The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol
, with no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behave similarly within the nucleus, and each has a mass of approximately one atomic mass unit, they are both referred to as nucleons. Their properties and interactions are described by nuclear physics.
The chemical and nuclear properties of the nucleus are determined by the number of protons, called the atomic number, and the number of neutrons, called the neutron number. The atomic mass number is the total number of nucleons. For example, carbon has atomic number 6, and its abundant carbon-12 isotope has 6 neutrons, whereas its rare carbon-13 isotope has 7 neutrons. Some elements occur in nature with only one stable isotope, such as fluorine. Other elements occur with many stable isotopes, such as tin with ten stable isotopes.
Within the nucleus, protons and neutrons are bound together through the nuclear force. Neutrons are required for the stability of nuclei, with the exception of the single-proton hydrogen atom. Neutrons are produced copiously in nuclear fission and fusion. They are a primary contributor to the nucleosynthesis of chemical elements within stars through fission, fusion, and neutron capture processes.
The neutron is essential to the production of nuclear power. In the decade after the neutron was discovered by James Chadwick in 1932, neutrons were used to induce many different types of nuclear transmutations. With the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938, it was quickly realized that, if a fission event produced neutrons, each of these neutrons might cause further fission events, etc., in a cascade known as a nuclear chain reaction. These events and findings led to the first self-sustaining nuclear reactor (Chicago Pile-1, 1942) and the first nuclear weapon (Trinity, 1945).
Free neutrons, while not directly ionizing atoms, cause ionizing radiation. As such they can be a biological hazard, depending upon dose. A small natural "neutron background" flux of free neutrons exists on Earth, caused by cosmic ray showers, and by the natural radioactivity of spontaneously fissionable elements in the Earth's crust. Dedicated neutron sources like neutron generators, research reactors and spallation sources produce free neutrons for use in irradiation and in neutron scattering experiments.
|Composition||1 up quark, 2 down quarks|
|Interactions||Gravity, weak, strong, electromagnetic|
|Theorized||Ernest Rutherford (1920)|
|Discovered||James Chadwick (1932)|
|Mean lifetime||881.5(15) s (free)|
|Electric charge||0 e|
(−2±8)×10−22 e (experimental limits)
|Electric dipole moment||< 2.9×10−26 e⋅cm (experimental upper limit)|
|Electric polarizability||1.16(15)×10−3 fm3|
|Magnetic moment||−0.96623650(23)×10−26 J·T−1|
|Magnetic polarizability||3.7(20)×10−4 fm3|
|Condensed||I(JP) = 1/(1/+)|
Atomic nuclei are formed by a number of protons, Z the atomic number, and a number of neutrons, N the neutron number, bound together by the nuclear force. The atomic number defines the chemical properties of the atom, and the neutron number determines the isotope or nuclide. The terms isotope and nuclide are often used synonymously, but they refer to chemical and nuclear properties, respectively. Strictly speaking, isotopes are two or more nuclides with the same number of protons; nuclides with the same number of neutrons are called isotones. The atomic mass number, symbol A, equals Z+N. Nuclides with the same atomic mass number are called isobars. The nucleus of the most common isotope of the hydrogen atom (with the chemical symbol 1H) is a lone proton. The nuclei of the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium (D or 2H) and tritium (T or 3H) contain one proton bound to one and two neutrons, respectively. All other types of atomic nuclei are composed of two or more protons and various numbers of neutrons. The most common nuclide of the common chemical element lead, 208Pb, has 82 protons and 126 neutrons, for example. The table of nuclides comprises all the known nuclides. Even though it is not a chemical element, the neutron is included in this table.
The free neutron has a mass of 939,565,413.3 eV/c2, or 1.674927471×10−27 kg, or 1.00866491588 u. The neutron has a mean square radius of about 0.8×10−15 m, or 0.8 fm, and it is a spin-½ fermion. The neutron has no measurable electric charge. With its positive electric charge, the proton is directly influenced by electric fields, whereas the neutron is unaffected by electric fields. The neutron has a magnetic moment, however, so the neutron is influenced by magnetic fields. The neutron's magnetic moment has a negative value, because its orientation is opposite to the neutron's spin.
A free neutron is unstable, decaying to a proton, electron and antineutrino with a mean lifetime of just under 15 minutes (881.5±1.5 s). This radioactive decay, known as beta decay, is possible because the mass of the neutron is slightly greater than the proton. The free proton is stable. Neutrons or protons bound in a nucleus can be stable or unstable, however, depending on the nuclide. Beta decay, in which neutrons decay to protons, or vice versa, is governed by the weak force, and it requires the emission or absorption of electrons and neutrinos, or their antiparticles.
Protons and neutrons behave almost identically under the influence of the nuclear force within the nucleus. The concept of isospin, in which the proton and neutron are viewed as two quantum states of the same particle, is used to model the interactions of nucleons by the nuclear or weak forces. Because of the strength of the nuclear force at short distances, the binding energy of nucleons is more than seven orders of magnitude larger than the electromagnetic energy binding electrons in atoms. Nuclear reactions (such as nuclear fission) therefore have an energy density that is more than ten million times that of chemical reactions. Because of the mass–energy equivalence, nuclear binding energies add or subtract from the mass of nuclei. Ultimately, the ability of the nuclear force to store energy arising from the electromagnetic repulsion of nuclear components is the basis for most of the energy that makes nuclear reactors or bombs possible. In nuclear fission, the absorption of a neutron by a heavy nuclide (e.g., uranium-235) causes the nuclide to become unstable and break into light nuclides and additional neutrons. The positively charged light nuclides then repel, releasing electromagnetic potential energy.
The neutron is classified as a hadron, because it is a composite particle made of quarks. The neutron is also classified as a baryon, because it is composed of three valence quarks. The finite size of the neutron and its magnetic moment indicates that the neutron is a composite particle, as opposed to being an elementary particle. A neutron contains two down quarks with charge −1⁄3 e and one up quark with charge +2⁄3 e.
Like protons, the quarks of the neutron are held together by the strong force, mediated by gluons. The nuclear force results from secondary effects of the more fundamental strong force.
The story of the discovery of the neutron and its properties is central to the extraordinary developments in atomic physics that occurred in the first half of the 20th century, leading ultimately to the atomic bomb in 1945. In the 1911 Rutherford model, the atom consisted of a small positively charged massive nucleus surrounded by a much larger cloud of negatively charged electrons. In 1920, Rutherford suggested that the nucleus consisted of positive protons and neutrally-charged particles, suggested to be a proton and an electron bound in some way. Electrons were assumed to reside within the nucleus because it was known that beta radiation consisted of electrons emitted from the nucleus. Rutherford called these uncharged particles neutrons, by the Latin root for neutralis (neuter) and the Greek suffix -on (a suffix used in the names of subatomic particles, i.e. electron and proton). References to the word neutron in connection with the atom can be found in the literature as early as 1899, however.
Throughout the 1920s, physicists assumed that the atomic nucleus was composed of protons and "nuclear electrons" but there were obvious problems. It was difficult to reconcile the proton–electron model for nuclei with the Heisenberg uncertainty relation of quantum mechanics. The Klein paradox, discovered by Oskar Klein in 1928, presented further quantum mechanical objections to the notion of an electron confined within a nucleus. Observed properties of atoms and molecules were inconsistent with the nuclear spin expected from the proton–electron hypothesis. Since both protons and electrons carry an intrinsic spin of ½ ħ, there is no way to arrange an odd number of spins ±½ ħ to give a spin integer multiple of ħ. Nuclei with integer spin are common, e.g., 14N.
