Lightning and Plasma Photo Gallery

The Fourth State of Matter

Green industrial laser
Laser beams can ionize air and form plasma.

Cylonphoto / Getty Images

This is a photo gallery of lightning and plasma pictures. One way to think of plasma is as an ionized gas or as the fourth state of matter. The electrons in plasma are not bound to protons, so charged particles in plasma are highly responsive to electromagnetic fields.

Lightning Photograph

The electrical discharge of lightning exists in the form of plasma.
The electrical discharge of lightning exists in the form of plasma. Charles Allison, Oklahoma Lightning

Examples of plasma include stellar gas clouds and stars, lightning, the ionosphere (which includes auroras), the interiors of fluorescent and neon lamps and some flames. Lasers often ionize gases and form plasma, too.

Plasma Lamp

A plasma lamp is a familiar example of plasma.
A plasma lamp is a familiar example of plasma. Luc Viatour

X-Ray Sun

This is a view of the sun from the Soft X-Ray Telescope (SXT) on the Yohkoh satellite.
This is a view of the sun from the Soft X-Ray Telescope (SXT) on the Yohkoh satellite. The looping structures consist of hot plasma bound by magnetic field lines. Sunspots would be found at the base of these loops. NASA Goddard Laboratory

Electric Discharge

This is an electric discharge around a glass plate.
This is an electric discharge around a glass plate. Matthias Zepper

Tycho's Supernova Remnant

This is a false-color x-ray image of Tycho's Supernova Remnant.
This is a false-color x-ray image of Tycho's Supernova Remnant. The red and green bands are an expanding cloud of superhot plasma. The blue band is a shell of extremely high energy electrons. NASA

Lightning from a Thunderstorm

This is lightning associated with a thunderstorm.
This is lightning associated with a thunderstorm near Oradea, Romania (August 17, 2005). Mircea Madau

Plasma Arc

The Wimshurst Machine, invented in the early 1880s, is popular for demonstrating plasma.
The Wimshurst Machine, invented in the early 1880s, is popular for demonstrating plasma. Matthew Dingemans

Hall Effect Thruster

This is a photo of a Hall Effect thruster (ion drive) in operation.
This is a photo of a Hall Effect thruster (ion drive) in operation. The electric field of the plasma double layer accelerates the ions. Dstaack, Wikipedia Commons

Neon Sign

This neon filled discharge tube displays the element's characteristic reddish-orange emission.
This neon filled discharge tube displays the element's characteristic reddish-orange emission. The ionized gas inside the tube is plasma. pslawinski, wikipedia.org

Earth's Magnetosphere

This is an image of the magnetic tail of Earth's plasmasphere.
This is an image of the magnetic tail of Earth's plasmasphere, which is a region of the magnetosphere that is distorted by pressure from the solar wind. The photo was taken by the Extreme Ultraviolet imager instrument onboard the IMAGE satellite. NASA

Lightning Animation

This is an example of cloud-cloud lightning over Tolouse, France.
This is an example of cloud-cloud lightning over Tolouse, France. Sebastien D'Arco

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, above Bear Lake, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, above Bear Lake, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The colors of the aurora derive from the emission spectra of ionized gases in the atmosphere. United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

Solar Plasma

Image of the sun's chromosphere.
Image of the sun's chromosphere taken by Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope on Jan. 12, 2007, revealing the filamentary nature of solar plasma following magnetic field lines. Hinode JAXA/NASA

Solar Filaments

The SOHO spacecraft took this image of solar filaments.
The SOHO spacecraft took this image of solar filaments, which are massive bubbles of magnetic plasma that are ejected into space. NASA

Volcano with Lightning

1982 eruption of Galunggung, Indonesia, accompanied by lightning strikes.
1982 eruption of Galunggung, Indonesia, accompanied by lightning strikes. USGS

Volcano with Lightning

This is a photograph of the 1995 volcanic eruption of Mount Rinjani in Indonesia.
This is a photograph of the 1995 volcanic eruption of Mount Rinjani in Indonesia. Volcanic eruptions are frequently accompanied by lightning. Oliver Spalt

Aurora Australis

This is a photo of the aurora australis in Antarctica.
This is a photo of the aurora australis in Antarctica. Samuel Blanc

Both the aurora borealis and aurora australis are examples of plasma. Interestingly, at any given time, the aurorae in the northern and southern hemispheres mirror each other.

