spread over the air on earth. For the period Partly this period is calibrated against some type of trees, partly on leaves in sediments that are supposed to be excluded from contamination. Calibration curves for that period seem to be still evolving rapidly. Take any dates in this range with a big grain of salt.

First, you must remember what you are doing- you are measuring the quantity of radiocarbon C14 that remains in the sample, and using that to extrapolate the original quantity of C From there, you figure out the time involved based on how long it would take the Original Quantjty to decay into the Observed Quantity. But what if someone used a tree that had been dead for a long time to build their house? Or bone and wood tools that were made by their grandfather or great-grandfather?

This means that the dates have to be calibrated, one of several reasons that there is a margin of error. Since , scientists have reckoned the ages of many old objects by measuring the amounts of radioactive carbon they contain. New research shows, however, that some estimates based on carbon may have erred by thousands of years. It is too soon to know whether the discovery will seriously upset the estimated dates of events like the arrival of human beings in the Western Hemisphere, scientists said.

But it is already clear that the carbon method of dating will have to be recalibrated and corrected in some cases. They arrived at this conclusion by comparing age estimates obtained using two different methods - analysis of radioactive carbon in a sample and determination of the ratio of uranium to thorium in the sample.

In some cases, the latter ratio appears to be a much more accurate gauge of age than the customary method of carbon dating, the scientists said. In principle, any material of plant or animal origin, including textiles, wood, bones and leather, can be dated by its content of carbon 14, a radioactive form of carbon in the environment that is incorporated by all living things. Because it is radioactive, carbon 14 steadily decays into other substances.

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. Since the rate of depletion has been accurately determined half of any given amount of carbon 14 decays in 5, years , scientists can calculate the time elapsed since something died from its residual carbon But scientists have long recognized that carbon dating is subject to error because of a variety of factors, including contamination by outside sources of carbon.

Therefore they have sought ways to calibrate and correct the carbon dating method. The best gauge they have found is dendrochronology: Accurate tree ring records of age are available for a period extending 9, years into the past. But the tree ring record goes no further, so scientists have sought other indicators of age against which carbon dates can be compared.

One such indicator is the uranium-thorium dating method used by the Lamont-Doherty group. Uranium , a radioactive element present in the environment, slowly decays to form thorium 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. The samples represented animals that lived at various times during the last 30, years. Alan Zindler, a professor of geology at Columbia University who is a member of the Lamont-Doherty research group, said age estimates using the carbon dating and uranium-thorium dating differed only slightly for the period from 9, years ago to the present.

One reason the group believes the uranium-thorium estimates to be more accurate than carbon dating is that they produce better matches between known changes in the Earth's orbit and changes in global glaciation. According to carbon dating of fossil animals and plants, the spreading and receding of great ice sheets lagged behind orbital changes by several thousand years, a delay that scientists found hard to explain.

Fairbanks, a member of the Lamont-Doherty group, said that if the dates of glaciation were determined using the uranium-thorium method, the delay - and the puzzle - disappeared. The group theorizes that large errors in carbon dating result from fluctuations in the amount of carbon 14 in the air. Changes in the Earth's magnetic field would change the deflection of cosmic-ray particles streaming toward the Earth from the Sun.

Carbon 14 is thought to be mainly a product of bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays, so cosmic ray intensity would affect the amount of carbon 14 in the environment at any given time. Carbon dating is unreliable for objects older than about 30, years, but uranium-thorium dating may be possible for objects up to half a million years old, Dr.

The method is less suitable, however, for land animals and plants than for marine organisms, because uranium is plentiful in sea water but less so in most soils. But even if the method is limited to marine organisms, it will be extremely useful for deciphering the history of Earth's climate, ice, oceans and rocks, Dr. For radiocarbon dating to be reliable scientists need to make a number of vital assumptions.

Firstly, the scientist assumes that C14 decays at a constant rate. However, experimental evidence indicates that C14 decay is slowing down and that millennia ago it decayed much faster than is observed today. Secondly, the theory behind C14 dating demands that there is the same rate of cosmic production of radioactive isotopes throughout time. The industrial revolution has belched hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon gases into the atmosphere increasing the C12 ratio and atomic weapons testing have increased neutron levels.

Thirdly, the environment in which the artefact lies heavily impacts on the rate of decay.

For example, C14 leaches at an accelerated rate from organic material saturated in water, especially saline water. Fourthly, for C14 to test accurately the artefact must have been protected from contamination. Organic matter, being porous, can easily be contaminated by organic carbon in groundwater. This increases the C12 content and interferes with the carbon ratio.

Carbon dating has been checked and crosschecked for decades. It is a very reliable method of dating when done correctly.

