A plasma globe (also known as a plasma lamp, orb, ball, or dome) is a clear glass sphere filled with a mixture of various noble gases with a high-voltage electrode in the centre of the globe. Plasma filaments extend from the electrode to the glass when electricity is supplied, creating beams of colored light.Placing a finger tip on the glass creates an attractive spot for the energy to flow, because the conductive human body (having non-ohmic resistance of about 1000 ohms at room temperature) is more easily polarized than the dielectric material around the electrode (i.e. the gas within the globe) providing an alternative discharge path having less resistance. Therefore, the capacity of the large conducting body to accept radio frequency energy is greater than that of the surrounding air. The energy available to the filaments of plasma within the globe will preferentially flow toward the better acceptor. This flow also causes a single filament, from the inner ball to the point of contact, to become brighter and thinner.
The filament is brighter because there is more current flowing through it and into the 150 pF capacity, or capacitance, presented by an object, a conducting body, the size of a human. The filament is thinner because the magnetic fields around it, augmented by the now-higher current flowing through it, causes a magnetohydrodynamic effect called self-focusing: the plasma channel's own magnetic fields create a force acting to compress the size of the plasma channel itself.
Much of the movement of the filaments is due to heating of the gas around the filament. When gas along the filament is heated, it becomes more buoyant and rises, carrying the filament with it. If the filament is discharging into a fixed object (like a hand) on the side of the globe, it will begin to deform into a curved path between the central electrode and the object. When the distance between the electrode and the object becomes too great to maintain, the filament will break and a new filament will reform between the electrode and the hand.