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This tendency to decay, called radioactivity, is what gives radiocarbon the name radiocarbon.
The atmosphere contains many stable carbon atoms and relatively few radiocarbon atoms.
Part of the result of these collisions is the production of radiocarbon (C, pronounced "c fourteen"), carbon atoms which are chemically the same as stable carbon, but have two extra neutrons.
Radiocarbon is not stable; over time radiocarbon atoms decay into nitrogen atoms.
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The raw radiocarbon date of any sample can then be converted to true date by using this calibration table.
After about 50,000 years, the radiocarbon concentration remaining is too small to be measured for the purpose of radiocarbon dating. This is necessary to remove errors in raw radiocarbon dates caused by fluctuations in the amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere in the past.
Radiocarbon dating works by comparing the three different isotopes of carbon.