Carbon dating practice questions
Uranium 234, a radioactive element present in the environment, slowly decays to form thorium 230.
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.
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 5,730 years), scientists can calculate the time elapsed since something died from its residual carbon 14.
Since 1947, 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.
'' But at earlier times, the carbon dates were substantially younger than the dates we estimated by uranium-thorium analysis,'' he said.
'' The largest deviation, 3,500 years, was obtained for samples that are about 20,000 years old.'' 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. 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.
Accurate tree ring records of age are available for a period extending 9,000 years into the past.For example Carbon 14 has a half life of 5,730 years.