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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.

Try Why Do Astronauts Float by Julian Hamm

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