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    #1

    Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    I'm practing my ability to exaplain things. I've written this post to ask if what I write is generally understandable, easy to follow, and if the reader can learn something from reading it.
    Could you please tell me what you think and, of course, if I have made any mistakes as far as language is concerend?


    You may remember from school that all atoms are composed of protons and neutrons in the nucleus, with electrons orbiting around them. Of course, this model is very simplified as it doesn't include a whole bunch of more exotic (sub)particles inside of the atom, and electrons don't actually orbit around the nucleus, but I'm going to use this model for the sake of simplicity, so the post isn't longer than it already is.

    The proton is a subatomic particle that defines of what element the atom is, thus determining its properties. Protons have mass and a positive electric charge, and they are located in the center of the atom, the nucleus.

    The electron has a negative electric charge, and doesn't have mass (it actually does, but it's several orders of magnitude smaller than that of a proton, so it's usually neglected). The number of electrons in an atom is equal to the number of protons in it. When there are more or fewer electrons than protons, the atom becoms an ion, which is much more reactive because it "tries" to return to the state of equilibrium by reacting with the envirnoment.

    And then, there's the neutron. At first glance, it doesn't do all that much. It has mass roughly equal to that of a proton (it's slightly heavier), and along with protons, neutrons form the nucleus. It has no electric charge, so it doesn't affect the way an atom interacts with other atoms. Because of that, atoms of the same element may have a different number of neutrons - we call them different isotopes of the same element. Except for having different mass, different isotopes of the same element react in the same way. It is perfectly possible for a compound to be composed of multiple isotopes of the same element, and behave exactly the same as if it were composed of only one kind of isotope.

    If the neutron doesn't affect the way an atom interacts with its envirnoment, why do they even exist? Why do we need them? To answer this question, we need to understand what the neutron truly is - an atom of hydrogen fused into one entity. Hydrogen is one electron orbiting around one proton. When fused together, they form a neutron with the combined mass of the both, and their positive and negative electic charges cancel each other out. However, we don't see lone neutrons existing outside of an atom; they quickly fall apart back to hydrogen. Nature always finds her way to release energy. Matter always tends to exist in its lowest energetic state possible, and because a neutron releases energy when it transforms into hydrogen, it tends to do exactly that.

    Nonetheless, neutrons don't turn into hydrogen when they're inside of an atom. Protons and neutrons in close proximity transform a portion of their mass into strong nuclear force that binds them together. The famous Einstein's equation E=mc2 states that mass is another form of energy. Because the neutron loses a portion of its mass to bind with other particles inside of the nucleus, it is in the lower energetic state than it would've been if it'd fallen apart into hydrogen. Particles with the same electric charge repel each other. This means that protons, which have a positive electric charge, cannot stick together; the repulsive force is too strong for strong nuclear force to bind two protons. Protons can, however, stick to neutrons. This means that neutrons function as a "buffer zone" between protons, effectively increasing the distance between them, which allows strong nuclear force to overcome the repulsion of positively charged protons. Without the neutron, there would be no elements other than hydrogen, and in extension, no chemistry as we know it.

    But even if neutrons "prefer" being inside of an atom to being outside of it, they'd still much rather fall apart into hydrogen. A lot of energy and pressure is required to squeeze an atom of hydrogen into a neutron in the first place. What could possibly have enough energy, and exert enough pressure to force an atom of hydrogen to become a neutron? A star. The enormous gravity of a star squeezes hydrogen into neutrones, and splices them into helium. An atom of helium is lighter than the four atoms of hydrogen that have been transformed into it, and that deficit of mass is converted into pure energy released by the star. Heavier stars can further squeeze and splice hydrogen into heavier elements. In fact, the ability to support nuclear fusion is what defines what a star is, and what distinguishes them from brown dwarfs and other sub-stellar objects.

    Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. The total number of atoms of hydrogen is higher than the number of atoms of all other elements combined. If we see neutrons as basicilly compressed hydrogen, that makes the proportion of hydrogen to other elements even higher. As a matter of fact, all matter could be seen as a form of spliced hydrogen for that matter. What I previously said about neutrons, that they can't exist outside of an atom, was not exactly true. There is one peculiar case where neutrons can exist outside of an atom, sort of. Really massive stars can fuse all of their hydrogen into one, huge ball of neutrons, held together by their gravity, which prevents them from falling apart. This is what is known as neutron stars, the stars composed entirely of neutrons. These extreme objects exert enough pressure to squeeze matter into one, huge nucleus, leaving only electron degeneracy pressure, the fundamental reluctancy of matter to occupying the same space, to fight against the gravity that would otherwise squeeze it even further, into one infinitely small and dense point, a black hole, which is created when an object is even more massive than a neutron star.


    I hope it was a good read.
    Last edited by Glizdka; 15-Jun-2019 at 06:08. Reason: fixed a few typos

  2. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    I'll take the last one first. Say:

    This is what is known as a neutron star, a star composed entirely of neutrons. (Incredibly dense.)

    I added the last part.
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    #3

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Say:

    inside the atom

    It took a considerable amount of research to learn all of that. Now all we have to do is read a book.

    It is put together quite well.
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  4. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Say:

    The proton is a subatomic particle that defines what an atom is, thus determining its properties.

    Originally it was thought that the electrons orbit the nucleus much like the planets orbit the sun. However, it is, as you stated, more complicated than that.
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    #5

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Quote Originally Posted by Tarheel View Post
    Say:

    The proton is a subatomic particle that defines what an atom is, thus determining its properties.
    Isn't it confusing? Doesn't it mean that "an atom is defined by the proton"? The number of protons only defines the element, not the atom itself.

    How about "...defines what atom it is..."?

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    #6

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    Isn't it confusing? Doesn't it mean that "an atom is defined by the proton"? The number of protons only defines the element, not the atom itself.

    How about "...defines what atom it is..."?
    Yes, that's better. ((Much better.)
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  7. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    Isn't it confusing? Doesn't it mean that "an atom is defined by the proton"? The number of protons only defines the element, not the atom itself.

    How about "...defines what atom it is..."?
    Having given that some thought, I think I meant to say that in the first place but the words got mixed up.

    Also, it is interesting to note that probus would also say the strong nuclear force.

    (I'm glad our sun is not a neutron star. We wouldn't exist.)
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    #8

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Quote Originally Posted by Tarheel View Post
    Also, it is interesting to note that probus would also say the strong nuclear force.
    Could you please skim the text, and check whether my choice of articles is correct, and where there's a missing article?

  9. Senior Member
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    #9

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Thanks, friend. It was difficult to resist writing about why some isotopes with an unballanced number of neutrons are unstable, but I thought it wasn't necessary.
    Do I get the green light from you for writing more about nuclear physics?

  10. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #10

    Re: Why we owe our lives to the neutron

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    Thanks, friend. It was difficult to resist writing about why some isotopes with an unbalanced number of neutrons are unstable, but I thought it wasn't necessary.
    Do I get the green light from you for writing more about nuclear physics?
    Go right ahead.

    (There are a couple more errors, but I'll get to them later if teechar doesn't.)
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