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Plasma 101

10 Facts You Should Know About Plasma

  1. It’s the fourth state of matter: Solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Plasma is a super-heated gas, so hot that its electrons get out of the atom’s orbit and roam free. A gas thus becomes a plasma when extreme heat causes its atoms to shed their electrons.
  2. It’s everywhere. Plasma is the most abundant form of visible matter in the universe – it is thought to make up 99 percent of what we see in the night sky. Plasma populates and dominates the vast regions of interstellar and interplanetary space.
  3. Stars, like the sun, are gigantic balls of plasma. And there are billions of them, so studying plasma can help us understand the cosmos.
  4. Plasma makes life possible. Here’s how: the fusion fueled by plasma creates the energy that gives us sunlight, which is necessary for life on Earth.
  5. Plasma is found many places on Earth. Lightning, neon signs, fluorescent light bulbs, a candle flame, some television and computer displays are all examples of plasma.
  6. Plasma powers efforts to achieve fusion on Earth. Laboratories heat and fuse hydrogen nuclei in plasma to develop a clean and inexhaustible method of creating fusion energy for electrical power.
  7. Plasma can be contained and manipulated. A tokamak is a doughnut-shaped facility whose magnetic fields confine plasma that is heated up to temperatures 10 times greater than the sun – about 100 million degrees F. This produces energy the way the sun does – through fusion.
  8. Plasma physics is an exciting research area.  It encompasses fusion science, space physics, astrophysics, and beam physics. It involves not only laboratory experiments but also high-performance computing.
  9. Plasmas have many vital applications. Various types of plasma are widely used in microchip processing, lighting, waste handling, lasers and synthesis of new materials. Also, plasma experiments could lead to the eventual construction of fusion power plants.
  10. Plasma is beautiful. Witness the enchanting, fascinating, dramatic display of the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. It takes place when plasma particles hurled from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetosphere, the magnetic field that surrounds our planet. The plasmas used in fusion reactors are also magnificent, as seen in the photos here.

 

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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