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An isotope is a variation of an element based upon the number of neutrons.

The disintegration of the neutrons within the atom of the element's nucleus is what scientists call radioactivity.

Radiocarbon dating was used to identify a forged painting based upon the concentrations of carbon-14 detected on the canvas within the atmosphere at the time that the picture was painted.

Other common isotopes used in radioactive dating are uranium, potassium, and iodine. We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities.

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Try It risk-free Ever wonder how scientists concluded the age of the earth to be about 4.6 billion years old or how geologists determined the ages of caverns, rocks, volcanoes, the Himalayas, or even the age of Pompeii bread?

Well, scientists are able to answer all of these wondrous questions and more by use of a process called radiometric, or radioactive, dating.

If a scientist were to compute this, he or she would say two half-lives went by at a rate of 4.5 billion years per half-life; therefore, the sample is approximately 2 times 4.5 billion, or 9 billion years old. So you see, earth scientists are able to use the half-lives of isotopes to date materials back to thousands, millions, and even to billions of years old.

The half-life is so predictable that it is also referred to as an atomic clock.

Since all living things contain carbon, carbon-14 is a common radioisotope used primarily to date items that were once living.

Carbon-14 has a half-life of approximately 5,730 years and produces the decay product nitrogen-14.

Isotopes decay at a constant rate known as the half-life.

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