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Synthesis and decay of carbon-14

Carbon-14 synthesis happens in the upper atmosphere

A cosmic ray particle can knock out a neutron from the nucleus of an oxygen or nitrogen atom in the air.

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If this neutron happens to collide with the nucleus of a (normal) nitrogen-14 atom then it can be absorbed and a proton is emitted leaving carbon-14.

Carbon-14 decays back to nitrogen-14

Carbon-14 has too many neutrons to be stable.  After some time a neutron changes into a proton, emitting a beta particle.  This turns it back into nitrogen-14.

back to Lesson 12: Stability, Fusion and Fission