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However, cosmic radiation constantly collides with atoms in the upper atmosphere.Part of the result of these collisions is the production of radiocarbon (C, pronounced "c fourteen"), carbon atoms which are chemically the same as stable carbon, but have two extra neutrons.All living things on Earth are made up of a high percentage of an element called carbon.
(This, in turn, is caused by variations in the magnetic fields of the earth and sun, for example.) Although the ratio of radiocarbon to stable carbon in the atmosphere has varied over time, it is quite uniform around the globe at any given time because the atmosphere mixes very quickly and constantly.
[See Periodic Table of the Elements] Carbon occurs naturally as carbon-12, which makes up almost 99 percent of the carbon in the universe; carbon-13, which makes up about 1 percent; and carbon-14, which makes up a minuscule amount of overall carbon but is very important in dating organic objects.
Just the facts Carbon: From stars to life As the sixth-most abundant element in the universe, carbon forms in the belly of stars in a reaction called the triple-alpha process, according to the Swinburne Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.
Carbon 14 has a half-life of 5,780 years, and is continuously created in Earth's atmosphere through the interaction of nitrogen and gamma rays from outer space.
Because atmospheric carbon 14 arises at about the same rate that the atom decays, Earth's levels of carbon 14 have remained fairly constant. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.