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I know that electron capture occurs more readily in heavier, often unstable atoms, but does it ever happen at all in a lighter atom?

I suppose, in ordinary hydrogen, a free neutron would then be formed, which would decay back to a proton and electron in short order....

When a free neutron does decay do the electron and proton usually form hydrogen? Or do they go their separate ways?

I suppose atomic (monoatomic) hydrogen would be most likely to occasionally experience 'electron-capture', and that exists mostly in deep space, in enormous quantities... Have astronomers checked? Could this process be replicated in a lab? Could someone bottle up a large quantity of cold, monotonic hydrogen and periodically check for the presence of free neutrons?

I'm STILL curious as to why the innermost electrons in atoms don't merge with protons more often... If there is Coulombic attraction, little or no Coulombic repulsion, and no Pauli exclusion between an electron and a proton...

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A free neutron has more energy than a proton and electron. The decay reaction is spontaneous and releases a neutrino as well.

The reverse reaction would require energy input. That energy is not available in any bound $H^1$ atom.

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