In 1931, Walther Bothe and Herbert Becker found that if alpha particle radiation from polonium fell on beryllium, boron, or lithium, an unusually penetrating radiation was produced. The radiation was not influenced by an electric field, so Bothe and Becker assumed it was gamma radiation. The following year Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie in Paris showed that if this "gamma" radiation fell on paraffin, or any other hydrogen-containing compound, it ejected protons of very high energy. Neither Rutherford nor James Chadwick at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge were convinced by the gamma ray interpretation. Chadwick quickly performed a series of experiments that showed that the new radiation consisted of uncharged particles with about the same mass as the proton. These particles were neutrons. Chadwick won the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery in 1935.
Models for atomic nucleus consisting of protons and neutrons were quickly developed by Werner Heisenberg and others. The proton–neutron model explained the puzzle of nuclear spins. The origins of beta radiation were explained by Enrico Fermi in 1934 by the process of beta decay, in which the neutron decays to a proton by creating an electron and a (as yet undiscovered) neutrino. In 1935 Chadwick and his doctoral student Maurice Goldhaber, reported the first accurate measurement of the mass of the neutron.
By 1934, Fermi had bombarded heavier elements with neutrons to induce radioactivity in elements of high atomic number. In 1938, Fermi received the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons". In 1938 Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission, or the fractionation of uranium nuclei into light elements, induced by neutron bombardment. In 1945 Hahn received the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his discovery of the fission of heavy atomic nuclei." The discovery of nuclear fission would lead to the development of nuclear power and the atomic bomb by the end of World War II.
Under the Standard Model of particle physics, the only possible decay mode for the neutron that conserves baryon number is for one of the neutron's quarks to change flavour via the weak interaction. The decay of one of the neutron's down quarks into a lighter up quark can be achieved by the emission of a W boson. By this process, the Standard Model description of beta decay, the neutron decays into a proton (which contains one down and two up quarks), an electron, and an electron antineutrino.
Since interacting protons have a mutual electromagnetic repulsion that is stronger than their attractive nuclear interaction, neutrons are a necessary constituent of any atomic nucleus that contains more than one proton (see diproton and neutron–proton ratio). Neutrons bind with protons and one another in the nucleus via the nuclear force, effectively moderating the repulsive forces between the protons and stabilizing the nucleus.
Outside the nucleus, free neutrons are unstable and have a mean lifetime of 881.5±1.5 s (about 14 minutes, 42 seconds); therefore the half-life for this process (which differs from the mean lifetime by a factor of ln(2) = 0.693) is 611.0±1.0 s (about 10 minutes, 11 seconds). Beta decay of the neutron, described above, can be denoted by the radioactive decay:
e denote the proton, electron and electron antineutrino, respectively. For the free neutron the decay energy for this process (based on the masses of the neutron, proton, and electron) is 0.782343 MeV. The maximal energy of the beta decay electron (in the process wherein the neutrino receives a vanishingly small amount of kinetic energy) has been measured at 0.782 ± 0.013 MeV. The latter number is not well-enough measured to determine the comparatively tiny rest mass of the neutrino (which must in theory be subtracted from the maximal electron kinetic energy) as well as neutrino mass is constrained by many other methods.
A small fraction (about one in 1000) of free neutrons decay with the same products, but add an extra particle in the form of an emitted gamma ray:
This gamma ray may be thought of as an "internal bremsstrahlung" that arises from the electromagnetic interaction of the emitted beta particle with the proton. Internal bremsstrahlung gamma ray production is also a minor feature of beta decays of bound neutrons (as discussed below).
A very small minority of neutron decays (about four per million) are so-called "two-body (neutron) decays", in which a proton, electron and antineutrino are produced as usual, but the electron fails to gain the 13.6 eV necessary energy to escape the proton (the ionization energy of hydrogen), and therefore simply remains bound to it, as a neutral hydrogen atom (one of the "two bodies"). In this type of free neutron decay, almost all of the neutron decay energy is carried off by the antineutrino (the other "body"). (The hydrogen atom recoils with a speed of only about (decay energy)/(hydrogen rest energy) times the speed of light, or 250 km/s.)
The transformation of a free proton to a neutron (plus a positron and a neutrino) is energetically impossible, since a free neutron has a greater mass than a free proton. But a high-energy collision of a proton and an electron or neutrino can result in a neutron.
While a free neutron has a half life of about 10.2 min, most neutrons within nuclei are stable. According to the nuclear shell model, the protons and neutrons of a nuclide are a quantum mechanical system organized into discrete energy levels with unique quantum numbers. For a neutron to decay, the resulting proton requires an available state at lower energy than the initial neutron state. In stable nuclei the possible lower energy states are all filled, meaning they are each occupied by two protons with spin up and spin down. The Pauli exclusion principle therefore disallows the decay of a neutron to a proton within stable nuclei. The situation is similar to electrons of an atom, where electrons have distinct atomic orbitals and are prevented from decaying to lower energy states, with the emission of a photon, by the exclusion principle.
Neutrons in unstable nuclei can decay by beta decay as described above. In this case, an energetically allowed quantum state is available for the proton resulting from the decay. One example of this decay is carbon-14 (6 protons, 8 neutrons) that decays to nitrogen-14 (7 protons, 7 neutrons) with a half-life of about 5,730 years.
Inside a nucleus, a proton can transform into a neutron via inverse beta decay, if an energetically allowed quantum state is available for the neutron. This transformation occurs by emission of a positron and an electron neutrino:
The transformation of a proton to a neutron inside of a nucleus is also possible through electron capture:
Positron capture by neutrons in nuclei that contain an excess of neutrons is also possible, but is hindered because positrons are repelled by the positive nucleus, and quickly annihilate when they encounter electrons.
Three types of beta decay in competition are illustrated by the single isotope copper-64 (29 protons, 35 neutrons), which has a half-life of about 12.7 hours. This isotope has one unpaired proton and one unpaired neutron, so either the proton or the neutron can decay. This particular nuclide is almost equally likely to undergo proton decay (by positron emission, 18% or by electron capture, 43%) or neutron decay (by electron emission, 39%).
The mass of a neutron cannot be directly determined by mass spectrometry due to lack of electric charge. However, since the masses of a proton and of a deuteron can be measured with a mass spectrometer, the mass of a neutron can be deduced by subtracting proton mass from deuteron mass, with the difference being the mass of the neutron plus the binding energy of deuterium (expressed as a positive emitted energy). The latter can be directly measured by measuring the energy () of the single 0.7822 MeV gamma photon emitted when neutrons are captured by protons (this is exothermic and happens with zero-energy neutrons), plus the small recoil kinetic energy () of the deuteron (about 0.06% of the total energy).
The energy of the gamma ray can be measured to high precision by X-ray diffraction techniques, as was first done by Bell and Elliot in 1948. The best modern (1986) values for neutron mass by this technique are provided by Greene, et al. These give a neutron mass of:
Another method to determine the mass of a neutron starts from the beta decay of the neutron, when the momenta of the resulting proton and electron are measured.
The total electric charge of the neutron is 0 e. This zero value has been tested experimentally, and the present experimental limit for the charge of the neutron is −2(8)×10−22 e, or −3(13)×10−41 C. This value is consistent with zero, given the experimental uncertainties (indicated in parentheses). By comparison, the charge of the proton is +1 e.
