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After all, we should be able to estimate how long ago a creature lived based on how much radiocarbon is left in its body. Radiocarbon (carbon-14) is a very unstable element that quickly changes into nitrogen.

Half the original quantity of carbon-14 will decay back to the stable element nitrogen-14 after only 5,730 years.

Next comes the question of how scientists use this knowledge to date things.

If carbon-14 has formed at a constant rate for a very long time and continually mixed into the biosphere, then the level of carbon-14 in the atmosphere should remain constant.

Knowing the number of atoms that decayed in our sample over a month, we can calculate the radiocarbon decay rate.

The standard way of expressing the decay rate is called the half-life.5 It’s defined as the time it takes half a given quantity of a radioactive element to decay.

Radiocarbon (carbon-14 or C) forms continually today in the earth’s upper atmosphere.

And as far as we know, it has been forming in the earth’s upper atmosphere at least since the Fall, after the atmosphere was made back on Day Two of creation week (part of the expanse, or firmament, described in Genesis 1:6–8). Cosmic rays from outer space are continually bombarding the upper atmosphere of the earth, producing fast-moving neutrons (sub-atomic particles carrying no electric charge) (figure 1).1 These fast-moving neutrons collide with nitrogen-14 atoms, the most abundant element in the upper atmosphere, converting them into radiocarbon (carbon-14) atoms.

Instead, the radiocarbon atoms in their bodies slowly decay away, so the ratio of carbon-14 atoms to regular carbon atoms will steadily decrease over time (figure 3).So if half the sand grains are in the top bowl and half in the bottom bowl, then 30 minutes has elapsed since the sand grains began falling.We can calibrate an hourglass clock by timing the falling sand grains against a mechanical or electronic clock.To measure the rate of decay, a suitable detector records the number of beta particles ejected from a measured quantity of carbon over a period of time, say a month (for illustration purposes).Since each beta particle represents one decayed carbon-14 atom, we know how many carbon-14 atoms decayed during that month.

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