Oldest age radio carbon dating reliable
Uranium 234, a radioactive element present in the environment, slowly decays to form thorium 230.
Using a mass spectrometer, an instrument that accelerates streams of atoms and uses magnets to sort them out according to mass and electric charge, the group has learned to measure the ratio of uranium to thorium very precisely.
But when a plant or animal dies, it can no longer accumulate fresh carbon 14, and the supply in the organism at the time of death is gradually depleted.
Since the rate of depletion has been accurately determined (half of any given amount of carbon 14 decays in 5,730 years), scientists can calculate the time elapsed since something died from its residual carbon 14.
Carbon dating is unreliable for objects older than about 30,000 years, but uranium-thorium dating may be possible for objects up to half a million years old, Dr. The method is less suitable, however, for land animals and plants than for marine organisms, because uranium is plentiful in sea water but less so in most soils.
But even if the method is limited to marine organisms, it will be extremely useful for deciphering the history of Earth's climate, ice, oceans and rocks, Dr.
Y., reported today in the British journal Nature that some estimates of age based on carbon analyses were wrong by as much as 3,500 years.Dating Subject to Error But scientists have long recognized that carbon dating is subject to error because of a variety of factors, including contamination by outside sources of carbon.Therefore they have sought ways to calibrate and correct the carbon dating method.Organisms at the base of the food chain that photosynthesize – for example, plants and algae – use the carbon in Earth’s atmosphere.They have the same ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 as the atmosphere, and this same ratio is then carried up the food chain all the way to apex predators, like sharks.