Even though the neutron is a neutral particle, the magnetic moment of a neutron is not zero. The neutron is not affected by electric fields, but it is affected by magnetic fields. The magnetic moment of the neutron is an indication of its quark substructure and internal charge distribution. The value for the neutron's magnetic moment was first directly measured by Luis Alvarez and Felix Bloch at Berkeley, California, in 1940, using an extension of the magnetic resonance methods developed by Rabi. Alvarez and Bloch determined the magnetic moment of the neutron to be μn= −1.93(2) μN, where μN is the nuclear magneton.
In the quark model for hadrons, the neutron is composed of one up quark (charge +2/3 e) and two down quarks (charge −1/3 e). The magnetic moment of the neutron can be modeled as a sum of the magnetic moments of the constituent quarks. The calculation assumes that the quarks behave like pointlike Dirac particles, each having their own magnetic moment. Simplistically, the magnetic moment of the neutron can be viewed as resulting from the vector sum of the three quark magnetic moments, plus the orbital magnetic moments caused by the movement of the three charged quarks within the neutron.
In one of the early successes of the Standard Model (SU(6) theory, now understood in terms of quark behavior), in 1964 Mirza A.B. Beg, Benjamin W. Lee, and Abraham Pais theoretically calculated the ratio of proton to neutron magnetic moments to be −3/2, which agrees with the experimental value to within 3%. The measured value for this ratio is −1.45989805(34). A contradiction of the quantum mechanical basis of this calculation with the Pauli exclusion principle, led to the discovery of the color charge for quarks by Oscar W. Greenberg in 1964.
The above treatment compares neutrons with protons, allowing the complex behavior of quarks to be subtracted out between models, and merely exploring what the effects would be of differing quark charges (or quark type). Such calculations are enough to show that the interior of neutrons is very much like that of protons, save for the difference in quark composition with a down quark in the neutron replacing an up quark in the proton.
Attempts have been made to quantitatively recover the neutron magnetic moment from first principles. From the nonrelativistic, quantum mechanical wavefunction for baryons composed of three quarks, a straightforward calculation gives fairly accurate estimates for the magnetic moments of neutrons, protons, and other baryons. For a neutron, the end result of this calculation is that the magnetic moment of the neutron is given by μn= 4/3 μd − 1/3 μu, where μd and μu are the magnetic moments for the down and up quarks, respectively. This result combines the intrinsic magnetic moments of the quarks with their orbital magnetic moments, and assumes the three quarks are in a particular, dominant quantum state.
of quark model
|p||4/3 μu − 1/3 μd||2.79||2.793|
|n||4/3 μd − 1/3 μu||−1.86||−1.913|
The results of this calculation are encouraging, but the masses of the up or down quarks were assumed to be 1/3 the mass of a nucleon. The masses of the quarks are actually only about 1% that of a nucleon. The discrepancy stems from the complexity of the Standard Model for nucleons, where most of their mass originates in the gluon fields, virtual particles, and their associated energy that are essential aspects of the strong force. Furthermore, the complex system of quarks and gluons that constitute a neutron requires a relativistic treatment. The nucleon magnetic moment has been successfully computed numerically from first principles, however, including all the effects mentioned and using more realistic values for the quark masses. The calculation gave results that were in fair agreement with measurement, but it required significant computing resources.
The neutron is a spin 1/2 particle, that is, it is a fermion with intrinsic angular momentum equal to 1/2 ħ, where ħ is the reduced Planck constant. For many years after the discovery of the neutron, its exact spin was ambiguous. Although it was assumed to be a spin 1/2 Dirac particle, the possibility that the neutron was a spin 3/2 particle lingered. The interactions of the neutron's magnetic moment with an external magnetic field were exploited to finally determine the spin of the neutron. In 1949, Hughes and Burgy measured neutrons reflected from a ferromagnetic mirror and found that the angular distribution of the reflections was consistent with spin 1/2. In 1954, Sherwood, Stephenson, and Bernstein employed neutrons in a Stern–Gerlach experiment that used a magnetic field to separate the neutron spin states. They recorded two such spin states, consistent with a spin 1/2 particle.
As a fermion, the neutron is subject to the Pauli exclusion principle; two neutrons cannot have the same quantum numbers. This is the source of the degeneracy pressure which makes neutron stars possible.
An article published in 2007 featuring a model-independent analysis concluded that the neutron has a negatively charged exterior, a positively charged middle, and a negative core. In a simplified classical view, the negative "skin" of the neutron assists it to be attracted to the protons with which it interacts in the nucleus. (However, the main attraction between neutrons and protons is via the nuclear force, which does not involve electric charge.)
The simplified classical view of the neutron's charge distribution also "explains" the fact that the neutron magnetic dipole points in the opposite direction from its spin angular momentum vector (as compared to the proton). This gives the neutron, in effect, a magnetic moment which resembles a negatively charged particle. This can be reconciled classically with a neutral neutron composed of a charge distribution in which the negative sub-parts of the neutron have a larger average radius of distribution, and therefore contribute more to the particle's magnetic dipole moment, than do the positive parts that are, on average, nearer the core.
The Standard Model of particle physics predicts a tiny separation of positive and negative charge within the neutron leading to a permanent electric dipole moment. The predicted value is, however, well below the current sensitivity of experiments. From several unsolved puzzles in particle physics, it is clear that the Standard Model is not the final and full description of all particles and their interactions. New theories going beyond the Standard Model generally lead to much larger predictions for the electric dipole moment of the neutron. Currently, there are at least four experiments trying to measure for the first time a finite neutron electric dipole moment, including:
The antineutron is the antiparticle of the neutron. It was discovered by Bruce Cork in 1956, a year after the antiproton was discovered. CPT-symmetry puts strong constraints on the relative properties of particles and antiparticles, so studying antineutrons provides stringent tests on CPT-symmetry. The fractional difference in the masses of the neutron and antineutron is (9±6)×10−5. Since the difference is only about two standard deviations away from zero, this does not give any convincing evidence of CPT-violation.
The existence of stable clusters of 4 neutrons, or tetraneutrons, has been hypothesised by a team led by Francisco-Miguel Marqués at the CNRS Laboratory for Nuclear Physics based on observations of the disintegration of beryllium-14 nuclei. This is particularly interesting because current theory suggests that these clusters should not be stable.
In February 2016, Japanese physicist Susumu Shimoura of the University of Tokyo and co-workers reported they had observed the purported tetraneutrons for the first time experimentally. Nuclear physicists around the world say this discovery, if confirmed, would be a milestone in the field of nuclear physics and certainly would deepen our understanding of the nuclear forces.
The dineutron is another hypothetical particle. In 2012, Artemis Spyrou from Michigan State University and coworkers reported that they observed, for the first time, the dineutron emission in the decay of 16Be. The dineutron character is evidenced by a small emission angle between the two neutrons. The authors measured the two-neutron separation energy to be 1.35(10) MeV, in good agreement with shell model calculations, using standard interactions for this mass region.
The extreme pressure inside a neutron star may deform the neutrons into a cubic symmetry, allowing tighter packing of neutrons.
The common means of detecting a charged particle by looking for a track of ionization (such as in a cloud chamber) does not work for neutrons directly. Neutrons that elastically scatter off atoms can create an ionization track that is detectable, but the experiments are not as simple to carry out; other means for detecting neutrons, consisting of allowing them to interact with atomic nuclei, are more commonly used. The commonly used methods to detect neutrons can therefore be categorized according to the nuclear processes relied upon, mainly neutron capture or elastic scattering.