If you try to date something that is inappropriate for carbon dating it will give erroneous results. Trying to date mollusk which get their carbon from sandstone, or something older than 70, years, or nonorganic material, or anything from since WWII, or inclusions in a lava flow will give wrong results.

This is expected and well understood. For example, every time I try to measure the gap in my teeth with a meterstick or measure the length of my driveway with a micrometer I get wrong answers. The problem is the technique, not the tool. Some antagonists will try use carbon to date something which we all know won't work.

They are knowingly using a method to date something for which the method is inappropriate. We all know that. Then, when the results are wrong, they claim the technique is fatally flawed. There is a word for that kind of person, but my Christian morals and the BNBR policy prohibits me from using it. Carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating, like any other laboratory testing technique, can be extremely reliable, so long as all of the variables involved are controlled and understood.

Several factors affect radiocarbon test results, not all of which are easy to control objectively. Carbon dating is reliable within certain parameters but certainly not infallible. When testing an object using radiocarbon dating, several factors have to be considered:.

First , carbon dating only works on matter that was once alive , and it only determines the approximate date of death for that sample. For example, a steel spearhead cannot be carbon dated, so archaeologists might perform testing on the wooden shaft it was attached to. This provides good information, but it only indicates how long ago that piece of wood was cut from a living tree.

Nor can it tell if a much older spearhead was attached to a brand-new shaft. If the spear head is dated using animal bones nearby, the accuracy of the results is entirely dependent on the assumed link between the spear head and the animal.

Second , radiocarbon dating becomes more difficult, and less accurate, as the sample gets older. The bodies of living things generally have concentrations of the isotope carbon, also known as radiocarbon, identical to concentrations in the atmosphere.

When an organism dies, it stops taking in new carbon, and whatever is inside gradually decays into other elements. So even brand-new samples contain incredibly tiny quantities of radiocarbon. Tiny variations within a particular sample become significant enough to skew results to the point of absurdity. Carbon dating therefore relies on enrichment and enhancement techniques to make smaller quantities easier to detect, but such enhancement can also skew the test results.

Normal errors in the test become magnified. As a result, carbon dating is only plausible for objects less than about 40, years old. The other major factor affecting the results of carbon dating is gauging the original proportion of carbon itself. Carbon dating is based on the loss of carbon, so, even if the present amount in a specimen can be detected accurately, we must still know how much carbon the organism started with. Scientists must assume how much carbon was in the organism when it died.

As samples get older, errors are magnified, and assumptions can render carbon dating all but useless. Likewise, different living things absorb or reject carbon at different rates. Two plants that died at the same moment, but which naturally contained different levels of radiocarbon, could be dated to drastically different times. All in all, setting the parameters of the carbon test is more of an art than a science. Contamination and repeatability are also factors that have to be considered with carbon dating.

A tiny amount of carbon contamination will greatly skew test results, so sample preparation is critical. Even then, a large proportion of radiocarbon dating tests return inconsistent, or even incoherent, results, even for tests done on the same sample.

At best, it needs to be acknowledged. At worst, it can make carbon dating circular and self-confirming, though there are other means of dating that can reduce this risk. It is not, however, an inherently error-free or black-and-white method for dating objects. Completely, when used appropriately by trained scientists.

Carbon dating cannot be applied to anything such as diamond that is known to be ancient, but exposed to in situ radiation. The accuracy of the method has increased dramatically over the years as technology has improved, and as ice core sampling and dendrochronologic records have helped refine our understanding of C14 production in the upper atmosphere over the last few thousand years.

Libby peace and blessings on his name wrote 7 things that would have to be true for it to work , when he got the Nobel in the 50s. By the 70s it was found that dates were drifting This is what creationists pick up if you happen on their propaganda But we solved it by dating tree rings, these tree rings we have an absolute date for , so you now look for the C14 date on a graph with tree rings date on and that gives you a calibrated date.

The timber does not date me, the well or the barrel it dates when the tree grew, and it might be a year old tree. That depends, have you adjusted the clocks for the time dilation that has occurred during the universes acceleration? Since clocks slow during acceleration then as one calculates into the past decay rates happened faster than they do today.

So if you use the rate that clocks tick today to try to calculate the decay rate in the past without adjusting for time dilation effects your results will be off by orders of magnitude since the acceleration of the universe began faster than c and has only continued to accelerate at an increasing rate. Ahhh, but don't let science confuse the poor souls that think they can calculate it's true age by using clocks that have slowed exponentially.

Carbon 14 dating 1 - Life on earth and in the universe - Cosmology & Astronomy - Khan Academy

Carbon dating as technique is questionable at various levels. But it can been taken either ways.. Ask New Question Sign In. How accurate is radiocarbon dating?

