What is Space Plasma?

Plasma in a plasma ball. Image courtesy: Davide Anselmi

The universe is made of up of space plasma. Plasma is the word given to the fourth state of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma). A plasma is a gas that is so hot that some or all its constituent atoms are split up into electrons and ions, which can move independently of each other. Because they are made up of electrically charged particles, plasmas can be strongly influenced by electrostatic and electromagnetic fields and forces, which can lead to very complex and interesting behaviour.

Plasmas are found throughout the Solar System and beyond: in the solar corona and solar wind, in the magnetospheres of the Earth and other planets, in tails of comets, in the inter-stellar and inter-galactic media and in the accretion disks around black holes. There are also plasmas here on Earth, ranging from the inside of a nuclear fusion reactor to a candle flame.

In the Space Plasma Physics Group, we study plasmas in the Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind, and what happens when they interact. 

Artist's impression of the Sun-Earth connection. (c) NASA

Page last modified on 28 nov 17 13:47