This glowing sphere is matter in a particular state. You’re probably familiar with the states of matter most common on Earth—solid, liquid, and gas. But the glowing sphere is a state of matter called plasma. The plasma ball pictured above was made by humans, but plasma is also found in nature. In fact, plasma makes up most of the matter in the universe.
What Is Plasma?
Plasma is a state of matter that resembles a gas but has certain properties that gases do not have. Like a gas, plasma consists of particles of matter than can pull apart and spread out, so it lacks a fixed volume and a fixed shape. Unlike a gas, plasma can conduct electricity and respond to a magnetic field. That’s because plasma consists of electrically charged particles called ions, instead of uncharged particles such as atoms or molecules. This gives plasma other interesting properties as well. For example, plasma glows with colored light when electricity passes through it.
Where Is Plasma Found?
The sun and other stars consist of plasma. Plasma is also found naturally in lightning and in the northern and southern lights. If you’ve never seen these shimmering colorful lights in the winter night sky, the Figure below shows what they can look like. Human-made plasmas are found in fluorescent lights, plasma TV screens, and plasma spheres like the one pictured in the opening image.
Q: Besides the northern lights, where are other examples of plasma in this picture?
A: The stars consist of plasma.
Q: What properties of plasma do you think explain why this state of matter is used in artificial lights?
- Plasma is a state of matter that lacks a fixed volume and a fixed shape and consists of charged particles called ions. Because it consists of charged particles, plasma can conduct electricity and respond to a magnetic field.
- The sun and other stars consist of plasma. Plasma is also found naturally in lightning and the northern and southern lights. Human-made plasma is found in fluorescent lights, plasma TV screens, and plasma spheres.
- What is plasma?
- What are some properties of plasma?
- Explain why plasma can conduct electricity and respond to magnetism.
- Give examples of plasma in nature.