Interstellar cloud
Interstellar cloud is the generic name given to an accumulation of gas, plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 and dust
Cosmic dust
Cosmic dust is a type of dust composed of particles in space which are a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location; for example: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust .In our own Solar...

 in our
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

 and other galaxies
A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system that consists of stars and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias , literally "milky", a...

. Put differently, an interstellar cloud is a denser-than-average region of the interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

. Depending on the density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

, size and temperature of a given cloud, the hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 in it can be neutral (H I region
H I region
An H I region is an interstellar cloud composed of neutral atomic hydrogen , in addition to the local abundance of helium and other elements. These regions are non-luminous, save for emission of the 21-cm region spectral line. This line has a very low transition probability, so requires large...

s), ionized (H II region
H II region
An H II region is a large, low-density cloud of partially ionized gas in which star formation has recently taken place. The short-lived, blue stars forged in these regions emit copious amounts of ultraviolet light, ionizing the surrounding gas...

s) (i.e. a plasma), or molecular (molecular cloud
Molecular cloud
A molecular cloud, sometimes called a stellar nursery if star formation is occurring within, is a type of interstellar cloud whose density and size permits the formation of molecules, most commonly molecular hydrogen ....

s). Neutral and ionized
Ionization is the process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles such as electrons or other ions. This is often confused with dissociation. A substance may dissociate without necessarily producing ions. As an example, the molecules of table sugar...

 clouds are sometimes also called diffuse clouds, while molecular clouds are sometimes also referred to as dense clouds.

Analyzing the composition of interstellar clouds is achieved by studying electromagnetic radiation
Electromagnetic radiation
Electromagnetic radiation is a form of energy that exhibits wave-like behavior as it travels through space...

 that we receive from them.