What is Plasma? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Plasma is a gas with a lot of energy and is the fourth state of matter. This lesson will teach you some cool facts about plasma, what it is and where you can see it on Earth and out in space.

Plasma in Real Life

It's a stormy night and you're inside listening to the rain, even though you should be sleeping. Suddenly, a bolt of light brightens up the night sky and your dark bedroom for just a second. It quickly disappears, but you know this light show will go on for a while. You watch the lightning flash until you finally fall asleep. And though you've seen lightning many times before, you might not know it's really a kind of plasma!

You probably already know about the three states of matter called solids, liquids and gases. Plasma is the fourth state of matter: a very hot gas that has a lot more energy than the other three states of matter. Just like your parents put fuel into their car, energy gets added to a gas, heating it up and energizing it to create plasma.

Though you may not have heard of it, plasma is the most common state of matter in the entire universe. We see it here on Earth in the form of things like lightning and the Northern and Southern Lights.

Northern Lights
Northern lights

Plasma is also used to make fluorescent light bulbs and the plasma televisions you watch cartoons on. Even our Sun and most stars are big balls of plasma.

Plasma Starts with Atoms

Everything is made of atoms, including you and everything around you, though you can't see them with your naked eye. Atoms are the smallest pieces of all kinds of matter. Atoms also make up the gases that are energized and become plasma!

In the middle of each atom sits a nucleus (pronounced NEW-clee-us). Electrons orbit around the nucleus, kind of like the way the moon orbits around the Earth.

Diagram of an Atom
Atom

Gas + Energy = Plasma

The atoms in gases are already free to bounce and zip around. When energy is added to a gas, its atoms get really excited and start moving around even faster than they were before, like popcorn when all the kernels start popping and flying around in all directions at once.

As the atoms are zooming around, the electrons furthest from the nucleus start breaking off. Without these outer electrons, the atom is now called an ion. Plasma is called an ionized gas because it is made of these ions and electrons.

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