What exactly is plasma?

'How The Universe Works': What Exactly Is Plasma?
'How The Universe Works': What Exactly Is Plasma?

Plasma is the fourth state of matter. Atoms and normal matter have a nucleus with orbiting electrons. In plasma, the atoms have been torn apart and the electrons ripped away.

University of California, Berkeley, Professor Alex Filippenko explains, "Here on Earth, we're familiar with the three main states of matter that we're taught in school: solids, liquids and gases. You know, we have the atmosphere as a gas. The oceans are water. The ground that I stand on is solid. But in fact, most of the universe, including stars, consists of plasma."

Compared to the rest of the universe, Earth is a calm place. Most of the time, it isn't hot or violent enough here to create plasma.

The best place to witness the power of plasma on Earth is inside a lightning strike. Temperatures inside a bolt can reach 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to momentarily rip a few atoms apart. The plasma lasts an instant. Then the electrons rebind -- and it's gone.

In our massive Sun, the plasma lasts for billions of years and makes up the entire 200,000-mile-deep radiation zone.

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