Matter does not just exist in the states of solid, liquid or gas. There is also a fourth fundamental state of matter, plasma. Generally, plasma is thought to be similar to or as a subset of gas. However, in reality, both these states behave extremely different. Just like gas, plasma also does not have a fixed volume or shape and is less dense than compared to liquid or solid state of matter. But unlike an ordinary gas, plasma is a charged gas made of atoms in which few or all the electrons have enough energy to get away from the hold of positively charged ions. As the molecular bonds disrupt and the atoms lose or gain electrons, it results in the formation of plasma.
Though you might not hear about plasma a lot, but it is a common and extensive state of matter across the universe, which constitutes the Sun and the stars.
Properties of plasma:
- As plasma comprises of charged particles (the ions and electrons), it reacts to the electromagnetic fields and can conduct electricity. However, ordinary gases, on the other hand, act as electrical insulators.
- In case of plasma being exposed to magnetic fields, it might assume structures, which includes filaments, beams and layers. The best examples of such structures can be noticed in plasma balls.
What is plasma used for?
Plasma is frequently utilized in television, fluorescent lights as well as neon signs. In the case of fluorescent bulb or neon sign, a gas is subjected to extreme high voltage. The electrons are then either pushed towards high energy levels or are separated from the atoms present in the gas. The gas within the bulb acts as conductive plasma. The roused electrons that get back to their earlier energy level, then discharge photons, which is basically the light one sees in a fluorescent light or neon sign.
Plasma television also works in the same. A gas, generally, neon, xenon or argon, is administered in a space between 2 glass panels. Then, an electrical current is rushed via the gas, thus causing it to glare or glow on the television screen.
Another source of plasma is in the Auroras which surround the Earth’s globe when the Sun is specifically active. The solar wind mostly consists of charged protons that hit the magnetic field of Earth. As these particles are charged, they follow the magnetic field and then move towards the Earth’s poles. They collide with the atoms present in the atmosphere and excite them which thus emit light.
Some other examples of plasma include static electricity, the ionosphere and St Elmo’s fire.