Are atoms immortal in a vacuum? Do they die naturally?


Are atoms immortal in a vacuum? Do they die naturally?

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What do you mean “die”? Atoms are not alive. Some may decay over time, if they are naturally radioactive, and this happens even in total isolation.
That would be nuclear fission and in such event the atom splits into (typically) two smaller aroms of different element and energy is released too.

There is no answer for this because it depends on the atom! Yes some atoms will decay / cease to exist “naturally”, all on their own in a vacuum. But it depends on what element the atom is, and on what isotope of that element it is. Some elements/isotopes will decay in seconds, some in minutes, some in hours, some in days, months, some only very slowly over billions of years. Others appear to be stable and not decay at all, at least by any means we currently know of.

Things you can google to learn more: nuclear stability, element half-lives (a measure of how long it takes for atoms of different elements to “die naturally”)

That is one of the many areas that we don’t know. (ELI5 and this may be wrong/oversimplified). There are theories that suggest that protons will ultimately decay into lighter particles. There has been no experimental evidence to show this BUT such a process is built into some major theories that try to unify electromagnetic, strong and weak forces (called Grand Unification Theories or GUT)

This is way into the deepest waters of current physics theories. (definitely NOT ELI5). In any case, even though it only somewhat relates to your question, some are suggesting that protons (and because they make up atoms) are not “immortal”. However, experiments to validate proton decay have statistically determined that the half life of a proton is not less than 10^34 years. Our universe’s age is in the order of 10^10 years. Even if protons decay, half of them would still be around after this universe is 10^24 times older. And there is almost no way to easily illustrate this number and amount of time.

Measured in seconds, a long human lifetime would be 3×10^9 seconds (96 years). If you measured the current age of this universe in seconds, it would still not amount to 10^24 seconds.

The stability of atoms is of course a bit different. Larger atoms are not very stable at all (the largest known ones last for less than a thousandth of a second) and they break down into other atoms. On the other hand simple hydrogen atoms might be as stable as the proton.