MAR 21, 2019 06:00 AM PDT

Would Helium Go "Extinct"?

Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe just after hydrogen, but only makes up 0.0005% of Earth's atmosphere because of its tendency to rise above other components of air and eventually escape to space.

Most helium on Earth is the product from radioactive decay: uranium and thorium buried deep inside the crust constantly emit alpha particles, which is essentially the nuclei of helium. On their way out of its parent atoms, the particles transform themselves into helium atoms grabbing nearby electrons. Through this chemo-physical process, Earth generates about 3,000 tons of helium gas annually. 

Modern-day industrial scale extraction of helium relies on the distillation of crude natural gas, which is made of up to 7% helium. Although the United States used to produce 90% of all commercial helium in the world, in 2013 Qatar became the world's top producer. But due to a geopolitical crisis started two years ago, the country's border has been blockaded by its rival neighbors. The fallout among the Arab nations led to the major interruption of commercial helium shipment. 

Although other suppliers have been working extra hard to crank up production, many in science and medicine, who heavily rely on the inert gas to cool down superconducting magnets in MRI scanners and NMR spectrometers, are suffering in this shortage. Unless we manage to start collecting helium from the outer space any time soon, scientists suggest methods for conservation and recovery programs can help ease the pain. 

Source: ACS Reactions via Youtube

About the Author
  • With years of experience in biomedical R & D, Daniel is also very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles.
You May Also Like
JAN 09, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
JAN 09, 2019
Here's Why Your Clothes Shrink When You Wash Them
Washing your clothes is an essential part of keeping clean and preventing irritated skin, but have you ever wondered why new clothes shrink every time you...
JAN 17, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 17, 2019
Researchers Engineer Artificial Cell Constructs That Send Signals
Scientists are getting closer to engineering synthetic tissues that mimic natural organisms....
FEB 22, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
FEB 22, 2019
The Wandering Pole: Where's Earth's Magnetic North Pole Now?
Although the geographic poles of the Earth (the two ends of Earth's rotation axis) remain by-and-large at the same location over a long period of time,...
MAR 20, 2019
Space & Astronomy
MAR 20, 2019
Scientists Are Astonished by What OSIRIS-REx is Teaching Us About Bennu
After launching the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission in September 2016, NASA set...
MAR 22, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAR 22, 2019
Revealing the Mechanisms Underlying Squid's Color-changing Skin
Chromatophores are fascinating cells found in some animals like cephalopods, which carry pigments and can reflect light....
APR 05, 2019
Earth & The Environment
APR 05, 2019
What can a 1.5-million-year-old ice core tell us?
After two years of extensive research, a team of international researchers has determined the exact location from which they will extract ancient ice sampl...
Loading Comments...