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If you ever wondered why nuclear tests are now performed underground, this is why.

Most radiocarbon dating today is done using an accelerator mass spectrometer, an instrument that directly counts the numbers of carbon-14 and carbon-12 in a sample.

A detailed description of radiocarbon dating is available at the Wikipedia radiocarbon dating web page.

One rare form has atoms that are 14 times as heavy as hydrogen atoms: carbon-14, or C ratio gets smaller.

Because the cosmic ray bombardment is fairly constant, there’s a near-constant level of carbon-14 to carbon-12 ratio in Earth’s atmosphere.

Organisms at the base of the food chain that photosynthesize – for example, plants and algae – use the carbon in Earth’s atmosphere.

However, even with such historical calibration, archaeologists do not regard C produced and therefore dating the system.

The amount of cosmic rays reaching the Earth varies with the sun's activity, and with the Earth's passage through magnetic clouds as the solar system travels around the Milky Way galaxy.

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