I have some plasma life forms that have evolved within the photosphere of a star and also capable of existing on a neutron star and the ergoshpere or accretion disk of a blackhole.

This lifeform could be contained within high powered magnets, such as in a tokomak fusion reactor but I am wondering if there is a way I can have these life-forms existing in other environments.

I assume they would need extremely high temperatures and enough gas to feed them, as well as very powerful magnets to stop them diffusing into the available space.

As another means of concentrating the matter it was suggested to me that dielectric stacks could be used to reflect the plasma within a set of reflectors, this is part of the initial evolution, that they formed competing patterns to evade a cancelation pattern, set up by a civilization that was harvesting energy from a star. This will likely not be the final reason for their evolution but I did find it an interesting idea.

How can I have these plasma beings exist in other environments other than the suitable ones stated, such as it moving through space, inside a spaceship or on a planet with earth-like conditions. I don't mind the severe radiation and danger to anything around it.

whether it is a natural solution or more likely a technological solution I would like this beings to not be obscured by a large magnetic confinement like a tokomak, If possible a discrete arrangement of internal or external magnets or reflectors and other discrete technology to maintain it.

so my question is what is the minimum amount of technology to confine a human sized volume of plasma ? and could the technology be portable so they could exist like other life-forms in different environments.

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    $\begingroup$ You are dealing with levels of energy that transform the matter in plasma. Do you think is feasible to contain such a thing with materials that the current technology knows about, without frantically waving one's hands? Perhaps you want to hire Magneto? (watch it, learn from it. At least you can learn how to earn an income by researching "what it would take to..." and explaining it to others). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi lol magneto would help, theres no need to take digs at people btw, people ask questions on here to learn, not wish they hadn't because of sly comments. $\endgroup$
    – user69935
    Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ See the Frank Herbert's two novels in the BuSab cycle, notably the Caleban entities. You may like Stanislaw Lem's "Solaris" - the book. Both of them handwave cosmic-object scale sentience without trying the impossible in justifying their existence and yet they manage to come with some good reads. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ "looking for an answer from a reputable source" - I'm afraid that will be impossible. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2020 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ "Such as in a tokomak fusion reactor": that's tokamak with an a, TOroidalnaya KAmera s MAgnitymi Katushkami, toroidal chamber with magnetic coils. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 20:47

3 Answers 3


I’ll ignore the issue of how the creature becomes a life form. But there are probably steps you can take to contain human sized plasma, as long as I wouldn’t have to build it…

  1. Plasmas are characterized in a variety of different ways. Not all plasmas are “hot” and energetic. Basically a plasma is just ionized electrons and ions, where the free electrons and atoms are not bound together usually following the kinetics of gas theory but with electromagnetic forces essentially acting on the electrons and ionized atom as independent charged particles. A lot of processes used to make plasmas are pretty energetic, and the kinetic energy of the electrons and ionized atoms can be pretty high. But they don’t have to be energetic.

  2. Not all plasmas have to be in high vacuum, you can have atmospheric plasmas and with a relatively simple coil, powered by an RF generator, around a tube with a gas flowing out of the tube and produce a jet of plasma. You can stick your hand in an atmospheric plasma, which is not a great idea, but depending on the plasma not harmful. For semiconductor-processing plasmas are controlled quite well for a variety of processes at a variety of pressures with the direction of the ion’s controlled to etch away the material, all kept within a chamber, often with a window to see the plasma and sometimes to optically measure the energies and components of the plasma with spectroscopy. Neon lamps, Gas lasers are other examples of useful plasmas. Plasma globes or plasma balls used to be popular novelty items because as you put your hand on the glass you would change the capacitance and the plasma streamers would change in dynamic ways.

  3. The conception that plasmas cannot be easily contained or manipulated probably arises from the special case of designing for a fusion reactor. In that case, the plasmas are very hot and energetic because you want to slam nuclei together, and there are well-known materials issues and part of the containment issue is keeping the energetic ions from hitting the walls etc. Plasma are very non-linear, the math is hard with a lot happening over different time scales, so it is hard to build a control system. However, you can have density waves travel through the plasma, and have other features of spatial organization. In a simple plasma generated between two planar plates you will typically see a dark space (sheath) near each plate with a bright glow in them middle.

  4. As an aside, once atoms are ionized you can also trap and cool them with lasers that are tuned to the transition frequency of the excited states of the atom. If you do this with an optical standing wave correctly you can put the ionized atoms into an array and have a grid of ionized atoms. This is an active field of research, and using definitions fairly loosely might be considering a form of manipulating plasma.

