Saturday, January 10, 2009

Plasma compared to other states of matter

Everyone knows about the main states of matter, solids, liquids, and gases. But fewer people know about the fourth state of matter: plasma. Plasma is similar to a gas but it is ionized. An ionized atom is one that has lost an electron to another atom. After losing an electron, an atom is positively charged, while the neighboring atom that gained the electron is negatively charged. Thus, plasma is affected by magnets. Plasma, although relatively unknown, is the most common state of matter in the Universe. It is the component of the interstellar medium, or the stuff that floats around in space. Plasma in even found naturally found on Earth. Believe it or not, lightning is made entirely of plasma. Superheated plasma (sometimes over 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit) strikes the ground or another cloud, creating the boom that we hear as thunder. Another common place where plasma is found naturally is polar aurorae (plural of aurora). These clouds of plasma are created by effect of the northern and southern magnetic poles.

Also, a theory of another type of plasma exists. It is called quark-gluon plasma (quarks and gluon are the smallest known building blocks of matter). It only exists at very high temperatures at which atoms, and not even protons and neutrons can exist.

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