Plasma Filaments

Plasma filaments from the electrical discharge of a Tesla coil.
Plasma filaments from the electrical discharge of a Tesla coil. This photo was taken at the UK Teslathon in Derby, UK, on 27 May 2005. Ian Tresman

Plasma filaments are easily observed in the novelty toy called the plasma ball, but they occur elsewhere, too.

Catseye Nebula

X-ray/optical composite image of NGC6543, the Cat's Eye Nebula.
X-ray/optical composite image of NGC6543, the Cat's Eye Nebula. The red is hydrogen-alpha; blue, neutral oxygen; green, ionized nitrogen. NASA/ESA

Omega Nebula

Hubble photograph of M17, also known as the Omega Nebula.
Hubble photograph of M17, also known as the Omega Nebula. NASA/ESA

Aurora on Jupiter

Jupiter aurora viewed in ultraviolet by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Jupiter aurora viewed in ultraviolet by the Hubble Space Telescope. The bright steaks are magnetic flux tubes that connect Jupiter to its moons. The dots are the largest moons. John T. Clarke (U. Michigan), ESA, NASA

Aurora Australis

Aurora Australis over Wellington, New Zealand approximately 3am on 24 November 2001.
Aurora Australis over Wellington, New Zealand approximately 3am on 24 November 2001. Paul Moss

Lightning over a Cemetary

Lightning over Miramare di Rimini, Italy.
Lightning over Miramare di Rimini, Italy. The colors of lightning, usually violet and blue, reflect the emission spectra of the ionized gases in the atmosphere. Magica, Wikipedia Commons

Lightning over Boston

This black and white photo is of a lightning storm over Boston, circa 1967.
This black and white photo is of a lightning storm over Boston, circa 1967. Boston Globe/NOAA

Lightning Strikes Eiffel Tower

Lightning striking the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France.
Lightning striking the Eiffel Tower, June 3, 1902, at 9:20 pm. This is one of the earliest photos of lightning in an urban setting. Historic NWS Collection, NOAA

Boomerang Nebula

Image of the Boomerang Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Image of the Boomerang Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA

Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula is an expanding remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed in 1054.
The Crab Nebula is an expanding remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed in 1054. This image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA

Horsehead Nebula

This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of the Horsehead Nebula.
This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of the Horsehead Nebula. NASA, NOAO, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team

Red Rectangle Nebula

The Red Rectangle Nebula is an example of a protoplanetary nebula and a bipolar nebula.
The Red Rectangle Nebula is an example of a protoplanetary nebula and a bipolar nebula. NASA JPL

Pleiades Cluster

This photo of the Pleiades clearly shows its reflection nebulae.
This photo of the Pleiades (M45, the Seven Sisters, Matariki, or Subaru) clearly shows its reflection nebulae. NASA

Pillars of Creation

The Pillars of Creation are regions of star formation within the Eagle Nebula.
The Pillars of Creation are regions of star formation within the Eagle Nebula. NASA/ESA/Hubble

Mercury UV Lamp

The glow from this mercury germicidal UV lamp comes from plasma.
The glow from this mercury germicidal UV lamp comes from ionized low pressure mercury vapor, an example of plasma. Deglr6328, Wikipedia Commons

Tesla Coil Lightning Simulator

This is a Tesla coil lightning simulator at Questacon in Canberra, Australia.
This is a Tesla coil lightning simulator at Questacon in Canberra, Australia. The electrical discharge is an example of plasma. Fir0002, Wikipedia Commons

Eye of God Helix Nebula

Eye of God Helix Nebula
This is a color composite image of the Helix Nebula from data obtained at the La Silla observatory in Chile. The blue-green glow comes from oxygen exposed to intense ultraviolet radiation. The red is from hydrogen and nitrogen. ESO

Hubble Helix Nebula

"Eye of God" or Helix Nebula
"Eye of God" or Helix Nebula composite photograph taken from Hubble Space Telescope. ESA/NASA

Crab Nebula

Crab Pulsar in the Crab Nebula
Composite photograph from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope of the Crab Pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula. NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al., HST/ASU/J. Hester et al.