States of Matter (Book)

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Solids, Liquids, Gases, and Plasmas


You’re probably less familiar with plasmas than with solids, liquids, and gases. Yet, most of the universe consists of plasma. Plasma is a state of matter that resembles a gas but has certain properties that a gas does not have. Like a gas, plasma lacks a fixed volume and shape. Unlike a gas, plasma can conduct electricity and respond to magnetism. That’s because plasma contains charged particles called ions. This gives plasma other interesting properties. For example, it glows with light.

Where can you find plasmas? Two examples are shown in Figure. The sun and other stars consist of plasma. Plasmas are also found naturally in lightning and the polar auroras (northern and southern lights). Artificial plasmas are found in fluorescent lights, plasma TV screens, and plasma balls like the one that opened this chapter.

You can learn more about plasmas at this URL:


Both the northern lights (aurora borealis) and a plasma TV contain matter in the plasma state. What other plasmas are shown in the northern lights picture?