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The most widely known form of radiometric dating is carbon-14 dating.This is what archaeologists use to determine the age of human-made artifacts. The half-life of carbon-14 is only 5,730 years, so carbon-14 dating is only effective on samples that are less than 50,000 years old.It takes another 5,730 for half of the remainder to decay, and then another 5,730 for half of what's left then to decay and so on.The period of time that it takes for half of a sample to decay is called a "half-life." Radiocarbon oxidizes (that is, it combines with oxygen) and enters the biosphere through natural processes like breathing and eating.Dinosaur bones, on the other hand, are millions of years old -- some fossils are billions of years old.To determine the ages of these specimens, scientists need an isotope with a very long half-life.

Some very straightforward principles are used to determine the age of fossils.But this sediment doesn't typically include the necessary isotopes in measurable amounts.Fossils can't form in the igneous rock that usually does contain the isotopes.Thanks to nuclear physics, mass spectrometers have been fine-tuned to separate a rare isotope from an abundant neighboring mass, and accelerator mass spectrometry was born.A method has finally been developed to detect carbon 14 in a given sample and ignore the more abundant isotopes that swamp the carbon 14 signal.

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