I think the key to your idea of having plasma being contained centers the idea of the creature being a steady state pattern. Presumably, it is the organization of the creature that is giving it is ability of think and to control itself. With this in mind I think you have a few factors to consider maintaining the creature (pattern) in steady state.

  1. Conservation of mass: You can have some atoms of electrons be lost, for example by reaching the boundary of the containing vessel, as long as they are replaced. Perhaps over time erosion of the vessel could be a plot point, or failure to resupply the gasses. Or perhaps they need a special type of atom. But potentially with a vacuum pump you can maintain the pressure and recover the gas, or with a mass flow controller and pressure controller and vacuum pump have a constant amount of gas to be ionized in the chamber.

  2. Conservation of energy – If you are seeing photons from the creature, they electrons and atoms are recombining and becoming neutral (see point one) and energy is being lost from the system and needs to be replaced. If the pressure in the vessel is higher then the mean free path of the atoms and electrons is smaller meaning more collisions. Mean free path is a big deal and collision frequency is big deal for plasma scientists and depends on the pressure. This might dictate the size of your vessel depending on how you organize your creature. To make up lost energy you have several choices, but RF excitation and optical excitation, could be used to add energy to the system.

  3. Conservation of Charge – probably shouldn’t try to separate electrons from the atoms too far or you can have very high voltages. But if the creature can manipulate itself and separate the positive ions from the negative electrons this creates a dipole and potentially could be used to generate radio waves, or induce charge on nearby objects etc.

  4. Geometry – The arrangement of electrodes and the placement of magnets is important. This starts to tie in with the collision frequency and mean free path of the plasma. You also have to keep in mind that the electron is a lot lighter than the ionized atom. Ionized atoms usually only lose one electron, and can be doubly or triply ionized, but it would be hard to strip all the electrons off. The mass and the charge will determine how fast the particles accelerate. A casual way to look at it is that the particle will accelerate until it collides with another particle. The magnetic fields will cause the particles to move around in a circle with the radius determined by the mass of the particle and the positive and negative particles circling in different directions.

  5. Transparency so you can look at the creature is important. Quartz is a nice material for containing plasmas and is often used transparent sapphire (Al2O3 without iron and titanium impurities) could also be used. If you want to get fancy, there are also transparent conductive materials like Indium Tin Oxide that you could use to form electrodes, although the conductivity of ITO is not as good as metals.

So what would a possible chamber for the creature schematically look like? There are multiple configurations that could be possible, assuming good high vacuum pumping capacity and support systems. For the purposes of a story, perhaps something like an Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) system in configuration, but scaled up to your size. You could also have separated plates or other configurations, but this seems simple and appealing, although it might need future tech depending on the scale.

Below is a picture of an ICP coupled plasma in a instrument chamber, that is pretty small, but shows the geometry. The exterior chamber in your case could transparent for communication.

By Wblanchard - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27531915

In schematic form this looks like

Typical ICP Schematic

This particular configuration is used to analyse samples, especially metal impurities what are carried into the plasma, and the plasma excites the metal atoms so they can be measured by spectroscopy.

If you scaled this up, I suppose you suck the creature in through the sample port and then sustain it once it was trapped in the chamber.

Note: That you will see that the temperatures of these types of plasma measure in the thousands of degrees kelvin. For the individual atoms the energies can range from 10's to hundreds of electron volts. Individually that is not a lot of energy when hitting an object composed of large numbers of atoms. The terms "hot", "cold", and "thermal" plasmas have to deal with the distribution of the energies of the atoms. Hot to say you can ignore heat transfer completely. The temperature does matter, the inductive coils that provide the magnetic fields are sometimes just copper pipes with water flowing through them for cooling, but they are also being heated by the current flowing through them producing the magnetic fields. So temperature is not as big a deal as you might first think.

How the creature got far enough away from the star to be caught, etc. is a different set of interesting issues.


First off, plasma life is impossible.

Plasma is by definition particles that are ionized and therefore don't create long bonds. while it is possible to have poly atomic ions (see https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/134723/is-a-plasma-necessarily-made-of-monoatomic-ions) They also move around so much that they are not organized at all, like gases. Therefore no pattern of life can emerge because no pattern exists.

With handwavium we can do something though. Assuming the plasma itself is intelligent here is what you can do.