A common method for detecting neutrons involves converting the energy released from neutron capture reactions into electrical signals. Certain nuclides have a high neutron capture cross section, which is the probability of absorbing a neutron. Upon neutron capture, the compound nucleus emits more easily detectable radiation, for example an alpha particle, which is then detected. The nuclides 3
, and 239
are useful for this purpose.
Neutrons can elastically scatter off nuclei, causing the struck nucleus to recoil. Kinematically, a neutron can transfer more energy to a light nucleus such as hydrogen or helium than to a heavier nucleus. Detectors relying on elastic scattering are called fast neutron detectors. Recoiling nuclei can ionize and excite further atoms through collisions. Charge and/or scintillation light produced in this way can be collected to produce a detected signal. A major challenge in fast neutron detection is discerning such signals from erroneous signals produced by gamma radiation in the same detector.
Fast neutron detectors have the advantage of not requiring a moderator, and are therefore capable of measuring the neutron's energy, time of arrival, and in certain cases direction of incidence.
Free neutrons are unstable, although they have the longest half-life of any unstable subatomic particle by several orders of magnitude. Their half-life is still only about 10 minutes, however, so they can be obtained only from sources that produce them continuously.
Natural neutron background. A small natural background flux of free neutrons exists everywhere on Earth. In the atmosphere and deep into the ocean, the "neutron background" is caused by muons produced by cosmic ray interaction with the atmosphere. These high-energy muons are capable of penetration to considerable depths in water and soil. There, in striking atomic nuclei, among other reactions they induce spallation reactions in which a neutron is liberated from the nucleus. Within the Earth's crust a second source is neutrons produced primarily by spontaneous fission of uranium and thorium present in crustal minerals. The neutron background is not strong enough to be a biological hazard, but it is of importance to very high resolution particle detectors that are looking for very rare events, such as (hypothesized) interactions that might be caused by particles of dark matter. Recent research has shown that even thunderstorms can produce neutrons with energies of up to several tens of MeV. Recent research has shown that the fluence of these neutrons lies between 10−9 and 10−13 per ms and per m2 depending on the detection altitude. The energy of most of these neutrons, even with initial energies of 20 MeV, decreases down to the keV range within 1 ms.
Even stronger neutron background radiation is produced at the surface of Mars, where the atmosphere is thick enough to generate neutrons from cosmic ray muon production and neutron-spallation, but not thick enough to provide significant protection from the neutrons produced. These neutrons not only produce a Martian surface neutron radiation hazard from direct downward-going neutron radiation but may also produce a significant hazard from reflection of neutrons from the Martian surface, which will produce reflected neutron radiation penetrating upward into a Martian craft or habitat from the floor.
Sources of neutrons for research. These include certain types of radioactive decay (spontaneous fission and neutron emission), and from certain nuclear reactions. Convenient nuclear reactions include tabletop reactions such as natural alpha and gamma bombardment of certain nuclides, often beryllium or deuterium, and induced nuclear fission, such as occurs in nuclear reactors. In addition, high-energy nuclear reactions (such as occur in cosmic radiation showers or accelerator collisions) also produce neutrons from disintegration of target nuclei. Small (tabletop) particle accelerators optimized to produce free neutrons in this way, are called neutron generators.
In practice, the most commonly used small laboratory sources of neutrons use radioactive decay to power neutron production. One noted neutron-producing radioisotope, californium-252 decays (half-life 2.65 years) by spontaneous fission 3% of the time with production of 3.7 neutrons per fission, and is used alone as a neutron source from this process. Nuclear reaction sources (that involve two materials) powered by radioisotopes use an alpha decay source plus a beryllium target, or else a source of high-energy gamma radiation from a source that undergoes beta decay followed by gamma decay, which produces photoneutrons on interaction of the high-energy gamma ray with ordinary stable beryllium, or else with the deuterium in heavy water. A popular source of the latter type is radioactive antimony-124 plus beryllium, a system with a half-life of 60.9 days, which can be constructed from natural antimony (which is 42.8% stable antimony-123) by activating it with neutrons in a nuclear reactor, then transported to where the neutron source is needed.
Nuclear fission reactors naturally produce free neutrons; their role is to sustain the energy-producing chain reaction. The intense neutron radiation can also be used to produce various radioisotopes through the process of neutron activation, which is a type of neutron capture.
Experimental nuclear fusion reactors produce free neutrons as a waste product. However, it is these neutrons that possess most of the energy, and converting that energy to a useful form has proved a difficult engineering challenge. Fusion reactors that generate neutrons are likely to create radioactive waste, but the waste is composed of neutron-activated lighter isotopes, which have relatively short (50–100 years) decay periods as compared to typical half-lives of 10,000 years for fission waste, which is long due primarily to the long half-life of alpha-emitting transuranic actinides.
Free neutron beams are obtained from neutron sources by neutron transport. For access to intense neutron sources, researchers must go to a specialized neutron facility that operates a research reactor or a spallation source.
The neutron's lack of total electric charge makes it difficult to steer or accelerate them. Charged particles can be accelerated, decelerated, or deflected by electric or magnetic fields. These methods have little effect on neutrons. However, some effects may be attained by use of inhomogeneous magnetic fields because of the neutron's magnetic moment. Neutrons can be controlled by methods that include moderation, reflection, and velocity selection. Thermal neutrons can be polarized by transmission through magnetic materials in a method analogous to the Faraday effect for photons. Cold neutrons of wavelengths of 6–7 angstroms can be produced in beams of a high degree of polarization, by use of magnetic mirrors and magnetized interference filters.
The neutron plays an important role in many nuclear reactions. For example, neutron capture often results in neutron activation, inducing radioactivity. In particular, knowledge of neutrons and their behavior has been important in the development of nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. The fissioning of elements like uranium-235 and plutonium-239 is caused by their absorption of neutrons.
Cold, thermal, and hot neutron radiation is commonly employed in neutron scattering facilities, where the radiation is used in a similar way one uses X-rays for the analysis of condensed matter. Neutrons are complementary to the latter in terms of atomic contrasts by different scattering cross sections; sensitivity to magnetism; energy range for inelastic neutron spectroscopy; and deep penetration into matter.
The development of "neutron lenses" based on total internal reflection within hollow glass capillary tubes or by reflection from dimpled aluminum plates has driven ongoing research into neutron microscopy and neutron/gamma ray tomography.
A major use of neutrons is to excite delayed and prompt gamma rays from elements in materials. This forms the basis of neutron activation analysis (NAA) and prompt gamma neutron activation analysis (PGNAA). NAA is most often used to analyze small samples of materials in a nuclear reactor whilst PGNAA is most often used to analyze subterranean rocks around bore holes and industrial bulk materials on conveyor belts.
Another use of neutron emitters is the detection of light nuclei, in particular the hydrogen found in water molecules. When a fast neutron collides with a light nucleus, it loses a large fraction of its energy. By measuring the rate at which slow neutrons return to the probe after reflecting off of hydrogen nuclei, a neutron probe may determine the water content in soil.
Because neutron radiation is both penetrating and ionizing, it can be exploited for medical treatments. Neutron radiation can have the unfortunate side-effect of leaving the affected area radioactive, however. Neutron tomography is therefore not a viable medical application.
