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So by measuring carbon 14 levels in an organism that died long ago, researchers can figure out when it died.
Because atmospheric carbon 14 arises at about the same rate that the atom decays, Earth's levels of carbon 14 have remained fairly constant.
Once an organism is dead, however, no new carbon is actively absorbed by its tissues, and its carbon 14 gradually decays.
Libby thus reasoned that by measuring carbon 14 levels in the remains of an organism that died long ago, one could estimate the time of its death.
This procedure of radiocarbon dating has been widely adopted and is considered accurate enough for practical use to study remains up to 50,000 years old.
In this activity, students begin a sequencing activity with familiar items letters written on cards.
Once they are able to manipulate the cards into the correct sequence, they are asked to do a similar sequencing activity using fossil pictures printed on "rock layer" cards.
In living organisms, which are always taking in carbon, the levels of carbon 14 likewise stay constant.
But in a dead organism, no new carbon is coming in, and its carbon 14 gradually begins to decay.
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