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Both carbon-12 and carbon-13 are stable, but carbon-14 is unstable, which means that there are too many neutrons in the nucleus. As a result, carbon-14 decays by changing one proton into a neutron and becoming a different element, nitrogen-14 (with 7 protons and 7 neutrons in the nucleus).The isotope originating from the decay (nitrogen-14 in the case of radiocarbon) is called the daughter, while the original radioactive isotope (like carbon-14) is called the parent.These are the surfaces that we can get absolute ages for.For the others, one can only use relative age dating (such as counting craters) in order to estimate the age of the surface and the history of the surface.On the other hand, the number of neutrons that can be contained in the nucleus can vary.When the number of neutrons is in balance with the number of protons (which does not necessarily means that the number of neutrons has to be exactly the same as the number of protons) then the atoms of a particular element is said to be stable.

For others, all we are doing is getting a relative age, using things like the formation of craters and other features on a surface.This may simply have to do with what the media is talking about.When there is a scientific discussion about the age of, say a meteorite or the Earth, the media just talks about the large numbers and not about the dating technique (e.g. On the other hand, when the media talk about "more recent events," ages that are more comprehendible, such as when early Man built a fire or even how old a painting is (or some ancient parchment), then we bring up the dating technique in order to better validate the findings.It is impossible to predict when a given atom will decay, but given a large number of similar atoms, the decay rate on average is predictable.This predictable decay is called the half-life of the parent atom, the time it takes for one half of all of the parent atoms to transform into the daughter.

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