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Asked by Jeniffer

How is carbon-14 is produced in the upper atmosphere?

When cosmic rays from the sun hit the atmosphere, they may collide with an atom in the atmosphere, creating a secondary cosmic ray in the form of an energetic neutron. If these energetic neutrons collide with nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere (which makes up almost 80% of our atmosphere) the nitrogen-14 atom (seven protons, seven neutrons) turns into a carbon-14 atom (six protons, eight neutrons) and a hydrogen atom (one proton, zero neutrons). Carbon-14 is radioactive, with a half-life of about 5,700 years.

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Claire Jeffrey
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