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What is the fourth state of matter?

Learn what plasma – in physics, the "fourth state of matter" - is made of.

In physics, a plasma refers to a gas whose temperature has been raised high enough to free some electrons from their nuclei. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
In physics, a plasma refers to a gas whose temperature has been raised high enough to free some electrons from their nuclei.

Plasma, a mixture of free electrons and ions or atomic nuclei, is sometimes referred to as a "fourth state of matter."

Plasmas occur in thermonuclear reactions as in the sun, in fluorescent lights, and in stars. When gas temperature is raised high enough, the collision of atoms become so violent that electrons are knocked loose from their nuclei. The result of a gas having loose, negatively-charged electrons and heavier, positively-charged nuclei is called a plasma.

Solids, Liquids and Gases

All matter is made up of atoms. Animals and plants are organic matter; minerals and water are inorganic matter.

Whether matter appears as a solid, liquid, or gas depends on how the molecules are held together in their chemical bonds.

Solids have a rigid structure in the atoms of the molecules; in liquids the molecules are close together but not packed; in a gas, the molecules are widely spaced and move around, occasionally colliding but usually not interacting.

These states - solid, liquid, and gas - are the first three states of matter.

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