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It is then incorporated into all living organisms by means of the food chain.After an organism dies, its level of carbon-14 gradually declines at a predictable pace, with a half-life of about 5,730 years.They have masses of 13 and 14 respectively and are referred to as "carbon-13" and "carbon-14." If two atoms have equal numbers of protons but differing numbers of neutrons, one is said to be an "isotope" of the other.Carbon-13 and carbon-14 are thus isotopes of carbon-12.Since then, atmospheric carbon-14 levels have been declining as the radiocarbon is soaked up by the oceans and the biosphere.The radiocarbon created by the thermonuclear explosions is identical to naturally created radiocarbon, and its route into plant and animal tissues is the same.The rate at which C atoms, half of them will decay in 5730 years.Since this rate is slow relative to the movement of carbon through food chains (from plants to animals to bacteria) all carbon in biomass at earth's surface contains atmospheric levels of C is present at atmospheric levels, the molecule must derive from a recent plant product.
Knowing the halflife, they back calculate how much time must have passed since the remains had levels identical to living organisms.
Natural and anthropogenic fluctuations in environmental radiocarbon levels mean that organisms living in different centuries within the past 500 years can have identical radiocarbon contents.
Forensic scientists use carbon-14 measurement in a subtly different manner.
Along with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur, carbon is a building block of biochemical molecules ranging from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to active substances such as hormones.
All carbon atoms have a nucleus containing six protons.