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Thread: How do neutrons and electrons come into existence?

  1. #1 How do neutrons and electrons come into existence? 
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    Are neutrons and electrons ever present outside of atoms? Are they just floating around in space? Are they too made up of atoms/neutrons/electrons etc, and if so how do they come into existence in the first place?

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    Moderator Moderator Janus's Avatar
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    Electrons are, as far as we know, fundamental particles, and are not made up of any smaller constituents. The vast majority of electrons were formed during the early moments of the Universe's formation. Free electrons can exist, but tend to interact with atoms when they encounter them.
    Neutrons are made up of three fundamental particles called quarks. These quarks, like electrons were formed during the early moments of the universe.* Neutrons on their own are not stable and have a half-life of ~15 min. Free neutrons (those outside the nucleus of an atom) will decay into a proton and electron ( protons are stable and are also made from quarks.) While in general, neutrons mixed in with protons in the nucleus of an atom are stable, in some atoms, there is an excess of neutrons. In these instances, a neutron can decay into a proton and electron, adding an proton to the nucleus (making it an atom of a different element) and ejecting the electron from the nucleus. In some cases, there might be an excess of protons, and a proton will actually convert into a neutron by emitting a positron (an anti-electron). This is not very common and occurs only under special circumstances.
    So in essence, what we have now is a mix of particles mostly made up of ones that formed early on and some that formed from the process of decay that goes on even today.

    * when our universe was really young, it was very hot and dense. At first there was no way to distinguish between matter and energy. Then as it expanded and cooled, it eventually reached a kind of "quark soup"( which also included electrons), which cooled further causing the quarks to collect into neutrons, protons, etc.

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