At school we learn about protons and electrons and how they have the same but opposite charge. Charge is the reason negative electrons want away from negative electrons, it is why positive protons want away from positive protons and why negative electrons and positive protons attract one another. We learn little at this stage about neutrons, only that they have no charge.
We hear how atoms have nuclei that contain protons and neutrons and that electrons are distributed in shell like energy formations around and away from the nucleus. No explanation is offered as to why electrons are not drawn right into the proton containing nuclei or how it is that protons can remain relatively close to one another in a nucleus. To me an understanding of the scale of particles and the relative spaces between them is a must in developing a working picture of matter and all things physical, yet it barely gets a mention.
When, at a later stage, we learn of beta and beta positive radioactive decays in which neutrons can become protons and electrons or vice versa. The emphasis is on what happens, not why it happens. I will tell you such things happen when neutron particles in a nucleus seek to better their energy exchange arrangements. They either create a proton and electron to improve their energy state or get rid of a proton and neutron if their energy state is excessive. In the first second after the “big bang” that created our universe phenomenal numbers of neutrons were becoming protons and electrons as energy expanded. I hope I have convinced you that neutrons are not the inactive particles that the charge picture paints.
On earth, gold particles are more heavily compacted than lead. Gold has a density of 19,3 grams per cubic centimetre. Compare that to a neutron star density estimated at about 100 million tons per cubic centimetre. On neutron stars, neutrons seem content to exchange energies and satisfy their energy desires with a minimum of support from protons and electrons. In the less compacted energy scene of earth neutrons require the support of protons and neutrons in the satisfying of their energy needs and they adjust proton and electron numbers to suit those needs.
The much lighter and thereby more mobile electrons provide the means by which nuclear particles can energy link to the environment. They are the “slave” particles of the atomic world, each with their own space volume so that they can effectively collect suitable photon energies from the environment on behalf of their nuclear particle clients. They may be slaves but they are living proactive slaves always acting to perform their role in the most efficient manner.
Electron energy desires have them moving toward photon flows, gaining in energy and then retreating. Protons encourage energy bearing electrons to them but then as the proton’s energy desires are satisfied the approaching particle energy exchanges become excessive causing them to withdraw, more so the lightweight electrons. Such energy exchanges are the photon emissions that enter space.
Protons have an intermediary role, receiving energy from electrons, processing it and feeding it to the energy desiring neutrons. Electron accelerations toward protons are governed by the energies of the environment and protons respond to those accelerations by releasing levels of energy intent on decelerating and accelerating away those electrons. Protons gather suitable energies in the process and release it toward close by neutrons, whose energy attractions are consequently high.
At the nuclear level neutrons and protons are said to each comprise of three quarks but the total mass energy of those three quarks is only about 1% of the mass energy of a nuclear neutron or proton. The rest of the mass is described as virtual gluons that account for the force that binds the quarks together but also for the strong force that keep the nuclear particles together.
We are told that quarks behave differently in that when you try to part them they pull together more strongly. Is that not precisely what a living desire does? It relaxes when its needs are being satisfied and acts when they are not. The gluons behaviour is like that of a photon but no one seems to be able to measure its energy.
My gut feeling is that gluons are simply a multiplicity of lower photon energies and therefore not showing up as a single frequency. High volumes of low energy photons passing between much larger attracting and repelling nuclear particles would certainly account for the strong limited range nuclear force. It would also avoid the need for a conversion from photon based interactions to gluon based interactions.