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Although it forms an extraordinary variety of compounds, most forms of carbon are comparatively unreactive under normal conditions.At standard temperature and pressure, it resists all but the strongest oxidizers.Thus, irrespective of its allotropic form, carbon remains solid at higher temperatures than the highest-melting-point metals such as tungsten or rhenium.Although thermodynamically prone to oxidation, carbon resists oxidation more effectively than elements such as iron and copper, which are weaker reducing agents at room temperature.This exothermic reaction is used in the iron and steel industry to smelt iron and to control the carbon content of steel: Carbon combines with some metals at high temperatures to form metallic carbides, such as the iron carbide cementite in steel and tungsten carbide, widely used as an abrasive and for making hard tips for cutting tools.The system of carbon allotropes spans a range of extremes: Atomic carbon is a very short-lived species and, therefore, carbon is stabilized in various multi-atomic structures with different molecular configurations called allotropes.The largest sources of inorganic carbon are limestones, dolomites and carbon dioxide, but significant quantities occur in organic deposits of coal, peat, oil, and methane clathrates.
Carbon compounds form the basis of all known life on Earth, and the carbon–nitrogen cycle provides some of the energy produced by the Sun and other stars.
Carbon is the sixth element, with a ground-state electron configuration of 1s, of which the four outer electrons are valence electrons.
Its first four ionisation energies, 1086.5, 2352.6, 4620..7 k J/mol, are much higher than those of the heavier group-14 elements.
The physical properties of carbon vary widely with the allotropic form.
For example, graphite is opaque and black while diamond is highly transparent.