Along with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur, carbon is a building block of biochemical molecules ranging from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to active substances such as hormones.
All carbon atoms have a nucleus containing six protons.
The pathway from the plant to the molecule may have been indirect or lengthy, involving multiple physical, chemical, and biological processes.
Levels of C can represent either mixtures of modern and dead carbon or carbon that was fixed from the atmosphere less than 50,000 years ago.
They have masses of 13 and 14 respectively and are referred to as "carbon-13" and "carbon-14." If two atoms have equal numbers of protons but differing numbers of neutrons, one is said to be an "isotope" of the other.
Carbon-13 and carbon-14 are thus isotopes of carbon-12.
The rate at which C atoms, half of them will decay in 5730 years.Since this rate is slow relative to the movement of carbon through food chains (from plants to animals to bacteria) all carbon in biomass at earth's surface contains atmospheric levels of C is present at atmospheric levels, the molecule must derive from a recent plant product.As a result it is always undergoing natural radioactive decay while the abundances of the other isotopes are unchanged.Carbon-14 is most abundant in atmospheric carbon dioxide because it is constantly being produced by collisions between nitrogen atoms and cosmic rays at the upper limits of the atmosphere.
Ninety-nine percent of these also contain six neutrons.
The 6 proton + 6 neutron atoms are said to have a mass of 12 and are referred to as "carbon-12." The nuclei of the remaining one percent of carbon atoms contain not six but either seven or eight neutrons in addition to the standard six protons.