Fast neutron therapy utilizes high-energy neutrons typically greater than 20 MeV to treat cancer. Radiation therapy of cancers is based upon the biological response of cells to ionizing radiation. If radiation is delivered in small sessions to damage cancerous areas, normal tissue will have time to repair itself, while tumor cells often cannot. Neutron radiation can deliver energy to a cancerous region at a rate an order of magnitude larger than gamma radiation
Beams of low-energy neutrons are used in boron capture therapy to treat cancer. In boron capture therapy, the patient is given a drug that contains boron and that preferentially accumulates in the tumor to be targeted. The tumor is then bombarded with very low-energy neutrons (although often higher than thermal energy) which are captured by the boron-10 isotope in the boron, which produces an excited state of boron-11 that then decays to produce lithium-7 and an alpha particle that have sufficient energy to kill the malignant cell, but insufficient range to damage nearby cells. For such a therapy to be applied to the treatment of cancer, a neutron source having an intensity of the order of a thousand million (109) neutrons per second per cm2 is preferred. Such fluxes require a research nuclear reactor.
Exposure to free neutrons can be hazardous, since the interaction of neutrons with molecules in the body can cause disruption to molecules and atoms, and can also cause reactions that give rise to other forms of radiation (such as protons). The normal precautions of radiation protection apply: Avoid exposure, stay as far from the source as possible, and keep exposure time to a minimum. Some particular thought must be given to how to protect from neutron exposure, however. For other types of radiation, e.g., alpha particles, beta particles, or gamma rays, material of a high atomic number and with high density make for good shielding; frequently, lead is used. However, this approach will not work with neutrons, since the absorption of neutrons does not increase straightforwardly with atomic number, as it does with alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Instead one needs to look at the particular interactions neutrons have with matter (see the section on detection above). For example, hydrogen-rich materials are often used to shield against neutrons, since ordinary hydrogen both scatters and slows neutrons. This often means that simple concrete blocks or even paraffin-loaded plastic blocks afford better protection from neutrons than do far more dense materials. After slowing, neutrons may then be absorbed with an isotope that has high affinity for slow neutrons without causing secondary capture radiation, such as lithium-6.
Hydrogen-rich ordinary water affects neutron absorption in nuclear fission reactors: Usually, neutrons are so strongly absorbed by normal water that fuel enrichment with fissionable isotope is required. The deuterium in heavy water has a very much lower absorption affinity for neutrons than does protium (normal light hydrogen). Deuterium is, therefore, used in CANDU-type reactors, in order to slow (moderate) neutron velocity, to increase the probability of nuclear fission compared to neutron capture.
A thermal neutron is a free neutron that is Boltzmann distributed with kT= 0.0253 eV (4.0×10−21 J) at room temperature. This gives characteristic (not average, or median) speed of 2.2 km/s. The name 'thermal' comes from their energy being that of the room temperature gas or material they are permeating. (see kinetic theory for energies and speeds of molecules). After a number of collisions (often in the range of 10–20) with nuclei, neutrons arrive at this energy level, provided that they are not absorbed.
In many substances, thermal neutron reactions show a much larger effective cross-section than reactions involving faster neutrons, and thermal neutrons can therefore be absorbed more readily (i.e., with higher probability) by any atomic nuclei that they collide with, creating a heavier – and often unstable – isotope of the chemical element as a result.
Most fission reactors use a neutron moderator to slow down, or thermalize the neutrons that are emitted by nuclear fission so that they are more easily captured, causing further fission. Others, called fast breeder reactors, use fission energy neutrons directly.
Cold neutrons are thermal neutrons that have been equilibrated in a very cold substance such as liquid deuterium. Such a cold source is placed in the moderator of a research reactor or spallation source. Cold neutrons are particularly valuable for neutron scattering experiments.
Ultracold neutrons are produced by elastically scattering cold neutrons in substances with a temperature of a few kelvins, such as solid deuterium or superfluid helium. An alternative production method is the mechanical deceleration of cold neutrons.
A fast neutron is a free neutron with a kinetic energy level close to 1 MeV (1.6×10−13 J), hence a speed of ~14000 km/s (~ 5% of the speed of light). They are named fission energy or fast neutrons to distinguish them from lower-energy thermal neutrons, and high-energy neutrons produced in cosmic showers or accelerators. Fast neutrons are produced by nuclear processes such as nuclear fission. Neutrons produced in fission, as noted above, have a Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution of kinetic energies from 0 to ~14 MeV, a mean energy of 2 MeV (for U-235 fission neutrons), and a mode of only 0.75 MeV, which means that more than half of them do not qualify as fast (and thus have almost no chance of initiating fission in fertile materials, such as U-238 and Th-232).
Fast neutrons can be made into thermal neutrons via a process called moderation. This is done with a neutron moderator. In reactors, typically heavy water, light water, or graphite are used to moderate neutrons.
D–T (deuterium–tritium) fusion is the fusion reaction that produces the most energetic neutrons, with 14.1 MeV of kinetic energy and traveling at 17% of the speed of light. D–T fusion is also the easiest fusion reaction to ignite, reaching near-peak rates even when the deuterium and tritium nuclei have only a thousandth as much kinetic energy as the 14.1 MeV that will be produced.
14.1 MeV neutrons have about 10 times as much energy as fission neutrons, and are very effective at fissioning even non-fissile heavy nuclei, and these high-energy fissions produce more neutrons on average than fissions by lower-energy neutrons. This makes D–T fusion neutron sources such as proposed tokamak power reactors useful for transmutation of transuranic waste. 14.1 MeV neutrons can also produce neutrons by knocking them loose from nuclei.
On the other hand, these very high-energy neutrons are less likely to simply be captured without causing fission or spallation. For these reasons, nuclear weapon design extensively utilizes D–T fusion 14.1 MeV neutrons to cause more fission. Fusion neutrons are able to cause fission in ordinarily non-fissile materials, such as depleted uranium (uranium-238), and these materials have been used in the jackets of thermonuclear weapons. Fusion neutrons also can cause fission in substances that are unsuitable or difficult to make into primary fission bombs, such as reactor grade plutonium. This physical fact thus causes ordinary non-weapons grade materials to become of concern in certain nuclear proliferation discussions and treaties.
Other fusion reactions produce much less energetic neutrons. D–D fusion produces a 2.45 MeV neutron and helium-3 half of the time, and produces tritium and a proton but no neutron the rest of the time. D–3He fusion produces no neutron.
A fission energy neutron that has slowed down but not yet reached thermal energies is called an epithermal neutron.
Cross sections for both capture and fission reactions often have multiple resonance peaks at specific energies in the epithermal energy range. These are of less significance in a fast neutron reactor, where most neutrons are absorbed before slowing down to this range, or in a well-moderated thermal reactor, where epithermal neutrons interact mostly with moderator nuclei, not with either fissile or fertile actinide nuclides. However, in a partially moderated reactor with more interactions of epithermal neutrons with heavy metal nuclei, there are greater possibilities for transient changes in reactivity that might make reactor control more difficult.
Ratios of capture reactions to fission reactions are also worse (more captures without fission) in most nuclear fuels such as plutonium-239, making epithermal-spectrum reactors using these fuels less desirable, as captures not only waste the one neutron captured but also usually result in a nuclide that is not fissile with thermal or epithermal neutrons, though still fissionable with fast neutrons. The exception is uranium-233 of the thorium cycle, which has good capture-fission ratios at all neutron energies.
