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Monday, October 17, 2005

Leptons- electrons, muons, tauons and neutrinos

An atom was originally thought to be the smallest particle of matter. However we now know that atoms are made up of other even smaller particles. Most atoms consist of negatively charged electrons, positively charged protons and neutral neutrons. Perhaps an easy way to remember it is that neutrons are obviously neutral, protons are pro-actively positive and electrons have to be negative because there’s nothing else left.

Electrons are thought to be leptons. This means that they can not be broken down into anything smaller. Electrons belong to the lepton family of fermions. The other fermions are muons, tauons and neutrinos. I see from wikipedia that a tauon is ‘a negatively charged elementary particle with a lifetime of 3×10−13 seconds and a high mass of 1777 MeV (compared to 939 MeV for protons and 0.511 MeV for electrons).’ Well that clears that up then. A muon ‘is a semistable fundamental particle with negative electric charge and a spin of 1/2.’ ‘In physics, spin refers to the angular momentum intrinsic to a body, as opposed to orbital angular momentum, which is generated by the motion of its center of mass about an external point.’

Neutrinos can pass through matter unhindered for some reason that I can’t even begin to understand. They are an important product of supernovae. A supernova can be a massive star that collapses inward under the force of its own gravity or a white dwarf star (A white dwarf is an astronomical object which is produced when a low or medium mass star dies) that gathers material from a companion star until it reaches its limit and undergoes a thermonuclear explosion. Protons and electrons combine in the core of supernovae to form neutrinos. (Source: wikipedia)


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