In particle physics, proton decay is a hypothetical form of radioactive decay in which the proton decays into lighter subatomic particles, such as a neutral pion and a positron. Proton decay has not been observed. There is currently no experimental evidence that proton decay occurs.
In the Standard Model, protons, a type of baryon, are theoretically stable because baryon number is conserved (under normal circumstances; however, see chiral anomaly). Therefore protons will not decay into other particles on their own, because they are the lightest (and therefore least energetic) baryon.
Some beyond-the-Standard Model grand unified theories (GUTs) explicitly break the baryon number symmetry, allowing protons to decay via the Higgs particle, magnetic monopoles or new X bosons. Proton decay is one of the few observable effects of the various proposed GUTs. To date, all attempts to observe these events have failed.
One of the outstanding problems in modern physics is the predominance of matter over antimatter in the universe. The universe, as a whole, has a nonzero baryon number density — that is, matter exists. Since it is assumed in cosmology that the particles we see were created using the same physics we measure today, it would normally be expected that the overall baryon number should be zero, as matter and antimatter should have been created in equal amounts. This has led to a number of proposed mechanisms for symmetry breaking that favour the creation of normal matter (as opposed to antimatter) under certain conditions. This imbalance would have been exceptionally small, on the order of 1 in every 10,000,000,000 (1010
) particles a split second after the Big Bang, but after most of the matter and antimatter annihilated, what was left over was all the baryonic matter in the current universe, along with a much greater number of bosons. New experiments at Fermilab, however, seem to show that this imbalance is much greater than previously assumed. In an experiment involving a series of particle collisions, the amount of generated matter was approximately 1% larger than the amount of generated antimatter. The reason for this discrepancy is yet unknown.
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