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The radioactive carbon has six protons and eight neutrons in its nucleus, giving it a total atomic mass of 14.This atom is not stable, and will break down, releasing nuclear energy in the process.
Every 5,730 years, approximately half of this radioactive carbon spontaneously converts itself back into nitrogen by emitting an electron from a neutron.
The nitrogen atom, which began with seven protons and seven neutrons, is left with only six protons and eight neutrons.
As the number of protons decides the chemical nature of an atom, the atom now behaves like a carbon atom.
Samples from the tree were able to generate calibration points back to that date. It is narrow or broad, depending upon whether the weather during that year was dry or wet, and whether the tree was exposed to various stressors.
Bristlecone pines grow so slowly that its rings are paper thin; their width has to be studied under a microscope.
Usually a proton is knocked out of the nitrogen atom's nucleus and is replaced with the neutron.
The proton takes an electron with it and becomes an atom of hydrogen.
When they strike ordinary atoms in the upper atmosphere, the cosmic rays smash them apart. Some of these neutrons then collide with nitrogen atoms.
This collision is less destructive than the initial collision that produced them.
They've plotted rings from shipwreck timbers and roof beams, and wood from the Mediterranean, Russia, and China.
The bristlecone pine series, the longest built from a single species in a single location, stretches back to 7040... It is based on thousands of rings from 81 living trees and 118 dead trees, and Michael found more than three-quarters of the samples.
But in actual practice, we know neither the original ratios nor if the specimen has been contaminated and are forced to make what we hope are reasonable assumptions.