But our supplies of this non-renewable resource are diminishing. Although the U.S. is currently the main producer of helium, and runs the world's only massive underground reserve, in Texas, we're running out. According to expert testimony at a congressional hearing last week on a proposed law that would shore up federal helium reserves, at the current rate of consumption, the U.S. could become a net importer of the stuff in the next 10 years.
Did you know, for example, that helium is used as a cooling agent for the heavy-duty magnets used in the MRI scanners at hospitals? Or that it’s mixed with oxygen to help patients in respiratory distress, or that it’s used in various cardiopulmonary devices? One way to assess the local impact of a helium shortage on your area’s economy is to hop on the phone with hospitals; how are rising costs of the gas and supply issues affecting them?
The Big Bang produced lots of hydrogen and helium and a smidgen of lithium. All heavier elements found on the periodic table have been produced by stars over the last 13.7 billion years.
For those suffering with asthma, cystic fibrosis, or other lung limitations, a simple X-ray will show the lungs as black holes in the body, a mystery box of trouble. But if a patient takes a breath of helium-3, the resulting MRI is so bright it looks as though the patient inhaled a light bulb.
Liquid helium is vital for its use in cooling the superconducting magnets in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. There is no substitute because no other substance has a lower boiling point. Helium is also vital in the manufacture of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and fiber optics.
Helium is in short supply because of the 1996 Helium Privatization Act that called on the government to sell off most of its helium reserves by 2015.
Helium helps NASA’s shuttle get into space. The space shuttle’s main engines generate the enormous amount of power needed to propel the shuttle off the earth by burning liquid hydrogen and oxygen. When the fuel is burned it becomes a gas. Mixing of the hot gas and the ultra-cold liquid fuel would be very dangerous; they’re kept separate by a cavity that must be continuously purged by helium gas.
For the second most abundant element in the universe, helium is actually pretty hard to get hold of. On Earth, the only economically viable way to extract the substance now is to separate it from natural gas deposits.
Helium, the second most abundant element in the universe, was discovered on the sun before it was found on the earth. Pierre-Jules-César Janssen, a French astronomer, noticed a yellow line in the sun's spectrum while studying a total solar eclipse in 1868. Sir Norman Lockyer, an English astronomer, realized that this line, with a wavelength of 587.49 nanometers, could not be produced by any element known at the time. It was hypothesized that a new element on the sun was responsible for this mysterious yellow emission. This unknown element was named helium by Lockyer.
helium (He), helium chemical element, inert gas of Group 18 (noble gases) of the periodic table. The second lightest element (only hydrogen is lighter), helium is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that becomes liquid at −268.9 °C (−452 °F). The boiling and freezing points of helium are lower than those of any other known substance.