Strong Nuclear Force: What is it?

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The strong nuclear force is the strongest force in the universe, but only operates on atomic nucleus length scales. It is mediated by gluons and holds quarks together. The force decreases in strength as quarks get closer together, and theories of it emerged in the 1950s. Quark stars may exist, but their existence has yet to be confirmed.

The strong nuclear force, also known as the strong force, is the strongest force in the universe, 1038 times stronger than gravity and 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force. The only problem is that it only operates on atomic nucleus length scales, rapidly descending for greater distances.
The strong nuclear force is what is released during nuclear reactions, such as occur in the sun, nuclear power plants, and nuclear bombs. The strong force is described by the laws of quantum chromodynamics, part of the Standard Model of particle physics, developed in the 1970s. The 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to David Politzer, Frank Wilczek and David Gross.

The strong force doesn’t actually occur directly between protons and neutrons in the nucleus, but in the smaller quarks that make them up. The force is mediated by fundamental particles called gluons, so named for the way they glue quarks together. Each proton or neutron is made up of three quarks. The internucleon force that holds the nucleus together is known as the nuclear force or residual strong force, because it is only a second-order effect of the true strong force, which holds their constituent quarks together.

The strong force has a property called asymptotic freedom, meaning that as quarks get closer together, the force decreases in strength, asymptotically approaching zero. Conversely, as the quarks move apart, the force gets stronger. The inability to find free quarks has been interpreted to mean that no phenomena in the universe, except perhaps black holes, are capable of separating quarks from each other.

Strong force theories emerged from observations in the 1950s, in which a variety of different fundamental particles called “particle zoos” were observed in bubble chambers. This spectrum of particles required explanations for their properties based on an elegant theory of their underlying constituents. The theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) delivered, providing the most precise scientific theory of quantities known. However, it is known that QED is not complete, as it is not compatible with the current best theory of gravity, general relativity. Physicists continue to search for a mathematical unification of QED and general relativity.

It is speculated that quark stars, variants of very high-density neutron stars with such gravitational pressure that individual neutrons cannot be distinguished, may exist, and all quarks are fused together into something like a giant neutron, held together exclusively by strong force and gravity. However, the existence of quark stars has yet to be definitively confirmed.

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