|Is plasma really the fourth state of matter?
|Question Date: 2008-12-18|
Since 99% of the visible universe is made up of
plasma, you won't have to go far to find plasma,
which as you correctly guessed, is the fourth
state of matter. You can find it by looking up at
the sun, at a fluorescent light bulb that's turned
on, or in a bolt of lighting. The explanation of
plasma is not too complicated. When you melt ice
into liquid water, the water molecules (composed
of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms) go from
being confined in the crystalline solid state to
being able to freely flow like they can in the
liquid state. If you heat that liquid water up so
that it boiled, you would form water vapor that
makes up the gas phase where the water molecules
can freely bounce around and have large spacing
between them. I've just described the three states
that you know of: solid, liquid, and gaseous. The
fourth state, plasma, happens when you continue to
heat up that water vapor so hot that the actual
Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms that make up the water
molecules are able to move independently from each
other with large spacing between them just as
individual vapor molecules were able to travel in
the gaseous state.Keep up with the good questions!
Yes, plasma is the fourth state of matter, but
keep in mind that there are more than one state of
solid matter as well: a glass is very different
from a crystal, for example, and a single
substance can have multiple crystal states as well
(e.g. graphite and diamond are both carbon, but
they are very, very different states of matter
with remarkably different properties).
Plasma has properties quite unlike those of
solids, liquids or gases and is considered to be a
distinct state of matter.
We say plasmas are the fourth state of matter
after solid, liquid, and gas. If you start with a
solid and heat it, it melts and forms a liquid.
If you heat it even more, the liquid evaporates
into a gas. If you heat it even more, the gas
molecules break apart into separate atoms, but we
still call it a gas--just chemically changed.
Eventually at very high temperatures, usually
thousands of degrees, the electrons get ripped off
the atoms, and then it's a plasma.
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