State of matter
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States of matter in physics are the distinct forms that different phases of matter take on. Four states of matter are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Further states are possible but do not naturally occur in our environment: Bose–Einstein condensates, neutron stars. Other states, such as quark-gluon plasmas, are believed to be possible. For a complete list of all exotic states of matter, see the list of states of matter. Historically, the distinction is made based on qualitative differences in properties. Matter in the solid state maintains a fixed volume and shape, with component particles (atoms, molecules or ions) close together and fixed into place. Matter in the liquid state maintains a fixed volume, but has a variable shape that adapts to fit its container. Its particles are still close together but move freely. Matter in the gaseous state has both variable volume and shape, adapting both to fit its container. Its particles are neither close together nor fixed in place. Matter in the plasma state has variable volume and shape, but as well as neutral atoms, it contains a significant number of ions and electrons, both of which can move around freely. Plasma is the most common form of visible matter in the universe.
The Four Fundamental States
A crystalline solid: atomic resolution image of strontium titanate. Brighter atoms are Sr and darker ones are Ti. Main article: Solid
The particles (ions, atoms or molecules) are packed closely together. The forces between particles are strong enough so that the particles cannot move freely but can only vibrate. As a result, a solid has a stable, definite shape, and a definite volume. Solids can only change their shape by force, as when broken or cut. In crystalline solids, the particles (atoms, molecules, or ions) are packed in a regularly ordered, repeating pattern. There are many different crystal structures, and the same substance can have more than one structure (or solid phase). For example, iron has a body-centred cubic structure at temperatures below 912 °C, and a face-centred cubic structure between 912 and 1394 °C. Ice has fifteen known crystal structures, or fifteen solid phases, which exist at various temperatures and pressures. Glasses and other non-crystalline, amorphous solids without long-range order are not thermal equilibrium ground states; therefore they are described below as nonclassical states of matter. Solids can be transformed into liquids by melting, and liquids can be transformed into solids by freezing. Solids can also change directly into gases through the process of sublimation. Liquid
Structure of a classical monatomic liquid. Atoms have many nearest neighbors in contact, yet no long-range order is present. Main article: Liquid
A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure. The volume is definite if the temperature and pressure are constant. When a solid is heated above its melting point, it becomes liquid, given that the pressure is higher than the triple point of the substance. Intermolecular (or interatomic or interionic) forces are still important, but the molecules have enough energy to move relative to each other and the structure is mobile. This means that the shape of a liquid is not definite but is determined by its container. The volume is usually greater than that of the corresponding solid, the most well known exception being water, H2O. The highest temperature at which a given liquid can exist is its critical temperature. Gas
The spaces between gas molecules are very big. Gas molecules have very weak or no bonds at all. The molecules in "gas" can move freely and fast. Main article: Gas
A gas is a...