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Fusion reactions are inhibited by the electrical repulsive force that acts between two positively charged nuclei. For fusion to occur, the two nuclei must approach each other at high speed to overcome the electrical repulsion and attain a sufficiently small separation (less than one-trillionth of a centimeter) that the short-range strong nuclear force dominates. For the production of useful amounts of energy, a large number of nuclei must under go fusion: that is to say, a gas of fusing nuclei must be produced. In a gas at extremely high temperature, the average nucleus contains sufficient kinetic energy to undergo fusion. Such a medium can be produced by heating an ordinary gas of neutral atoms beyond the temperature at which electrons are knocked out of the atoms. The result is an ionized gas consisting of free negative electrons and positive nuclei. This gas constitutes a plasma. Plasma, in physics, is an electrically conducting medium in which there are roughly equal numbers of positively and negatively charged particles, produced when the atoms in a gas become ionized. It is sometimes referred to as the fourth state of matter, distinct from the solid, liquid, and gaseous states. When energy is continuously applied to a solid, it first melts, then it vaporizes, and finally electrons are removed from some of the neutral gas atoms and molecules to yield a mixture of positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons, while overall neutral charge density is maintained. When a significant portion of the gas has been ionized, its properties will be altered so substantially that little resemblance to solids, liquids, and gases remains. A plasma is unique in the way in which it interacts with itself with electric and magnetic fields, and with its environment. A plasma can be thought of as a collection of ions, electrons, neutral atoms and molecules, an photons in which some atoms are being ionized simultaneously with other electrons recombining with ions to form neutral particles, while photons are continuously being produced and absorbed. Scientists have estimated that more than 99 percent of the matter in the universe exists in the plasma state. All of the observed stars, including the Sun, consist of plasma, as do interstellar and interplanetary media and the outer atmospheres of the planets. Although most terrestrial matter exists in a solid, liquid or gaseous state, plasma is found in lightning bolts and auroras, in gaseous discharge lamps (neon lights), and in the crystal structure of metallic solids.

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