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Proton Decay- What happens to the proton after too many decays ?

  1. Sep 2, 2013 #1
    Proton Decay- What happens to the proton after "too many decays"?

    Let me start off by saying that I am not the brightest individual, but I am curious about things from time to time (hence my name and hence why I'm here). So please excuse my stupidity if it shows too much.

    Anyway, recently, I was looking into information regarding the decay of the proton. Granted that this process takes about 1035 years (or a very long time) to occur, and as a result, none of us can truly be "experts" in the study of it, as surviving that long doesn't seem to be... eh.. feasible at the moment. However, we have observed times where the proton does decay in an unstable nucleus, in which it transforms into a neutron and releases other particles as different forms of energy. And we also know that a neutron (by itself) is also unstable and naturally decays into a proton while releasing the "anti-correspondent particles" (not the best term) of the proton decay particles.

    Stemming forth from that, If we were able to somehow accelerate the process of proton decay, then we would see the proton decay into a neutron (releasing certain particles as forms of energy), and then later we would see the neutron decay back into the proton (releasing the anti-correspondent particles). Is this correct?

    If so, here are my question(s):

    1. Would this not create a cycle of decay, in which the proton (/neutron) would simply shift from being a proton to being a neutron?

    2. How long would this cycle go on for? Forever? And if forever, would that not violate the law of conservation of mass and energy (granted that the overall energy in the system would still be the same)?

    3. What about all those particles of energy leftover from all the shifting between proton and neutron? What if we were to trap them and not let them annihilate each other: wouldn't that violate the conservation laws? Would that be a source of boundless energy?

    4. Would the cycle stop when the proton/ neutron releases so much of these particles (forms of energy) that the energy of these particles equates to the mass of the proton/ neutron? If so, what happens to this proton/ neutron? Would it just sort of disappear as it releases its last particles, essentially transforming itself into all these particles? Would it become a different particle all together? Other possibilities?

    Okay, I'm done..... Remember, I'm just a confused, non-genius, and curious individual, so please answer these questions as best you can and be nice. No flaming, name calling, bad behavior, other bad deeds, etc. Comments, questions, suggestions (?), feedback on how I spell (if you really want to, but please keep on topic), further advancement of the discussion, and other good deeds are all welcome! :biggrin:

    Thank you all for reading,
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2013 #2


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    Science Advisor

    In theories of proton decay, the proton does not decay into a neutron, which would not be energetically possible. Instead it might decay, for example, into a positron and a neutral pion.
  4. Sep 2, 2013 #3


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    You are misunderstanding the reported results. The measurements tell us that if protons do decay, the half-life is no shorter than 1035 years - but we don't know if they decay at all.

    Those two processes aren't the reverse of one another. An isolated neutron can decay into a proton because a proton is lighter than a neutron. If the proton does decay it won't decay into a neutron (it can't - the neutron is heavier) but instead into pions or other lighter particles.

    The proton->neutron transformation that happens inside some unstable nuclei is a completely different phenomenon, one in which the nucleus is so hungry for an extra neutron that the normally uphill proton->neutron transformation can happen. In general, the neutron<=>proton transformations that happen inside nuclei have very little to do with the decay of free neutrons and (hypothetically) protons. The nuclear transformations cannot form cycles; if the n->p transformation releases energy and leads to a more stable nucleus, then a p->n transformation that reverses the n->p transition would need energy supplied from outside so cannot happen spontaneously, and vice versa.
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