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This is an informational tour in which students gain a basic understanding of geologic time, the evidence for events in Earth’s history, relative and absolute dating techniques, and the significance of the Geologic Time Scale. Arrange carbon atoms in one way, and they become soft, pliable graphite. — the atoms form diamond, one of the hardest materials in the world.It is not uncommon for a cosmic ray to collide with an atom in the atmosphere, creating a secondary cosmic ray in the form of an energetic neutron, and for these energetic neutrons to collide with nitrogen atoms.When the neutron collides, a nitrogen-14 (seven protons, seven neutrons) atom turns into a carbon-14 atom (six protons, eight neutrons) and a hydrogen atom (one proton, zero neutrons).Just the facts Carbon: From stars to life As the sixth-most abundant element in the universe, carbon forms in the belly of stars in a reaction called the triple-alpha process, according to the Swinburne Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.In older stars that have burned most of their hydrogen, leftover helium accumulates.Carbon-14 (C-14) dating of multiple samples of bone from 8 dinosaurs found in Texas, Alaska, Colorado, and Montana revealed that they are only 22,000 to 39,000 years old.Members of the Paleochronology group presented their findings at the 2012 Western Pacific Geophysics Meeting in Singapore, August 13-17, a conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society (AOGS).
Under very hot temperatures — greater than 100,000,000 Kelvin (179,999,540.6 F) — the helium nuclei begin to fuse, first as pairs into unstable 4-proton beryllium nuclei, and eventually, as enough beryllium nuclei blink into existence, into a beryllium plus a helium.
The ratio of normal carbon (carbon-12) to carbon-14 in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant.
Maybe one in a trillion carbon atoms are carbon-14.
Carbon-14 is radioactive, with a half-life of about 5,700 years.
For more information on cosmic rays and half-life, as well as the process of radioactive decay, see How Nuclear Radiation Works.