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"This technique stands to revolutionize radiocarbon dating," said Marvin Rowe, Ph. "It expands the possibility for analyzing extensive museum collections that have previously been off limits because of their rarity or intrinsic value and the destructive nature of the current method of radiocarbon dating.

In theory, it could even be used to date the Shroud of Turin." Rowe explained that the new method is a form of radiocarbon dating, the archaeologist's standard tool to estimate the age of an object by measuring its content of naturally-occurring radioactive carbon.

Rowe and his colleagues used the technique to analyze the ages of about 20 different organic substances, including wood, charcoal, leather, rabbit hair, a bone with mummified flesh attached, and a 1,350-year-old Egyptian weaving.

The results match those of conventional carbon dating techniques, they say.

­The carbon-14 atoms that cosmic rays create combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which plants absorb naturally and incorporate into plant fibers by photosynthesis.

He acknowledged, however, that it would take a significant amount of data to convince museum directors, art conservators, and others that the new method causes no damage to such priceless objects The scientists are currently refining the technique.In the new method, scientists place an entire artifact in a special chamber with a plasma, an electrically charged gas similar to gases used in big-screen plasma television displays.The gas slowly and gently oxidizes the surface of the object to produce carbon dioxide for C-14 analysis without damaging the surface, he said.The ratio of normal carbon (carbon-12) to carbon-14 in the air and in all living things at any given time is nearly constant.Maybe one in a trillion carbon atoms are carbon-14.

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