Substances on Earth can exist in one of four phases, but mostly, they exist in one of three: solid, liquid or gas. Learn the six changes of phase: freezing, melting, condensation, vaporization, sublimation and deposition.
Changes of Phase
There are four states of matter in the universe: plasma, gas, liquid and solid. But, matter on Earth exists mostly in three distinct phases: gas, liquid and solid. A phase is a distinctive form of a substance, and matter can change among the phases. It may take extreme temperature, pressure or energy, but all matter can be changed.
There are six distinct changes of phase which happens to different substances at different temperatures. The six changes are:
Freezing: the substance changes from a liquid to a solid.
Melting: the substance changes back from the solid to the liquid.
Condensation: the substance changes from a gas to a liquid.
Vaporization: the substance changes from a liquid to a gas.
Sublimation: the substance changes directly from a solid to a gas without going through the liquid phase.
Deposition: the substance changes directly from a gas to a solid without going through the liquid phase.
Examples of Phase Change
Water vapor turning to frost is an example of deposition.
I’m sure you know what most of these phases look like. Freezing is when liquid water freezes into ice cubes. Melting is when those ice cubes melt. Condensation is when dew forms on grass in the morning. Vaporization is when water boils and turns into steam.
Deposition is one you may not know, but this happens when water vapor goes directly to freezing, like when there is frost on a cold winter morning. An example of sublimation happens when dry ice turns directly into gas. Gas can also change into a plasma. In order to do this, you have to add an enormous amount of energy to the gas in order to free up the electrons from the atoms.
Sublimation occurs when dry ice turns into gas.
Sublimation Dry Ice
Phase Change Diagram
Let’s take a look at phase change as it pertains to water. This will apply to all substances, but we are all most familiar with water. Phase change is often shown in a diagram like the one below:
Diagram of water phase changes
Phase Change Diagram
When a substance is in a solid state, it can absorb a lot of energy in the form of heat until it hits its melting point. Think about snow outside. Once snow hits the ground, it stays there, whether it is -50 degrees F outside or all the way up to 32 degrees F.
The snow can absorb energy all the way up until it hits its melting point of 32 degrees F. This is the diagonal line at stage I on the graph. Once a substance hits its melting point, it is a combination of solid and liquid for a while, as you can see by the flat line on the graph at stage II.
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