High-energy neutrons have much more energy than fission energy neutrons and are generated as secondary particles by particle accelerators or in the atmosphere from cosmic rays. These high-energy neutrons are extremely efficient at ionization and far more likely to cause cell death than X-rays or protons.
In nuclear physics, beta decay (β-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta ray (fast energetic electron or positron) is emitted from an atomic nucleus. For example, beta decay of a neutron transforms it into a proton by the emission of an electron accompanied by an antineutrino, or conversely a proton is converted into a neutron by the emission of a positron (positron emission) with a neutrino, thus changing the nuclide type. Neither the beta particle nor its associated (anti-)neutrino exist within the nucleus prior to beta decay, but are created in the decay process. By this process, unstable atoms obtain a more stable ratio of protons to neutrons. The probability of a nuclide decaying due to beta and other forms of decay is determined by its nuclear binding energy. The binding energies of all existing nuclides form what is called the nuclear band or valley of stability. For either electron or positron emission to be energetically possible, the energy release (see below) or Q value must be positive.
Beta decay is a consequence of the weak force, which is characterized by relatively lengthy decay times. Nucleons are composed of up quarks and down quarks, and the weak force allows a quark to change type by the exchange of a W boson and the creation of an electron/antineutrino or positron/neutrino pair. For example, a neutron, composed of two down quarks and an up quark, decays to a proton composed of a down quark and two up quarks. Decay times for many nuclides that are subject to beta decay can be thousands of years.
Electron capture is sometimes included as a type of beta decay, because the basic nuclear process, mediated by the weak force, is the same. In electron capture, an inner atomic electron is captured by a proton in the nucleus, transforming it into a neutron, and an electron neutrino is released.Degenerate matter
Degenerate matter is a highly dense state of fermionic matter in which particles must occupy high states of kinetic energy in order to satisfy the Pauli exclusion principle. The description applies to matter composed of electrons, protons, neutrons or other fermions. The term is mainly used in astrophysics to refer to dense stellar objects where gravitational pressure is so extreme that quantum mechanical effects are significant. This type of matter is naturally found in stars in their final evolutionary states, like white dwarfs and neutron stars, where thermal pressure alone is not enough to avoid gravitational collapse.
Degenerate matter is usually modelled as an ideal Fermi gas, an ensemble of non-interacting fermions. In a quantum mechanical description, particles limited to a finite volume may take only a discrete set of energies, called quantum states. The Pauli exclusion principle prevents identical fermions from occupying the same quantum state. At lowest total energy (when the thermal energy of the particles is negligible), all the lowest energy quantum states are filled. This state is referred to as full degeneracy. This degeneracy pressure remains non-zero even at absolute zero temperature. Adding particles or reducing the volume forces the particles into higher-energy quantum states. In this situation, a compression force is required, and is made manifest as a resisting pressure. The key feature is that this degeneracy pressure does not depend on the temperature but only on the density of the fermions. Degeneracy pressure keeps dense stars in equilibrium, independent of the thermal structure of the star.
A degenerate mass whose fermions have velocities close to the speed of light (particle energy larger than its rest mass energy) is called relativistic degenerate matter.
The concept of degenerate stars, stellar objects composed of degenerate matter, was originally developed in a joint effort between Arthur Eddington, Ralph Fowler and Arthur Milne. Eddington had suggested that the atoms in Sirius B were almost completely ionised and closely packed. Fowler described white dwarfs as composed of a gas of particles that became degenerate at low temperature. Milne proposed that degenerate matter is found in most of the nucleus of stars, not only in compact stars.Fissile material
In nuclear engineering, fissile material is material capable of sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction. By definition, fissile material can sustain a chain reaction with neutrons of thermal energy. The predominant neutron energy may be typified by either slow neutrons (i.e., a thermal system) or fast neutrons. Fissile material can be used to fuel thermal-neutron reactors, fast-neutron reactors and nuclear explosives.Isotope
Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number, and consequently in nucleon number. All isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons in each atom.The term isotope is formed from the Greek roots isos (ἴσος "equal") and topos (τόπος "place"), meaning "the same place"; thus, the meaning behind the name is that different isotopes of a single element occupy the same position on the periodic table. It was coined by a Scottish doctor and writer Margaret Todd in 1913 in a suggestion to chemist Frederick Soddy.
The number of protons within the atom's nucleus is called atomic number and is equal to the number of electrons in the neutral (non-ionized) atom. Each atomic number identifies a specific element, but not the isotope; an atom of a given element may have a wide range in its number of neutrons. The number of nucleons (both protons and neutrons) in the nucleus is the atom's mass number, and each isotope of a given element has a different mass number.
For example, carbon-12, carbon-13 and carbon-14 are three isotopes of the element carbon with mass numbers 12, 13 and 14 respectively. The atomic number of carbon is 6, which means that every carbon atom has 6 protons, so that the neutron numbers of these isotopes are 6, 7 and 8 respectively.List of Jimmy Neutron characters
This is a list of characters in the American film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, the animated television series spin-off The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and lots of other media.Neutron bomb
A neutron bomb, officially defined as a type of enhanced radiation weapon (ERW), is a low yield thermonuclear weapon designed to maximize lethal neutron radiation in the immediate vicinity of the blast while minimizing the physical power of the blast itself. The neutron release generated by a nuclear fusion reaction is intentionally allowed to escape the weapon, rather than being absorbed by its other components. The neutron burst, which is used as the primary destructive action of the warhead, is able to penetrate enemy armor more effectively than a conventional warhead, thus making it more lethal as a tactical weapon.
The concept was originally developed by the US in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was seen as a "cleaner" bomb for use against massed Soviet armored divisions. As these would be used over allied nations, notably West Germany, the reduced blast damage was seen as an important advantage.ERWs were first operationally deployed for anti-ballistic missiles (ABM). In this role the burst of neutrons would cause nearby warheads to undergo partial fission, preventing them from exploding properly. For this to work, the ABM would have to explode within ca. 100 metres (300 ft) of its target. The first example of such a system was the W66, used on the Sprint missile used in the US's Nike-X system. It is believed the Soviet equivalent, the A-135's 53T6 missile, uses a similar design.The weapon was once again proposed for tactical use by the US in the 1970s and 1980s, and production of the W70 began for the MGM-52 Lance in 1981. This time it experienced a firestorm of protest as the growing anti-nuclear movement gained strength through this period. Opposition was so intense that European leaders refused to accept it on their territory. President Ronald Reagan bowed to pressure and the built examples of the W70-3 remained stockpiled in the US until they were retired in 1992. The last W70 was dismantled in 2011.Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus and one or more neutrons collide and merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge, they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled electrostatically.Neutron capture plays an important role in the cosmic nucleosynthesis of heavy elements. In stars it can proceed in two ways: as a rapid (r-process) or a slow process (s-process). Nuclei of masses greater than 56 cannot be formed by thermonuclear reactions (i.e. by nuclear fusion), but can be formed by neutron capture.
Neutron capture on protons yields a line at 2.223 MeV, predicted and commonly observed
in solar flares.Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235 or a similar fissile nuclide.
