Why Do Neutrons Radioactively Decay, But Protons Don't?

In summary, stationary neutrons may radioactively decay due to their mass and instability, while protons cannot decay due to their lightest baryon status and lack of lighter baryons to decay into. Although some theories predict proton decay, it has not been observed.
  • #1
yellowputty
9
0
Could someone please explain to me why stationary neutrons may radioactively decay but protons may not?

Thank you in advance :)
 
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  • #2
The proton is lighter than the neutron and all other baryons.
It could only decay into a lighter baryon, but there are none.
Some speculative theories predict proton decay with a lifetime of the order of the age of the universe, but proton decay has not been observed even at that level.
 
  • #3
clem said:
The proton is lighter than the neutron and all other baryons.
It could only decay into a lighter baryon, but there are none.
Some speculative theories predict proton decay with a lifetime of the order of the age of the universe, but proton decay has not been observed even at that level.

Thank you :)
 

Related to Why Do Neutrons Radioactively Decay, But Protons Don't?

1. Why do neutrons undergo radioactive decay?

Neutrons are composed of three quarks - two down quarks and one up quark. The up and down quarks are held together by the strong nuclear force, which is stronger than the electrostatic repulsion between them. However, this force only acts on particles with a net electric charge. Since neutrons have a net neutral charge, they are not affected by the strong nuclear force and are therefore unstable.

2. What causes neutrons to decay into protons?

Neutrons decay into protons through the process of beta decay. During beta decay, a neutron transforms into a proton by emitting an electron and an antineutrino. This process is mediated by the weak nuclear force, which is responsible for radioactive decay.

3. Why don't protons undergo radioactive decay?

Protons are the lightest and most stable baryon, meaning they are the most fundamental building blocks of matter. They are made up of two up quarks and one down quark, which are all held together by the strong nuclear force. This force is strong enough to overcome the weak nuclear force responsible for beta decay, making protons stable.

4. Can neutrons ever become stable?

There are currently no known methods to stabilize neutrons. However, scientists are researching ways to potentially extend the half-life of neutrons using technology such as neutron traps.

5. How does the stability of neutrons and protons impact the stability of an atom?

The number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom determines its stability. Atoms with an equal number of protons and neutrons are generally stable, while those with an unstable ratio of protons to neutrons may undergo radioactive decay. Therefore, the stability of neutrons and protons directly affects the stability of an atom.

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