An element is defined as any substance that contains only one kind of atom. Some atoms cannot be created nor can they be destroyed in a chemical reaction. While there are elements that can be reproduced artificially, it isn’t as simple as it seems. But did you know that there is one element in the entire periodic table that cannot be made artificially?
Helium cannot be synthesized artificially and is formed in natural gas wells as ancient uranium decays. Because the half-life of the most common uranium isotope is billions of years old, the formation of helium takes an inordinate amount of time.
How Much Helium Has Actually Been Discovered Over the Years?
According to Helen Briggs, over a trillion liters of helium have been discovered beneath Tanzania’s volcanic Rift Valley. The discovery, which was reported at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference, is massive enough to meet the world’s gas needs for years.
In the news statement, this is the first time researchers have detected the gas on purpose. Helium is commonly discovered by chance when looking for natural gas. This time, however, the scientists used a novel exploration method that combined geochemistry with seismic imaging of volcanic structures to search for helium specifically. Their efforts were rewarded when they uncovered a gas reserve of up to 54 billion cubic feet. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
What is the Best Way to Use Helium?
Helium gas is used to cool superconducting magnets, clean fuel tanks, make fiber-optic cables, and build next-generation missiles and machines. It has been in such short supply in recent years that people have been preparing for an emergency-level shortage. Because helium resources are so limited, the United States tracks reserves annually, has an entire program dedicated to conserving and selling the gas, sets prices, and holds annual auctions.
According to Chris Ballentine, the newly discovered helium is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners. There will be enough for the balloons of scientists celebrating their achievements as well.
This is a game-changer in terms of the long-term security of society’s helium needs.Chris Ballentine, Earth scientist
(Source: Smithsonian Magazine)
What Else Do We Need to Know About Helium?
While we already know how scarce helium is in our world today, here are some other interesting facts about Helium:
- Our sun is thought to produce 700 million tons of helium per second.
- At the moment, Qatar supplies roughly 30% of the world’s helium. Helium is found in Canada, too, and is currently refined in Saskatchewan.
- Helium was the first element discovered that had not been discovered on Earth. Helium was discovered in the sun using a spectroscope during a total eclipse in 1868. It wasn’t until 1895 that terrestrial helium was discovered.
- Helium gets its name from the Greek word “Helios,” which means Sun.
- Helium is the second most common element in the universe, but it is uncommon on Earth. It also plays an unexpected role in fields ranging from space exploration to quantum computing.
(Source: Helium Facts)