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It can’t be used to determine the age of a moon rock or a meteorite.
For nonliving substances, scientists use other isotopes, such as potassium-40.
“Unlike bone or charcoal, carbon preserved in eggshell is very stably locked in and unlikely to have been contaminated,” says Nigel Spooner, a physicist at the University of Adelaide in Australia who specialises in dating techniques.
It might take a millisecond, or it might take a century. But if you have a large enough sample, a pattern begins to emerge.
It takes a certain amount of time for half the atoms in a sample to decay.
It then takes the same amount of time for half the remaining radioactive atoms to decay, and the same amount of time for half of those remaining radioactive atoms to decay, and so on. The amount of time it takes for one-half of a sample to decay is called the half-life of the isotope, and it’s given the symbol: It’s important to realize that the half-life decay of radioactive isotopes is not linear.
For example, you can’t find the remaining amount of an isotope as 7.5 half-lives by finding the midpoint between 7 and 8 half-lives.
Carbon-14 (C-14), a radioactive isotope of carbon, is produced in the upper atmosphere by cosmic radiation.