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16-Jan-2018 21:59

Modern accelerator mass spectrometry (used for radiocarbon dating purposes to separate radiocarbon atoms from stable carbon atoms and count them) is quite precise.

Recent puzzling observations of tiny variations in nuclear decay rates have led some to question the science of using decay rates to determine the relative ages of rocks and organic materials.In Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS), for example, the number of radiocarbon atoms in a stream of atoms coming from the sample is counted.Thus there are statistical counting uncertainties proportional to the square root of the number of atoms counted.For instance, half the mass of carbon-14, an unstable isotope of carbon, will decay into nitrogen-14 over a period of 5,730 years.

The unswerving regularity of this decay allows scientists to determine the age of extremely old organic materials -- such as remains of Paleolithic campfires -- with a fair degree of precision.Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), working with researchers from Purdue University, the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Wabash College, tested the hypothesis that solar radiation might affect the rate at which radioactive elements decay and found no detectable effect.