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Question:
Can protons be crushed into smaller pieces?



Replies:
Well, how about "split", "dismantled", or "smashed"? I think the general idea behind the question is clear! Protons are used in "atom-smashers" which collide the protons with other particles at very high energies. From these experiments it is pretty clear that the proton consists of 3 smaller particles all packed together, but it is not possible to separate those quarks one at a time. However, they can be rearranged in the collision to produce new particles... If you meant by crushing just applying a lot of pressure, the pressure that would be needed is far beyond anything we can reach here on earth, in order to have any perceptible effect. However, neutron stars do reach that kind of pressure - what they do is combine the electrons that used to be part of atoms in the star with the protons to form neutrons, which then can be compressed to very high pressure and density. But that is a different effect from the "smashing" of protons into smaller pieces.

Arthur Smith



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