Carbon 12 vs Carbon 14: Difference and Comparison

In the periodic table, we see several chemical elements which have different chemical properties. Some of these elements have some variants too, which stand different from each other in terms of neutrons. We call these variants Isotopes of an element. 

Carbon is the sixth most widely present element in the world, and Carbon 12 and Carbon 14 are two variants of the element Carbon. These both differ from each other in many terms and make their own distinct identity.  

Key Takeaways

  1. Carbon 12 is carbon’s most common and stable isotope, with 6 protons and 6 neutrons in its nucleus.
  2. Carbon 14 is a radioactive isotope of carbon that is formed in the upper atmosphere and used in radiocarbon dating.
  3. While both isotopes have 6 protons, carbon 14 has 8 neutrons in its nucleus, making it unstable and prone to decay over time.

Carbon 12 vs Carbon 14  

Carbon-12 is the most abundant of the two stable isotopes of carbon due to the triple-alpha process by which it is created in stars. It amounts to 98.93% of element carbon on Earth. A carbon-12 atom has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope of carbon that has 6 protons and 8 neutrons.

Carbon 12 vs Carbon 14

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Carbon 12 is the isotope of Carbon that has the most availability. It precisely amounts to more than 98% of the element carbon.

It consists of six neutrons, six protons, and six electrons. This is widely popular as the atomic mass of other nuclides is measured on the scale of this variant only.   

On the other hand, Carbon 14 is also known as Radiocarbon. It is a radioactive carbon and the least available in quantity. It decays in nitrogen. This isotope contains six protons and eight neutrons in total. This is used to replace non-radioactive actions.   

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonCarbon 12 Carbon 14 
Definition  Carbon 12 is an isotope of the element Carbon and is widely present in living organisms.  Carbon 14 is another isotope of Carbon and is not present in many organisms. 
Chemical Composition It has an atomic mass of 12.011 AMU and encompasses six neutrons, six protons, and six electrons. It has an atomic mass of 14.0032420 u and consists of six neutrons and eight protons.   
Availability  It makes up approximately 90% of the total carbon on earth.  It makes up around 1% of the total carbon on earth. 
Origin  Created by a nuclear fusion of three alpha particles.  Generated in the upper layer of troposphere and stratosphere by a reaction in which thermal neutrons are absorbed by atoms of nitrogen. Its main source is cosmic ray reaction on nitrogen on earth. 
Uses  Used to measure the atomic mass of other nuclides. Used for replacing non-radioactive actions. 

What is Carbon 12? 

Carbon 12 is one of the two stable isotopes of the element Carbon. It is found in 99% of all Carbon on earth, hence is widely available. It happens to be stable because of the equal numbers of protons and neutrons in it. Accordingly, it has six neutrons and six protons.   

The existence of this element is very important as our earth is sort of dependent upon it. Scientists call it an element that provides life to the whole world.

The formation of this variant happens because of a nuclear reaction between three helium nuclei called alpha particles. This is the same process by which the stars gain their light.   

As per the research and studies, it is assumed that Carbon 12 is present in 98.89% of living organisms. Its atomic mass is 12.011 amu. In 1961 the International Union of Chemists declared it the most stable isotope of Carbon.

This discovery made a very crucial change as Carbon 12 replaced Oxygen in terms of being the standard scale on which other elements shall be measured. This isotope is considered very crucial as it is used as a standard basis to determine the atomic mass of other nuclides. 

carbon 12

What is Carbon 14?  

Carbon 14 is another isotope of Carbon but an unstable one. This variant has six neutrons and eight protons, which is called unstable due to this imbalance. It happens to be a radioactive isotope.  

With an atomic mass of 14.0032420 u, Carbon 14 is produced in the upper layer of the troposphere and stratosphere in the absorption of thermal neutrons by nitrogen atoms. Cosmic ray reaction on nitrogen on earth happens to be another major source.   

It decays into atoms of Nitrogen and hence is called radioactive carbon. This is used for carbon dating, a process by which age is determined for some products. This method of age dating was founded by William Libby in 1940.   

carbon 14

Main Differences Between Carbon 12 and Carbon 14  

  1. Carbon 12 is the most stable isotope of Carbon, while carbon 14 is the most unstable one. This instability occurs due to the different number of atoms present in the latter.   
  2. Another main difference is the number of protons and electrons. Where Carbon 12 has six protons and six neutrons, Carbon 14 has six protons and eight neutrons.   
  3. Carbon 12 has an atomic mass of 12,011 AMU, while Carbon 14 has an atomic mass of 14.0032420 u. Carbon 12 makes up for around 99 per cent of total carbon, while Carbon 14 makes up only one per cent.   
  4. Carbon 12 is famous because it is used as a standard mark to determine other nuclides’ mass, and Carbon 14 is famous because it is used for processes like carbon dating.   
  5. Carbon 12 is created by nuclear fusion among three alpha particles. And Carbon 14 is formed in the upper layer of the troposphere and stratosphere by thermal neutrons absorbed by atoms of nitrogen.  



Last Updated : 12 July, 2023

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