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An illustration of the random way gas molecules move, without being attached to each other.

A gas is one of the four most common states of matter. In a gas the molecules move freely and are independent of each other. This makes it different from a liquid where the molecules are loosely attached, or from a solid where the bonds are strong and hold the molecules together. Gases can be pure, where each molecule is made of individual atoms, elemental, where each molecule is made of more than one of the same atom bound together, or compounds where molecules are made of many types of atoms together. An example of a pure gas is Neon, an example of an elemental gas is Hydrogen and an example of a compound gas could be Carbon Dioxide.

A gas contains a mix of any of the above types, for example air which is 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen and 2% argon and carbon dioxide.[1]

Physical Characteristics

All gases can flow, like liquids. This means the molecules move about independently of each other. The majority of gases are colourless, like Hydrogen.[2] Gas particles will spread about, or diffuse, in order to fill all the space in any container such as a bottle or a room. Compared to liquids and solids gases have a very low density and viscosity. We cannot directly observe most gases since they are without colour, however it is possible to measure their density, volume, temperature and pressure.


Pressure is the measure of how much pushing force something is putting on another object. In a gas this is usually the gas pushing on the container of the object or, if the gas is heavy, something inside the gas. Pressure is measure in Pascals. Because of Newton's third law we can change the pressure of a gas by putting force on the object containing it. For example squeezing a bottle with air inside pressurises (gives more pressure) to the air inside.

Pressure when talking about gas is often related to the container. A lot of gas in a small container would have a very high pressure. A small amount of a gas in a big container would have a low pressure. Gas can crate pressure itself when there is a lot of it. The weight of all the gas above creates high pressure on any object underneath it, including any more gas. On a planet this is called atmospheric pressure.


The temperature of a gas is how hot or cold it is. In science it is usually measured in Kelvins although the everyday unit, degrees, is more common. In a gas the average velocity of the molecules is related to the temperature. The faster the gas molecules are moving, the more they , or smash into each other. These collisions make energy, which in a gas comes in the form of heat. Conversely if the temperature around the gas becomes hotter then the gas particles will convert the thermal energy to kinetic energy, making them move faster and making the gas hotter.[3]

State changes

A gas can go through two different state changes. If the temperature is low enough the gas can condense and turn into a liquid. Sometimes, if the temperature is low enough it can go through deposition, where it changes straight to a solid. Normally a gas must first condense to a liquid, and then freeze to become a solid, but if the temperature is very low it can skip the liquid stage and instantly become solid. Frost on the ground in winter is caused by this. Water vapour (a gas) goes into the air which is very cold, and instantly becomes ice due to deposition.