First, the plasma must be able to contain itself, plasma naturally spreads to fill any container, like gas, so in the corona of a star it will naturally disperse while orbiting. That means for this species to evolve it must have some near impossible means of keeping itself together. To do this you will need the plasma to be large enough to act like a second sun and create it's own magnetic field that stops any of the material from escaping.This doesn't make the thing alive, this just means all the plasma stay in one place. Also, the plasma has no control over the field, since there is no part of the plasma static enough to be able to make decisions and manipulate the field.

Assuming however that your magic plasma does have a way of changing it's magnetic field here is what needs to happen.

First, your plasma is a very low temperature plasma, 70-100 degrees Celsius at minimum. (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/chilling-out-with-cold-plasmas/) this means it will work even at low temperatures. This is important because the materials you need to not melt are above that temperature. It is not clear if the article here created the plasma in a way that is sustainable, they have a plasma blow torch which is suspect might not be naturally maintainable, but potentially if the conditions are maintainable without the blow torch, then it is possible to reproduce in nature. That is a big if though. Other wise we need to you just pretty low temperature plasma, which I think can get down to 1200 kelvin (citation needed, my best guess is that this is 1000 kelvin colder than the coldest star (https://www.windows2universe.org/cool_stuff/HR_temperature.html&edu=high) if that is the case we can still move materials by "hand" but the plasma will always be on the edge of being to cold or melting the material. If the lowest we can go is 2,000 Kelvin, the same as the coldest star (https://www.windows2universe.org/cool_stuff/HR_temperature.html&edu=high), then we can only manipulate solid object with magic magnetic fields.

The Tokomak fusion reactor has many properties to it, but one if those is that it is made out of metals, neodymium, iron, copper wiring in the computers, and they are in solid states. So, to make a magnetic containment chamber, the plasma would have to acquire large amounts of these materials, then surround it self in them, then build the chamber around it while ensuring it doesn't melt any of it. Even our coldest of cold plasma are hotter than 70 degrees Celsius. Most magnets decrease in strength with the application of heat at about 80 Celsius(https://www.apexmagnets.com/news-how-tos/magnet-experiments-what-happens-when-a-magnet-is-heated/). So when the chamber is built, it then needs to let go of the chamber, and ensure the chamber is a vacuum to not transmit its heat to the chamber walls, making the chamber to hot to use the magnets. It can also just cool down to 70 Celsius and hope it doesn't affect the walls to much.If the minimum temperature of plasma in the wild is over 1000 Celsius, then instead the device will have to be made with magnetic fields alone. When this occurs the chamber will come online and contain the plasma. An external machine will then have to monitor minute changes in the field to do what the plasma wants.

This does have a few problems

Heavy metals are not common in stars, or in general.

The metals required to build this machine come from supernova-ed stars (https://futurism.com/what-happens-when-stars-produce-iron) since elements larger than iron require more energy than a star can provide. This makes it hard to find. Even on earth these deposits are relatively few and far between, in comparison to say, oxygen or nitrogen. Also, the only atoms the plasma has access to are coming from solar flares, which can magnetically destabilize the plasma or just slam into it at incredible speeds. so collecting enough material will be difficult.

It will be nearly impossible to design the machine

Unless another species creates this and gives it to the plasma, these plasma will have trouble doing even basic science, let alone making a magnetic containment chamber. To build anything the plasma must collect and isolate extremely rare atoms over long periods of time, but making anything with these atoms wouldn't help much because the plasma would probably get all its energy from the sun, and has no competitors. Even if they did decide to do science, the simplest inventions requires the knowledge of period table, and painstaking creation of literally everything needed to build the invention. hunter gatherers used bones for early inventions, and built clothes and bows out of wood and animal tissues. Your plasma has nothing like that in comparison. Birds and horses inspired people to build basic land and air transport until they could do space travel. All your plasma knows is the sun that it orbits. Therefore it is not likely it will produce space travel.

Why bother with leaving their star?

