Category: protons

What Was It Like When We First Made Protons And Neutrons?

“But at this stage, the biggest new thing that occurs is that particles are no longer individual-and-free on all scales. Instead, for the first time, the Universe has created a stable, bound state of multiple particles. A proton is two up and one down quark, bound by gluons, while a neutron is one up and two down quarks, bound by gluons. Only because we created more matter than antimatter do we have a Universe that has protons and neutrons left over; only because the Higgs gave rest mass to the fundamental particles do we get these bound, atomic nuclei.

Owing to the nature of the strong force, and the tremendous binding energy that occurs in these stretched-spring-like interactions between the quarks, the masses of the proton and neutron are some 100 times heavier than the quarks that make them up. The Higgs gave mass to the Universe, but confinement is what gives us 99% of our mass. Without protons and neutrons, our Universe would never be the same.”

The very early Universe looks nothing like our Universe today. Not only are there no stars or galaxies, but there weren’t any atoms or atomic nuclei. If we go back early enough, there weren’t even protons or neutrons, but free quarks (and antiquarks) instead. This era lasted for just 10-to-20 microseconds in the early Universe, but the story of how we went from a quark-gluon plasma to a Universe filled with protons and neutrons is a fascinating true part of our shared cosmic history.

Here’s what the Universe was like when we first made protons and neutrons, along with a list of all the things we needed to line up to lead to the Universe we recognize today!

The Scientific Story Of How Each Element Was Made

“Neutron star mergers create the greatest heavy element abundances of all, including gold, mercury, and platinum.

Meanwhile, cosmic rays blast nuclei apart, creating the Universe’s lithium, beryllium, and boron.

Finally, the heaviest, unstable elements are made in terrestrial laboratories.

The result is the rich, diverse Universe we inhabit today.”

When the Big Bang first occurred, the Universe was filled with all the various particles and antiparticles making up the Standard Model, and perhaps still others yet to be discovered. But missing from the list were protons, neutrons, or any of the atomic nuclei key to the life-giving elements in our Universe today. Yet the Universe expanded, cooled, antimatter annihilated away, and the first elements began to take shape. After billions of years of cosmic evolution, we arrived at a Universe recognizable today: full of stars, planets, and the full complement of elements populating the periodic table. More than 100 elements are known today, 91 of which are found to occur naturally on Earth. Some were formed in the Big Bang, others were formed in stars, still others were formed in violent cosmic cataclysms or collisions. Yet every one has an origin whose story is now known, giving rise to all we interact with today.

Come get the full story behind how all the elements were made in some fantastic pictures, visuals, and no more than 200 words on this edition of Mostly Mute Monday!