Commonly used moderators include regular (light) water (roughly 75% of the world's reactors), solid graphite (20% of reactors) and heavy water (5% of reactors).Beryllium has also been used in some experimental types, and hydrocarbons have been suggested as another possibility.Neutron radiation
Neutron radiation is a form of ionizing radiation that presents as free neutrons. Typical phenomena are nuclear fission or nuclear fusion causing the release of free neutrons, which then react with nuclei of other atoms to form new isotopes—which, in turn, may trigger further neutron radiation. Free neutrons are unstable, decaying into a proton, an electron, plus an anti-electron-neutrino with a mean lifetime of 887 seconds (about 14 minutes, 47 seconds).Neutron star
A neutron star is the collapsed core of a giant star which before collapse had a total of between 10 and 29 solar masses. Neutron stars are the smallest and densest stars, not counting hypothetical quark stars and strange stars. Neutron stars have a radius of the order of 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) and a mass lower than a 2.16 solar masses. They result from the supernova explosion of a massive star, combined with gravitational collapse, that compresses the core past white dwarf star density to that of atomic nuclei.
Once formed, they no longer actively generate heat, and cool over time; however, they may still evolve further through collision or accretion. Most of the basic models for these objects imply that neutron stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons (subatomic particles with no net electrical charge and with slightly larger mass than protons); the electrons and protons present in normal matter combine to produce neutrons at the conditions in a neutron star. Neutron stars are partially supported against further collapse by neutron degeneracy pressure, a phenomenon described by the Pauli exclusion principle, just as white dwarfs are supported against collapse by electron degeneracy pressure. However neutron degeneracy pressure is not sufficient to hold up an object beyond 0.7M☉ and repulsive nuclear forces play a larger role in supporting more massive neutron stars. If the remnant star has a mass exceeding the Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff limit, it continues collapsing to form a black hole.
Neutron stars that can be observed are very hot and typically have a surface temperature of around 600000 K. They are so dense that a normal-sized matchbox containing neutron-star material would have a weight of approximately 3 billion tonnes, the same weight as a 0.5 cubic kilometre chunk of the Earth (a cube with edges of about 800 metres). Their magnetic fields are between 108 and 1015 (100 million to 1 quadrillion) times as strong as that of the Earth. The gravitational field at the neutron star's surface is about 2×1011 (200 billion) times that of the Earth.
As the star's core collapses, its rotation rate increases as a result of conservation of angular momentum, hence newly formed neutron stars rotate at up to several hundred times per second. Some neutron stars emit beams of electromagnetic radiation that make them detectable as pulsars. Indeed, the discovery of pulsars by Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1967 was the first observational suggestion that neutron stars exist. The radiation from pulsars is thought to be primarily emitted from regions near their magnetic poles. If the magnetic poles do not coincide with the rotational axis of the neutron star, the emission beam will sweep the sky, and when seen from a distance, if the observer is somewhere in the path of the beam, it will appear as pulses of radiation coming from a fixed point in space (the so-called "lighthouse effect"). The fastest-spinning neutron star known is PSR J1748-2446ad, rotating at a rate of 716 times a second or 43,000 revolutions per minute, giving a linear speed at the surface on the order of 0.24 c (i.e. nearly a quarter the speed of light).
There are thought to be around 100 million neutron stars in the Milky Way, a figure obtained by estimating the number of stars that have undergone supernova explosions. However, most are old and cold, and neutron stars can only be easily detected in certain instances, such as if they are a pulsar or part of a binary system. Slow-rotating and non-accreting neutron stars are almost undetectable; however, since the Hubble Space Telescope detection of RX J185635-3754, a few nearby neutron stars that appear to emit only thermal radiation have been detected. Soft gamma repeaters are conjectured to be a type of neutron star with very strong magnetic fields, known as magnetars, or alternatively, neutron stars with fossil disks around them.Neutron stars in binary systems can undergo accretion which typically makes the system bright in X-rays while the material falling onto the neutron star can form hotspots that rotate in and out of view in identified X-ray pulsar systems. Additionally, such accretion can "recycle" old pulsars and potentially cause them to gain mass and spin-up to very fast rotation rates, forming the so-called millisecond pulsars. These binary systems will continue to evolve, and eventually the companions can become compact objects such as white dwarfs or neutron stars themselves, though other possibilities include a complete destruction of the companion through ablation or merger. The merger of binary neutron stars may be the source of short-duration gamma-ray bursts and are likely strong sources of gravitational waves. In 2017, a direct detection (GW170817) of the gravitational waves from such an event was made, and gravitational waves have also been indirectly detected in a system where two neutron stars orbit each other.
In October 2018, astronomers reported that GRB 150101B, a gamma-ray burst event detected in 2015, may be directly related to the historic GW170817 and associated with the merger of two neutron stars. The similarities between the two events, in terms of gamma ray, optical and x-ray emissions, as well as to the nature of the associated host galaxies, are "striking", suggesting the two separate events may both be the result of the merger of neutron stars, and both may be a kilonova, which may be more common in the universe than previously understood, according to the researchers.Neutron temperature
The neutron detection temperature, also called the neutron energy, indicates a free neutron's kinetic energy, usually given in electron volts. The term temperature is used, since hot, thermal and cold neutrons are moderated in a medium with a certain temperature. The neutron energy distribution is then adapted to the Maxwellian distribution known for thermal motion. Qualitatively, the higher the temperature, the higher the kinetic energy of the free neutrons. The momentum and wavelength of the neutron are related through the De Broglie relation. The large wavelength of slow neutrons allows for the large cross section.Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one single nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more subsequent nuclear reactions, this leading to the possibility of a self-propagating series of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes (e.g., uranium-235, 235U). The nuclear chain reaction releases several million times more energy per reaction than any chemical reaction.Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller, lighter nuclei. The fission process often produces free neutrons and gamma photons, and releases a very large amount of energy even by the energetic standards of radioactive decay.
Nuclear fission of heavy elements was discovered on December 17, 1938 by German Otto Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann, and explained theoretically in January 1939 by Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Robert Frisch. Frisch named the process by analogy with biological fission of living cells. For heavy nuclides, it is an exothermic reaction which can release large amounts of energy both as electromagnetic radiation and as kinetic energy of the fragments (heating the bulk material where fission takes place). In order for fission to produce energy, the total binding energy of the resulting elements must be more negative (greater binding energy) than that of the starting element.
Fission is a form of nuclear transmutation because the resulting fragments are not the same element as the original atom. The two nuclei produced are most often of comparable but slightly different sizes, typically with a mass ratio of products of about 3 to 2, for common fissile isotopes. Most fissions are binary fissions (producing two charged fragments), but occasionally (2 to 4 times per 1000 events), three positively charged fragments are produced, in a ternary fission. The smallest of these fragments in ternary processes ranges in size from a proton to an argon nucleus.
Apart from fission induced by a neutron, harnessed and exploited by humans, a natural form of spontaneous radioactive decay (not requiring a neutron) is also referred to as fission, and occurs especially in very high-mass-number isotopes. Spontaneous fission was discovered in 1940 by Flyorov, Petrzhak and Kurchatov in Moscow, when they decided to confirm that, without bombardment by neutrons, the fission rate of uranium was indeed negligible, as predicted by Niels Bohr; it was not.The unpredictable composition of the products (which vary in a broad probabilistic and somewhat chaotic manner) distinguishes fission from purely quantum-tunneling processes such as proton emission, alpha decay, and cluster decay, which give the same products each time. Nuclear fission produces energy for nuclear power and drives the explosion of nuclear weapons. Both uses are possible because certain substances called nuclear fuels undergo fission when struck by fission neutrons, and in turn emit neutrons when they break apart. This makes a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction possible, releasing energy at a controlled rate in a nuclear reactor or at a very rapid, uncontrolled rate in a nuclear weapon.
