Chemistry

Where Helium comes from



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In 1927, Monsignor Georges Lamaitre formulated his hypothesis of a primeval atom as the incipient stage of the universe. Lamaitre's theory was based on Einstein's theory of relativity and the premise that matter and energy are different phases of the same thing. Lamaitre's primeval atom, was later lampooned by Physicist Fred Hoyle as the Big Bang and most contemporary physicist refer to it as the singularity, an instant of time when all the matter of the universe was formed through a transposition of energy.

The early matter of the universe consisted of subatomic particles, but as this mass expanded, some scientists propose even faster than the speed of light, after about 500,000 years it had congealed into baryons, protons, neutrons and electrons, and the first elements hydrogen and helium were formed. At that point the matter of the universe was believed to consist 75 percent of hydrogen and 25 percent helium.

To this day, the majority of the matter in the universe is still representative to the greatest extent of hydrogen and helium, but some of the original hydrogen has been fused into helium and heavier elements by stars. The element, Helium (He) was first discovered in the chromatic spectrum of the Sun, but later it was also discovered as a component of natural gas here on Earth.

The extraction of helium from natural gas remains the primary source of it on terra firma and besides its use in balloons, it has special uses in welding and as a coolant in nuclear reactors.

When helium escapes into the atmosphere, it is so light that it eventually drifts high above the stratosphere and is whisked away by the solar winds. As a result, Helium is becoming a rare Earth element. Fortunately, for the time being, there is plenty of natural gas and about 20 percent of its volume is helium. But where did or does the helium dissolved in natural gas come from?

When the heaviest element radioactively decay, they form simpler elements and also release alpha particles which are essentially the nucleus of a helium atom. All of the helium found on Earth today, has been and is being produced by such radioactive decay.

Eventually, billions of years from now, the last particles of uranium will decay into radium then radon, then polonium and finally the stable element lead. After this, the world's reserve of helium will slowly be depleted and the helium balloon will become a novelty of a bygone era.

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