Name the states of matter. You probably thought solid, liquid, gas, right? Well, you’re… not wrong, but you’re missing out the most abundant state of matter in the universe. (Excluding antimatter and dark matter.) Ninety-nine percent of all normal matter in the universe is plasma and you probably didn’t even know about it until now.
Plasma is mostly really common because it’s what stars are made out of. And I suppose it’s not really unreasonable not to teach kids about it because you don’t really see much of it in everyday life. But lightning, and plasma balls like this one:
…are made out of plasma.
So what actually is plasma? Well, when you heat up a gas loads it can get to the point where the electrons become so energized that they separate from the nucleus and whizz around on their own. This creates a kind of incredibly hot gloop that is so different from any other substance that it has to be defined as another state of matter.
Fun facts about plasma:
1. It’s incredibly conductive to electricity. Because it has a kind of sea of electrons within it, it means that electricity can flow through it really easily.
2. It sprays out neutrons. Plasma has loads of neutrons bouncing around inside it, which get sprayed out at the surface, and that causes anything that comes near it to be virtually destroyed, if not by the immense heat, by the neutron radiation coming off of it.
3. It reacts strongly to magnetic fields, enough to make it easy to levitate it is it is near a superconducting magnet (a really strong magnet).
So- how can plasma be useful to us?
Glad you asked, even though you didn’t!
Hundreds of different companies all over the world are racing to build the first Fusion Reactor- a machine that will harness the immense power of plasma. Cooling the outside of such a machine requires temperatures close to absolute zero, the coldest anything can possibly be. This creates the biggest temperature difference in the universe, which is pretty amazing! Currently a huge project is underway in France to build the biggest fusion reactor in the world, called ITER. Fusion could provide safe, clean energy, but as revolutionary as it is, it simply doesn’t get as much money as we would like. So what do you think? Should we put more money into fusion power? Write it in the comments!
So there we go, the amazing power of plasma and the possibility of fusion power. Thanks for reading and goodbye!