The amount of free energy contained in nuclear fuel is millions of times the amount of free energy contained in a similar mass of chemical fuel such as gasoline, making nuclear fission a very dense source of energy. The products of nuclear fission, however, are on average far more radioactive than the heavy elements which are normally fissioned as fuel, and remain so for significant amounts of time, giving rise to a nuclear waste problem. Concerns over nuclear waste accumulation and over the destructive potential of nuclear weapons are a counterbalance to the peaceful desire to use fission as an energy source.Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction. Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power plants for electricity generation and in propulsion of ships. Heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid (water or gas), which in turn runs through steam turbines. These either drive a ship's propellers or turn electrical generators' shafts. Nuclear generated steam in principle can be used for industrial process heat or for district heating. Some reactors are used to produce isotopes for medical and industrial use, or for production of weapons-grade plutonium. Some are run only for research. As of early 2019, the IAEA reports there are 454 nuclear power reactors and 226 nuclear research reactors in operation around the world.Pulsar
A pulsar (from pulse and -ar as in quasar) is a highly magnetized rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. This radiation can be observed only when the beam of emission is pointing toward Earth (much like the way a lighthouse can be seen only when the light is pointed in the direction of an observer), and is responsible for the pulsed appearance of emission. Neutron stars are very dense, and have short, regular rotational periods. This produces a very precise interval between pulses that ranges from milliseconds to seconds for an individual pulsar. Pulsars are believed to be one of the candidates for the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (see also centrifugal mechanism of acceleration).
The periods of pulsars make them very useful tools. Observations of a pulsar in a binary neutron star system were used to indirectly confirm the existence of gravitational radiation. The first extrasolar planets were discovered around a pulsar, PSR B1257+12. Certain types of pulsars rival atomic clocks in their accuracy in keeping time.Quark star
A quark star is a hypothetical type of compact exotic star, where extremely high temperature and pressure has forced nuclear particles to form a continuous state of matter that consists primarily of free quarks.
It is well known that massive stars can collapse to form neutron stars, under extreme temperatures and pressures. In simple terms, neutrons usually have space separating them due to degeneracy pressure keeping them apart. Under extreme conditions such as a neutron star, the pressure separating nucleons is overwhelmed by gravity, and the separation between them breaks down, causing them to be packed extremely densely and form an immensely hot and dense state known as neutron matter, where they are only held apart by the strong interaction. Because these neutrons are made of quarks, it is hypothesized that under even more extreme conditions, the degeneracy pressure keeping the quarks apart within the neutrons might break down in much the same way, creating an ultra-dense phase of degenerate matter based on densely packed quarks. This is seen as plausible, but is very hard to prove, as scientists cannot easily create the conditions needed to investigate the properties of quark matter, so it is unknown whether this actually occurs.
If quark stars can form, then the most likely place to find quark star matter would be inside neutron stars that exceed the internal pressure needed for quark degeneracy - the point at which neutrons (which are formed from quarks bound together) break down into a form of dense quark matter. They could also form if a massive star collapses at the end of its life, provided that it is possible for a star to be large enough to collapse beyond a neutron star but not large enough to form a black hole. However, as scientists are unable so far to explore most properties of quark matter, the exact conditions and nature of quark stars, and their existence, remain hypothetical and unproven. The question whether such stars exist and their exact structure and behavior is actively studied within astrophysics and particle physics.
If they exist, quark stars would resemble and be easily mistaken for neutron stars: they would form in the death of a massive star in a Type II supernova, they would be extremely dense and small, and possess a very high gravitational field. They would also lack some features of neutron stars, unless they also contained a shell of neutron matter, because free quarks are not expected to have properties matching degenerate neutron matter. For example, they might be radio-silent, or not have typical size, electromagnetic, or temperature measurements, compared to other neutron stars.
The hypothesis about quark stars was first proposed in 1965 by Soviet physicists D. D. Ivanenko and D. F. Kurdgelaidze. Their existence has not been confirmed. The equation of state of quark matter is uncertain, as is the transition point between neutron-degenerate matter and quark matter. Theoretical uncertainties have precluded making predictions from first principles. Experimentally, the behaviour of quark matter is being actively studied with particle colliders, but this can only produce very hot (above 1012 K) quark-gluon plasma blobs the size of atomic nuclei, which decay immediately after formation. The conditions inside compact stars with extremely high densities and temperatures well below 1012 K can not be recreated artificially, so there are no known methods to produce, store or study "cold" quark matter directly as it would be found inside quark stars. The theory predicts quark matter to possess some peculiar characteristics under these conditions.R-process
The rapid neutron-capture process, or so-called r-process, is a set of nuclear reactions that in nuclear astrophysics is responsible for the creation (nucleosynthesis) of approximately half the abundances of the atomic nuclei heavier than iron, usually synthesizing the entire abundance of the two most neutron-rich stable isotopes of each heavy element. Chemical elements heavier than iron typically are enabled by the force between nucleons to be capable of six to ten stable isotopic forms having the same nuclear charge Z but differing in neutron number N, each of whose natural abundances contribute to the natural abundance of the chemical element. Each isotope is characterized by the number of neutrons that it contains. The r-process typically synthesizes new nuclei of the heaviest four isotopes of any heavy element, being totally responsible for the abundances of its two heaviest isotopes, which are referred to as r-only nuclei. The most abundant of these contribute to the r-process abundance peaks near atomic weights A = 82 (elements Se, Br and Kr), A = 130 (elements Te, I, and Xe) and A = 196 (elements Os, Ir and Pt).The r-process entails a succession of rapid neutron captures (hence the name) by one or more heavy seed nuclei, typically beginning with nuclei in the abundance peak centered on 56Fe. The captures must be rapid in the sense that the nuclei must not have time to undergo radioactive decay before another neutron arrives to be captured, a sequence that is halted only when the increasingly neutron-rich nuclei cannot physically retain another neutron. The r-process therefore must occur in locations where there exists a high density of free neutrons. Early studies reasoned that 1024 free neutrons per cm3 would be required if the temperature were about one billion degrees in order that the waiting points, at which no more neutrons can be captured, be at the atomic numbers of the abundance peaks for r-process nuclei. This amounts to almost a gram of free neutrons in every cubic centimeter, an astonishing number requiring extreme locations. Traditionally this suggested the material ejected from the reexpanded core of a core-collapse supernova (as part of supernova nucleosynthesis) or decompression of neutron-star matter thrown off by a binary neutron star merger. The relative contributions of these sources to the astrophysical abundance of r-process elements is a matter of ongoing research.A limited r-process-like series of neutron captures occurs to a minor extent in thermonuclear weapon explosions. These led to the discovery of the elements einsteinium (element 99) and fermium (element 100) in nuclear weapon fallout.
The r-process contrasts with the s-process, the other predominant mechanism for the production of heavy elements, which is nucleosynthesis by means of slow captures of neutrons. The s-process primarily occurs within ordinary stars, particularly AGB stars, where the neutron flux is sufficient to cause neutron captures to recur every 10–100 years, much too slow for the r-process, which requires 100 captures per second. The s-process is secondary, meaning that it requires pre-existing heavy isotopes as seed nuclei to be converted into other heavy nuclei by a slow sequence of captures of free neutrons. The r-process scenarios create their own seed nuclei, so they might proceed in massive stars that contain no heavy seed nuclei. Taken together, the r- and s-processes account for almost the entire abundance of chemical elements heavier than iron. The historical challenge has been to locate physical settings appropriate for their time scales.