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This decay, or loss of energy, results in an atom (element) of one type, called the parent nuclide transforming to an atom of a different type (another element or another isotope of the same element), named the daughter nuclide.

For example: a carbon-14 atom (the "parent") emits radiation and transforms to a nitrogen-14 atom (the "daughter").

So, Carbon-14 can only measure things up to just over 50,000 years old, great for determining when someone built a wood fire, but not good for determining the age of a meteorite. It occurs whenever an atom has an unbalanced number of protons and neutrons in its nucleus.

This can be interpreted in two ways: why it is important to know the age of a planet or how is age dating important in determining the age of a planet?It is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay, but given a large number of similar atoms, the decay rate on average is predictable.This predictable decay is called the half-life of the parent atom, the time it takes for one half of all of the parent atoms to transform into the daughter.While not a chemical test, the presence of carbon in a sample (like a meteorite) can be found by vaporizing the sample and passing it through a mass spectrometer.This is also a way to get at the abundance of the various isotopes of carbon.

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The amount of time it takes for an unstable isotope to decay is determined statistically by looking at how long it takes for a large number of the same radioactive isotopes to decay to half its original amount.

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