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Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume. However, different fields use the term in different and sometimes incompatible ways; there is no single agreed scientific meaning of the word "matter".
For much of the history of the natural sciences people have contemplated the exact nature of matter. The idea that matter was built of discrete building blocks, the so-called particulate theory of matter, was first put forward by the Greek philosophers Leucippus (~490 BC) and Democritus (~470–380 BC). Over time an increasingly fine structure for matter was discovered: objects are made from molecules, molecules consist of atoms, which in turn consist of interacting subatomic particles like protons and electrons.
Matter is commonly said to exist in four states (or phases): solid, liquid, gas and plasma. However, advances in experimental techniques have realized other phases, previously only theoretical constructs, such as Bose–Einstein condensates and fermionic condensates. A focus on an elementary-particle view of matter also leads to new phases of matter, such as the quark–gluon plasma.
In physics and chemistry, matter exhibits both wave-like and particle-like properties, the so-called wave–particle duality.
In the realm of cosmology, extensions of the term matter are invoked to include dark matter and dark energy, concepts introduced to explain some odd phenomena of the observable universe, such as the galactic rotation curve. These exotic forms of "matter" do not refer to matter as "building blocks", but rather to currently poorly understood forms of mass and energy.

Common definition

The common definition of matter is anything that has both mass and volume (occupies space). For example, a car would be said to be made of matter, as it occupies space, and has mass.
The observation that matter occupies space goes back to antiquity. However, an explanation for why matter occupies space is recent, and is argued to be a result of the Pauli exclusion principle. Two particular examples where the exclusion principle clearly relates matter to the occupation of space are white dwarf stars and neutron stars, discussed further below.


In the context of relativity, mass is not an additive quantity. Thus, in relativity usually a more general view is taken that it is not mass, but the energy–momentum tensor that quantifies the amount of matter. Matter therefore is anything that contributes to the energy–momentum of a system, that is, anything that is not purely gravity. This view is commonly held in fields that deal with general relativity such as cosmology.

Protons, neutrons and electrons definition

A definition of "matter" more fine-scale than the atoms and molecules definition is: matter is made up of what atoms and molecules are made of, meaning anything made of positively charged protons, neutral neutrons, and negatively charged electrons.This definition goes beyond atoms and molecules, however, to include substances made from these building blocks that are not simply atoms or molecules, for example white dwarf matter — typically, carbon and oxygen nuclei in a sea of degenerate electrons. At a microscopic level, the constituent "particles" of matter such as protons, neutrons and electrons obey the laws of quantum mechanics and exhibit wave–particle duality. At an even deeper level, protons and neutrons are made up of quarks and the force fields (gluons) that bind them together.


Other types of matter

Dark matter

In astrophysics and cosmology, dark matter is matter of unknown composition that does not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be observed directly, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter. Observational evidence of the early universe and the big bang theory require that this matter have energy and mass, but is not composed of either elementary fermions (as above) OR gauge bosons. The commonly accepted view is that most of the dark-matter is non-baryonic in nature. As such, it is composed of particles as yet unobserved in the laboratory. Perhaps they are supersymmetric particles, which are not Standard Model particles, but relics formed at very high energies in the early phase of the universe and still floating about.

Dark energy

In cosmology, dark energy is the name given to the antigravitating influence that is accelerating the rate of expansion of the universe. It is known not to be composed of known particles like protons, neutrons or electrons, nor of the particles of dark matter, because these all gravitate.

Exotic matter

Exotic matter is a hypothetical concept of particle physics. It covers any material which violates one or more classical conditions or is not made of known baryonic particles. Such materials would possess qualities like negative mass or being repelled rather than attracted by gravity.