There aren’t many naturally occurring plasmas in our daily lives; by far the most common one is lightning. So it’s something of a surprise that a stream of water hitting a material like glass is able to produce a toroid of plasma like the one above. The key here, though, is that the jet has to be fast – to the tune of 200 meters per second or faster. When a jet of deionized water strikes a surface at that speed, the water has to take a very sharp, 90-degree turn, and, thanks to the polar nature of water, this causes a (negative) charge to build up at that turn. It’s akin to rubbing a balloon to build up a static charge, and it’s known as a triboelectric effect. At rest (and without high shear rates), water and glass in contact tend to create in a positive charge in the water. The plasma is created when an arc forms through air between those two charged areas.
Experiments in helium environments create a different color of plasma, confirming that the arc definitely travels through the gas. Similarly, if you use regular water instead of deionized water, the conductivity of the dissolved salts in the water is enough to prevent the necessary build up of charge. (Image and research credit: M. Gharib et al.; video credit: Applied Science; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)