How radiocarbon dating works
How do scientists determine the age of fossils that have been under the surface of the earth for thousands of years?
Scientific American Editor Michael Moyer explains the process of radiocarbon dating.
Libby received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in 1960.
The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.
Libby and James Arnold proceeded to test the radiocarbon dating theory by analyzing samples with known ages.
Radiocarbon dating can date samples up to 50,000 years old.
Samples older than that contain so little carbon-14 that the dating process is inaccurate.
Researchers can find out how long ago something died using radiocarbon dating.
Bones and teeth from animals and humans, as well as artefacts made out of wood, fabric or paper are just some of the objects that can be aged using this process.
Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s.