Carbon is a very important chemical element, with a chemical symbol of C. All life on Earth is made from it. Carbon has atomic mass 12 and atomic number 6. It is non-metallic, meaning that it is not a metal.
Why it is important.
Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and some other elements like sulfur and phosphorus together form most life on earth (see Organic chemistry and List of biologically important elements). Carbon forms a very large number of organic compounds because it can form strong bonds with itself and with other elements. Because of the amounts of carbon living things have, all organic things are considered "carbon-based". Also, each carbon atom can form 4 single covalent bonds. Many carbon atoms linked together with hydrogen atoms form plastic. Also, Carbon is the only element that can form long chain-shaped molecules. When iron is heated up with carbon, hard steel is formed.
The name of carbon comes from Latin "carbo", meaning charcoal. In many foreign languages the words for carbon, coal and charcoal are synonyms.
Types of carbon.
Carbon in nature is found in three forms called allotropes: diamond, graphite, and fullerenes. Graphite, with clay, is in pencils. It is very soft. The carbon atoms in it make rings, which are on top of each other and slide very easily. Diamonds are the hardest natural mineral. Fullerenes are a "soccer ball" shape of carbon. They are mostly of interest to science. A special, man-made, tube-shaped allotrope of carbon is the carbon nanotube. carbon nanotubes are very hard, so they might be used in armor. Nanotubes might be useful in nanotechnology.There are 10 million known carbon compounds.
Chemistry of Carbon.
A whole type of Chemistry, organic chemistry, is about carbon and its compounds. Carbon makes many types of compounds. "Hydrocarbons" are molecules with carbon and hydrogen. Methane, Propane, and many other fuels are hydrocarbons.
Radiocarbon Dating.
A radioactive isotope of carbon, carbon-14, can be used to figure out how old some objects are or when something died. As long as something is on the surface of the earth and taking in carbon, the amount of carbon-14 stays the same. When an object stops taking in carbon, the carbon-14 amount goes down. Because the "half-life" (how long it takes for half of a radioactive isotope to go away) of carbon-14 is 5730 years, scientists can see how old the object is by how much carbon-14 is left.
Carbon in Space.
Carbon is in many places in the universe. It was first made in old stars. Carbon is the fourth most common element in the sun. Almost all of the atmosphere of Mars is Carbon dioxide.
Carbon in People.
It is important to the human body, and it is the second most common element in the human body, at 23% of all body weight. It is also a key part of many biological molecules (molecules used in life).
Carbon on Earth.
Graphite is in many areas, including Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Russia. Diamonds are rare and are found in Africa. Carbon is also in some meteorites.

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