Funny carbon dating results
When an organism dies, no new C-14 is taken into its tissues and it starts to radioactively decay away. Through some rather painstaking observation, we’ve been able to establish that any given radioactive isotope decays away to stable ones at a constant rate (the time until only half of the starting amount is left is known as the half-life).We can date thus things based on the changing ratio, relative to the half-life of C-14 (5712 years). If you know how much of the radioactive isotope you started with and observe what’s left, you can then calculate how much time has passed. All I need to do is go measure how much C-14 is left compared to normal non-radioactive C-12 and, bam, I know old the thing is.However, nuclei with too few or too many neutrons are unstable and they will shed energy, in the form of light or ejected particles, to try to achieve a stable nuclear arrangement. An isotope that emits energy in this manner is “radioactive”.For the bonus round, the particles generated by the cosmic rays can interact with the stable nuclei of the atmosphere to create new radioactive isotopes.Carbon-14 (or as I will shorthand it from now on, C-14) is one of the many naturally occurring isotopes, in this case generated in the atmosphere due to the cosmic ray bombardment of nitrogen-14 with neutrons.Cosmic ray bombardment of Earth does vary with latitude and the Earth’s magnetic field but due to atmospheric and water mixing, the ratio of radioactive C-14 to plain old stable C-12 is considered to be constant through in the environment.
Chemically speaking, you can have any number of neutrons you want in the nucleus and it will still be the same element; those different mass nuclei with varying numbers of neutrons are known as “isotopes” of that element.
This should go without saying, but carbon dating is useless on something that wasn’t organic material to begin with.
If you want to be really, really picky you could point out that limestone and calcite, both being calcium carbonate, were originally teeny tiny organisms’ shells so they’re organic material, right?
I would like to bring your attention about two thirds of the way down to the picture of the Most Important Seal Carcass EVAR.
“Why is this most important seal carcass”, I hear you ask, “Do you have the brain worms again? It is important because: Carbon dating is not perfect. We’ve done this by comparing the carbon ratios in organic matter that we are pretty sure of the age of, such as tree rings.
In particular, how important it is to have a reference to verify ages before you get in trouble. To quote Atomic Robo‘s Brian Clevinger, “What’s particularly frustrating is that it takes so little effort to find the intersection between plausible science and your fiction such that the audience will go along with everything.” I’m here to help though. No, not “Nuke ‘em from orbit” Ripley-style, although I like the way your mind works, but rather the continuous rain of high energy particles blasting from The Great Beyond.