Gases

A State of Matter

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Review all three states of matter.


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Facts about Gases

  • Like solids and liquids, gas is a common state of matter.


  • Pure gases are made up of just one atom. Neon is an example of a pure gas.


  • Elemental gases are made up of two or more of the same atoms joined together.Hydrogen gas (H2) is an example an elemental gas.


  • Compound gases contain a combination of different atoms. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an example of a compound gas.


  • The air we breathe here on Earth is made up of different gases. It contains around 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon and a small amount of other gases.


  • Natural gas contains mostly methane, it is used as a fuel to generate electricity and is common in the home where it can be used for heating, cooking and other purposes.


  • Gas pressure is measured in pascals.


  • The helium balloons you get at parties and carnivals float because helium is lighter than the air surrounding it.


  • Noble gases are a group of chemical elements that are very stable under normal conditions. Naturally occurring noble gases include helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon.


  • The ozone layer that protects Earth from the Sun’s potentially damaging UV light is made up of ozone (O3), an oxygen allotrope containing 3 oxygen atoms bound together.


  • Nitrous oxide (N20) is a gas with interesting properties that allow it to be used in a variety of different ways, these include as an anesthetic in hospitals (you may have heard it referred to as laughing gas) and to increase the power of engines in motor racing (often called nitrous or just NOS).

Warming Liquids to Create Gases: Try it here!

Fun Facts about Solids, Liquids, and Gases

  • Gases are often invisible and assume the shape and volume of their container.
  • The air we breathe is made up of different gases, but is mostly nitrogen and oxygen.
  • We can see through some solids like glass.
  • When liquid gasoline is burned in a car, it turns into various gases which go into the air from the exhaust pipe.
  • Fire is a mixture of hot gases.
  • Plasma is by far the most abundant state of matter in the universe because stars are mostly plasma.

Are you curious about the 4th and 5th states of matter?

You should know about solids, liquids, gases, plasmas, and one state called the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). Scientists have always known about solids, liquids, and gases. Plasma was a new idea when it was noticed by William Crookes in 1879. The scientists who worked with the Bose-Einstein condensate received a Nobel Prize for their work in 1995. But what makes a state of matter? It's about the physical state of the molecules and atoms. Think about solids. They are often hard and brittle. Liquids are all fluidy at room temperature. Gases are there, but you usually smell them before you can see them. You don't see them because their molecules are really far apart. The BEC is all about molecules that are really close to each other (even closer than atoms in a solid).

Plasmas

Plasmas are a lot like gases, but the atoms are different, because they are made up of free electrons and ions of an element such as neon (Ne). You don't find naturally occurring plasmas too often when you walk around. They aren't things 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. They are different and unique from the other states of matter. Plasma is different from a gas, because it is made up of groups of positively and negatively charged particles. In neon gas, the electrons are all bound to the nucleus. In neon plasma, the electrons are free to move around the system. While natural plasmas aren't found around you that often, man-made plasmas are everywhere. Think about fluorescent light bulbs. They are not like regular light bulbs. Inside the long tube is a gas. Electricity flows through the tube when the light is turned on. The electricity acts as an energy source and charges up the gas. This charging and exciting of the atoms creates glowing plasma inside the bulb. The electricity helps to strip the gas molecules of their electrons. Another example of plasma is a neon sign. Just like a fluorescent lights, neon signs are glass tubes filled with gas. When the light is turned on, the electricity flows through the tube. The electricity charges the gas and creates plasma inside of the tube. The plasma glows a special color depending on what kind of gas is inside. Inert gases are usually used in signs to create different colors. Noble gases such as helium (He), Neon (Ne), Argon (Ar), and Xenon (Xe) are all used in signs. You also see plasma when you look at stars. Stars are big balls of gases at really high temperatures. The high temperatures charge up the atoms and create plasma. Stars are a good example of how the temperature of plasmas can be very different. Fluorescent lights are cold compared to really hot stars. However, they are still both forms of plasma, even with the different physical characteristics.