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The reason is that whenever you convert part of a walnut or any other piece of matter to pure energy, the resulting energy is by definition moving at the speed of light.
Pure energy is electromagnetic radiation—whether light or X-rays or whatever—and electromagnetic radiation travels at a constant speed of roughly 670,000,000 miles per hour.
And because the speed of light squared is a huge number—448,900,000,000,000,000 in units of mph—the amount of energy bound up into even the smallest mass is truly mind-boggling (see E = mc The Power of Tiny Things.) Of course, intuitively understanding that energy and matter are essentially one, as well as why and how so much energy can be wrapped up in even minute bits of matter, is another thing.
You can get an idea of the relationship between C14 and age at the Carbon Dating calculator page. 1950 was chosen for no particular reason other than to honour the publication of the first radiocarbon dates calculated in December 1949 (Taylor, 19).
A radionuclide has an unstable combination of nucleons and emits radiation in the process of regaining stability.
Reaching stability involves the process of radioactive decay.
After all, the equation grew directly out of Einstein's work on special relativity, which is a subset of what most consider his greatest achievement, the theory of general relativity. First, though, a capsule explanation of "energy equals mass times the speed of light squared" might be helpful.
On the most basic level, the equation says that energy and mass (matter) are interchangeable; they are different forms of the same thing.
The purpose of this chapter is to explain the process of radioactive decay and its relationship to the concept of half-life.