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The half-life is the time required for half of the original sample of radioactive nuclei to decay.For example, if you start off with 1000 radioactive nuclei with a half-life of 10 days, you would have 500 left after 10 days; you would have 250 left after 20 days (2 half-lives); and so on.You might remember that it was mentioned earlier that the amount of carbon-14 in living things is the same as the atmosphere.Once they die, they stop taking in carbon-14, and the amount present starts to decrease at a constant half-life rate.It is often used on valuable artwork to confirm authenticity.For example, look at this image of the opening of King Tutankhamen's tomb near Luxor, Egypt during the 1920s.Radioactive carbon-14 is continually formed in the atmosphere by the bombardment of cosmic ray neutrons on nitrogen-14 atoms.After it forms, carbon-14 naturally decomposes, with a half-life of 5,730 years, through beta-particle decay.
By knowing how much carbon-14 is left in a sample, the age of the organism and when it died can be worked out.
Scientists often use the value of 10 half-lives to indicate when a radioactive isotope will be gone, or rather, when a very negligible amount is still left.
This is why radiocarbon dating is only useful for dating objects up to around 50,000 years old (about 10 half-lives).
Once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 reduces by the fixed half-life - or the time required for half of the original sample of radioactive nuclei to decay - of 5,730 years, and can be measured by scientists for up to 10 half-lives.
Measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 remaining makes it possible to work out how old the artifact is, whether it's a fossilized skeleton or a magnificent piece of artwork.
However, once the organism dies, the amount of carbon-14 steadily decreases.