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EQUINOX GRAPHICS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY EQUINOX GRAPHICS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Animation showing an atom of carbon-14 undergoing beta decay. In beta decay, a neutron (yellow) converts to a proton (red), with the emission of an electron (blue) and an electron antineutrino (not shown). The conversion of a neutron to a proton increases the atomic number of the nucleus, converting it in this case from carbon-14 (with six protons and eight neutrons) to nitrogen-14 (with seven of each). Carbon-14 occurs in trace amounts, being produced by the action of cosmic rays on atmospheric nitrogen-14. It decays back to nitrogen-14 with a half life of some 5730 years.
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