Q:

How is helium made?

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Quick Answer

Helium results from the fusion of four hydrogen nuclei to form one helium nucleus. This reaction also generates energy and is the source of power at the core of stars.

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How is helium made?
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Full Answer

Constituting about 24 percent of the mass of the macrocosm, helium is the second lightest and second most common element in the universe, the first being hydrogen. Despite its abundance in the universe at large, helium is not common on Earth and makes up only about 0.00052 percent of the Earth's atmosphere.

Most helium on Earth results from radioactive decay that is created during the process of nuclear fission. Elements like uranium in the Earth's crust and upper mantle are primary helium sources. Approximately 78 percent of the world's helium comes from the United States.

Some researchers have raised concerns over the use of helium for frivolous reasons such as party balloons. There is a limit to Earth's helium supply, and the element is critical in research and to hospitals, which use helium in devices such as MRI scanners. The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the United Kingdom had to cancel several experiments in 2012 because the facility had run low on helium. This illustrates just how scarce helium can sometimes be.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    How is helium obtained?

    A:

    Helium is obtained through natural gas as it is extracted from the ground. The helium is a result of the decay of thorium and uranium. As these elements decay, they release an alpha particle. That alpha particle is the nucleus of a helium atom.

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  • Q:

    What is helium used for?

    A:

    Helium is used for applications ranging from sending rockets into space to helping deep sea divers breathe. Helium is also at work in the balloons at parties or in the blimp floating overhead at a ball game. It is also used as a coolant in nuclear reactors, the Large Hadron Collider, satellite instruments and MRI scanners.

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  • Q:

    Where was helium discovered?

    A:

    Helium was originally discovered on the sun by a French astronomer named Pierre-Jules-Cesar Janssen. Janssen made his discovery when he observed a yellow line within the sun's spectrum in 1868 during a solar eclipse.

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  • Q:

    What is the opposite of helium?

    A:

    A gas that has the opposite effect of helium on the human voice is xenon. Another gas that reverses the temporary high-pitched effect of inhaling helium is sulfur hexafluoride. Both gases are more dense than air and magnify deep tones in the voice.

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