In particle physics, the baryon number is used to denote which particles are baryons and which particles are not. Each baryon has a baryon number of 1 and each antibaryon has a baryon number of -1. Other non-baryonic particles have a baryon number of 0. Since there are exotic hadrons like pentaquarks and tetraquarks, there is a general definition of baryon number as:
where nq is the number of quarks, and nq is the number of antiquarks.
The baryon number is a conserved quantum number in all particle reactions.
The law of conservation of baryon number states that:
The sum of the baryon number of all incoming particles is the same as the sum of the baryon numbers of all particles resulting from the reaction.
For example, the following reaction has never been observed:
even if the incoming proton has sufficient energy and charge, energy, and so on, are conserved. This reaction does not conserve baryon number since the left side has B =+2, and the right has B =+1.
On the other hand, the following reaction (proton-antiproton pair production) does conserve B and does occur if the incoming proton has sufficient energy (the threshold energy = 5.6 GeV):
As indicated, B = +2 on both sides of this equation.
From these and other reactions, the conservation of baryon number has been established as a basic principle of physics.
This principle provides basis for the stability of the proton. Since the proton is the lightest particle among all baryons, the hypothetical products of its decay would have to be non-baryons. Thus, the decay would violate the conservation of baryon number. It must be added some theories have suggested that protons are in fact unstable with very long half-life (~1030 years) and that they decay into leptons. There is currently no experimental evidence that proton decay occurs.