Plasmas are a lot like gases, but the atoms are different because they are made up of free ELECTRONS and IONS of the element. You don't really find plasmas too often when you walk around. They aren't something that happen regularly on Earth. If you have ever heard of the Northern Lights or Ball Lightning you might know that those are types of plasmas. It takes a very special ENVIRONMENT to keep plasmas going. Scientists say that they are the fourth state of matter, different and UNIQUE from the other states of matter.
SO YOU WANT TO BE A PLASMA
So imagine you're a gas. Floating around and you say "Hmmmm, I'd like to become a plasma. They are too cool!" You're already half-way there being a gas. But you need more. You need to tear off a bunch of electrons from your atoms. Eventually you'll have bunches of positively and negatively charged atoms in almost equal CONCENTRATIONS. When the ions are in equal amounts, the charge of the entire plasma is close to NEUTRAL. (A whole bunch of positive atoms will cancel out the charge of an equal bunch of negatively charged atoms.)
Now you know what you need to have, the question is how do you make it happen? The answer is ENERGY. A plasma can be made from a gas if a lot of energy is pushed inside. All of this extra energy makes the neutral atoms break apart into positively and negatively charged atoms and free electrons. The electrons are pulled off of neutral atoms, leaving ions and electrons in a big gaseous ball. And there you are, a big glowing ball of plasma, running around and impressing your friends.
FINDING A PLASMA
We said you wouldn't find plasmas anywhere. But maybe there are some right in front of you. Think about a fluorescent light bulb. They are not like regular light bulbs. Inside the long tube is a gas. When the light is turned on, ELECTRICITY flows through the tube. This electricity acts as that special energy and charges up the gas. This charging and exciting of the atoms creates a glowing plasma inside the bulb.
Another example of plasma that you may have seen is a neon sign. Just like a fluorescent light, neon signs are glass tubes filled with gas. When turned on the electricity flows through the tube. The electricity charges the gas, possibly neon, and creates a plasma inside of the tube. This plasma glows a special color depending on what kind of gas is inside.
You also see plasma when you look at stars. They aren't easy to find if you live in a big smoggy city, but look hard. Stars are big balls of gases at really high temperatures. The high temperatures charge up the atoms and create plasma. Stars are another good example of how the temperature of plasmas can be very different. Fluorescent lights are cold compared to really hot stars. But still, they are both forms of plasma.