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Question

I read that plasma is the fourth state of matter. In the same book, it stated that plasma was (basically) shattered particles, using fire as an example. Is this true?
Asked by: Aroura

Answer

A plasma, as defined by physicists, is a gas-like state of matter in which all (or many) of the electrons have been stripped from the nuclei they orbit. Atoms are not otherwise bound to each other as in a crystal or a metal. The negatively charged electrons and the positively charged nuclei (ions) co-exist and intermingle but do not, on the average, recombine to form stable, neutral atoms.

Actually, recombination of electrons and nuclei occurs continuously, which process is accompanied by the emission of light. This is why a plasma, such as occurs within a neon tube, or a flame, gives off a characteristic light. But, due to thermal energy (flame) or continued electrical excitation (neon tube), recombined electrons/ions are quickly knocked apart again, maintaining the average state of a mixture of free electrons and ions.

So, yes, the book is correct. A plasma consists, in effect, of 'shattered particles,' with 'shattered' meaning that the atoms are maintained, on the average, in an ionized condition, with the stripped electrons and resulting ions intermingling in a glowing, gas-like state.
Answered by: Warren Davis, Ph.D., President, Davis Associates, Inc., Newton, MA USA


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