Humans can think about terra-forming other planets, since theoretically, eventually those planets will support life, but for the plasma animals these places are nearly uninhabitable. They require nearly impossible to create suits that literally crush them at all times, they shield most of the radiation from the sun, taking their life force. All their materials produce less energy and are mostly only useful for creating more crushing suits. If you want hydrogen you could just orbit a star and get more instead. if they do want to go to different planets, they might create rockets with magnetic backs that will push them along with the rockets, but there is no reason to actually go someplace that requires a suit for the reasons stated above.

how to have plasma and reasonable creature

On the other hand, you could just have the creatures be solid but use plasma. If you make your creatures solid, but they orbit stars and eat solar flares that could work. The creatures would come from a small planet with low gravity next on a sun that gets solar flares. when a flare comes the animals take the high energy electrons and use them to create ATP. you would basically have to have the krebs cycle be modified to instead of just taking electrons from glucose or similar products, you instead take them from plasma, and eject the positive ions after using the negative electrons to make ATP. This means instead of ion pairs from glucose you take electrons from plasma directly. (https://www.biology.iupui.edu/biocourses/N100/2k4ch7respirationnotes.html). Because these ions have extremely high energy they should also produce extreme amounts of ATP as the electrons could be reused many times. However, this means this creature would have to be built nearly entirely out of materials that have a melting point above 350 kelvin, since all other materials would be burned or melted when even the lowest temperature plasma encounters it. Which excludes any kind of biological material, and goes against all known theories of how life develops (https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/9419/why-are-there-no-organisms-with-metal-body-parts-like-weapons-bones-and-armou). Also, the creatures would have to know that the plasma that hits them is never to much hotter than that, so the sun would need to continually eject low temperature plasma, with no cases of higher temperature plasma. This is unlikely since solar flares are not known for being predictable(https://daily.jstor.org/dont-underestimate-threat-solar-flares/).

TL;DR Just make your creatures out of solids that contain extremely low temperature (350 kelvin) plasma, it will be much easier that way.


Some Assumptions

What is a 'plasma life form'? Life forms are, at their most basic, self-replicating chemicals existing in sufficient variety and with sufficiently different properties that much more complicated structures are possible.

Systems of reactions do exist in stars, but they are nuclear reactions, instead of chemical ones.

enter image description hereenter image description here

Imagining that there are many not-yet-discovered systems of reactions, it's possible that super-hot helium neutrons are analogous to the electron in our chemistry, being captive in different amounts by the different chemical participants, and changing that isotopes character slightly.

I think you'd also need to imagine that there is some property allowing something analogous to a semi-stable chemical structure.

This could be the atoms themselves. Quark chemistry is converting protons to neutrons, ejecting and absorbing globs of more quarks. It's been confirmed the dibaryons exist, so a single baryon could hold many quarks, giving rich(er) chemistry possibilities.

And since weak force is non-symmetric, you may have some analogue to polar and non-polar substances in organic chemistry. A lot of assumption.

How Does a Plasma Lifeform Establish Homeostasis?

With chemical reaction analogues hypothesized, how would a life form made of single-atom "cells" keep itself together to form micro- and macro- scopic structures?

Maybe loop currents caused by moving charged ions in a magnetic field. Does that work? For a bubble chamber $r = {mv} \over {qB}$. Elementary charge (q) is $1.6 \times 10^{-19}$, mass of a proton is $1.6 \times 10^{-27}$, v in the chromosphere (30,000 K) is 221,433 $m \over s$, and

B is 1 Gauss for the sun (0.0001 Teslas) generally, and up to 3,000 Gauss around sunspots, and can get even 2,000 Teslas in a 1 mole stream of hydrogen. That produces "organ" analogs on the scale of a few meters (for 1 Gauss), millimeters (3,000 Gauss) or micrometers (for really high-speed local currents).

So, assuming there exist as-yet-unknown laws of nature that provide stability to systems like this, we have a kind of life form made out of plasma.

It might even be able to build up a skeleton or shell of a high-temperature material such as tungsten.

enter image description here

How to Keep This Kind of Life Healthy in Containment

Since these things rely on complex magnetic fields for homeostasis, using a simple magnetic containment is out. It would be like throwing a human being into a lye bath (it dissolves).

Magnetic fields don't really exist. They are a relativistic effect of moving charges. The high gamma of a sun, neutron star, or black hole probably has an influence on the behavior of these reactions, and is probably important to their health.

This life form probably only has a certain temperature range in which it's nuclear biochemistry works. And, you'd also need to provide the necessary chemistry to keep it going.

enter image description here

In Summary

You need a pressure vessel the contains :

  • 15 GPa of pressure. Carbon nanotubes boast this potential strength (https://www.rankred.com/strongest-materials/)
  • 15 million(ish) Kelvin (see chart)
  • artificial gravity roughly around that of the sun ($R_{schwazchild}$, $\gamma$ = 1 @ ~ 1.5 kilometer) and
  • can hold the creature without interfering with it's magnetic fields.

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