How do we know that carbon dating is accurate? Thank you for your feedback! Have you done the 10k year challenge? Advance through the ages of human history and into the future in this award-winning city building game. You dismissed this ad. The feedback you provide will help us show you more relevant content in the future.

What are the ways that carbon dating can be inaccurate? How accurate is radiation dating? How does carbon dating work? In layman's terms, how does radiocarbon dating work?

Yes; we can compare its results with Dendrochronology , or tree-ring dating, in which it's possible to count the growth rings individually so we have precise numbers of years. According to Wikipedia, we have fully anchored chronologies for the northern hemisphere that extend back 13, years.

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Is carbon dating truly accurate and reliable? That said, it is still possible to confuse and mislead: Now, because a date may not be accurate, you can ask for either absolute, or relative dating: There are many complications involved in radiocarbon dating, including: In the sense that the technique is potentially so valuable, and indeed has PROVED to be so valuable, that Dr Libby would eventually have got back on the horse again anyway The thing is, all the problems listed above, and others, can be overcome.

Answered Aug 18, How accurate is radio carbon dating? Answered Feb 28, Generally speaking, the conventional radiocarbon age, quoted with a plus or minus e.

The amount of radioactive carbon in a sample is measured and treated as if it were normally distributed bell-shaped because the process is run only once.

A contemporary tree—that is, a tree that was either just cut down or still living—can tell you not just how many years it has lived, but which years in which it lived. If a Bigtooth Maple were cut down on Mount Lemmon in and it had rings, you would know the tree started growing in The rings could still tell how many years the tree lived, but not necessarily when.

This didn't sit well with Douglass. He set out on a series of expeditions across the southwest to bridge the gap between contemporary wood and wood beams from the ruins of civilizations long gone. He noticed that trees across the same region, in the same climate, develop rings in the same patterns. Douglass, with his knack for pattern-recognition, discovered that he could take younger wood with a known date, and then match its rings alongside the pattern of an older sample.

In , with a beam from Show Low, Arizona, Douglass was able to bridge the gap for the first time ever. Dates were assigned to Southwestern ruins with certainty. But alas, pattern-matching in order to date when a tree was cut isn't always possible. Sometimes a wood sample doesn't have enough tree rings or rings with growth patterns that match an already dated sample. Sometimes important and large groups of matching samples, called "floating chronologies," remain undated.

A decade after Douglass's big discovery, two Berkeley scientists took the first step towards an alternative way to date floating chronologies and indeed any other "once-living" thing.

They were studying a little atom called carbon Also known as radiocarbon, carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon with an atomic nucleus of six protons and eight neutrons. Radiocarbon is in every living thing. They discovered its half-life, or the time it takes for its radioactivity to fall by half once the living thing dies, is 5, years give or take It's unusually long and consistent half-life made it great for dating.

Willard Libby from the University of Chicago put it to the test. By , he had published a paper in Science showing that he had accurately dated samples with known ages, using radiocarbon dating. Douglass passed away just two years after Libby received the Nobel Prize for his work in Today, dendrochronologists all over the world follow in Douglass' footsteps, and whenever it is not possible to use tree-ring dating to place wood samples in time, they use radiocarbon to date wood samples.

All of this dating information comes together to produce a chronological backdrop for studying past interactions between people and their environment. On the scale of the universe, 20, 50 or even years is, for all intents and purposes, nothing.

The universe is Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is slightly younger, at The Earth and our moon are both more than four-and-a-half billion years old. The first single-celled organisms on Earth did not appear until about a billion years later. Dinosaurs did not appear until million years ago, and ruled the planet for million years. The first modern humans did not evolve in Africa until about 1.

The time between then and now is just a single tick on the universe's clock. In other words, life in the universe moves inconceivably slowly. But for individual humans—and entire civilizations—it does not. Fifty, 20, or years is a lot of time, wherein a lot can happen.

Fifty years is the difference between Alexander Graham Bell's telephone and television. The year space race between the Soviet Union and United States yielded the first moon landing.

Carbon-14 dating accurate

It took just short of 10 years for the Ancient Greeks to build the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens. Michelangelo spent only four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

In , Vincent Van Gogh had two ears. In , he had one. Charles Darwin spent just five weeks in the Galapagos, a voyage without which he would have never written On the Origin of Species.

In little more than a day, the entire population of Pompeii was wiped out by a volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A. Human life moves fast, and because the to year ballpark of radiocarbon dating doesn't quite keep up with it, Pearson and collaborators are developing a new radiocarbon method to place floating chronologies in an exact point in time.


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