Carbon has a large number of stable isotopes. All carbon atoms contain six protons and six electrons, but the different isotopes have different numbers of neutrons. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere has not changed in thousands of years. Even though it decays into nitrogen, new carbon is always being formed when cosmic rays hit atoms high in the atmosphere. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and animals eat plants.
What Are the Uses of Carbon-14?
BioMath: Carbon Dating
Applications of Radioactive Isotopes
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The nucleus of carbon 14 contains 6 protons and 8 neutrons, as opposed to the 6 and 6 found in ordinary carbon The imbalance makes carbon 14 a radioisotope with a half-life of 5, years, and an emitter of beta particles. This radioactive isotope of carbon is called radiocarbon. The carbon 14 found in nature is constantly being regenerated by cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. The rate at which the regeneration takes place has gone virtually unchanged for centuries; a feature which depends on the flux of particles bombarding the earth, and the strength of the magnetic field capable of diverting them.