How do scientists use carbon 14 for radioactive dating


31-Jan-2021 16:08

Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a fossil by using radiometric dating to measure the decay of isotopes, either within the fossil or more often the rocks associated with it.

The majority of the time fossils are dated using relative dating techniques.

The Wheeler Formation has been previously dated to approximately 507 million year old, so we know the trilobite is also about 507 million years old.

But, how can we determine how old a rock formation is, if it hasn’t previously been dated?

Most laboratories measure radiocarbon with a very sophisticated instrument called an accelerator mass spectrometer, or AMS.

It is literally able to count carbon-14 atoms one at a time.3 This machine can theoretically detect one radioactive carbon-14 atom in 100 quadrillion regular carbon-12 atoms! AMS instruments need to be checked occasionally, to make sure they aren’t also “reading” any laboratory contamination, called background.

This makes it ideal for dating much older rocks and fossils.

So, often layers of volcanic rocks above and below the layers containing fossils can be dated to provide a date range for the fossil containing rocks.



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