When you study history, do you have an appreciation for how early humans survived way back when? Hunting and gathering food in the wild must have been a big challenge. It must have been even harder for them to charge their devices without electricity!

Just kidding! Life was quite different back in the days before mobile phones and tablet computers. Today, we take these items — and the electricity that runs them — for granted. Can you imagine what a struggle it would be if you couldn't plug in just about anywhere to recharge the devices you rely upon every day?

Electricity is all around us every day, and we usually don't give much thought to it. When you learn about electricity in school, though, it can be a fun and exciting time. This is especially true if you have access to a plasma ball!

If you've ever seen one of those clear glass balls that lights up with what looks like bolts of electricity that stretch from a central orb to the place where your fingers touch the outside of the glass, then you know how cool plasma balls really are!

So what exactly is a plasma ball? Before we can answer that, let's first take a look at what plasma is. Although it sounds a bit mysterious, plasma is actually the most common form of matter in the universe! It's even more common than solids, liquids, and gases!

The Southwest Research Institute defines plasma as “a hot ionized gas containing roughly equal quantities of positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons." Plasma is considered a fourth state of matter that's different from solids, liquids, and gases.

A plasma ball — also sometimes called a plasma globe, lamp, dome, or sphere — is a clear glass ball filled with a mixture of noble gases with a high-voltage electrode at its center. Plasma filaments extend from the electrode to the glass when electricity is supplied, creating fascinating beams of colored light.

The plasma ball was invented by Nikola Tesla when he was experimenting with high-frequency electric currents in a glass vacuum tube. That's why the electrode at the center of a plasma ball is also often known as a Tesla coil. The modern plasma balls popular as novelty and educational items today were first designed by Bill Parker.

The electrode at the center of a plasma ball emits a high-frequency, high-voltage alternating electric current. This current flows through the plasma filaments to create colorful tendrils of light. The colors depend upon the gases used inside the plasma ball. Common gases include neon, argon, xenon, and krypton.

If you've ever touched a plasma ball when it's on, you know that placing your finger on the glass draws a colorful strand of light to your finger. It's like creating your own personal bolt of lightning from the electrode to your finger!

This phenomenon occurs because of the conductive properties of the human body. When you touch the glass, you create a discharge path with less resistance than the surrounding glass and gases.

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day pays tribute to those who have gone before you!