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Discovery of Helium

Helium was discovered on the sun before being discovered on Earth. In 1868 a French astronomer Pierre Janssen saw an unusual spectral line during his analysis of spectral emission of the sun. Spectral emission lines are the wavelengths of the light given off by an element when it is heated to a high temperature. These wavelengths that are given off produce a color that is unique to a certain element. Scientist can use these colors to identify a certain element in the same way a police office might use a fingerprint to identify a suspect. Janssen reasoned that the abnormal spectral line he saw in the sun had to have been caused by an undiscovered element. Janssen then named this new element Helium after the Greek word helios, which means "sun". Then in 1895, a Scottish chemist named William Ramsey discovered helium gas in a sample of uranium ore on Earth.
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Uses of Helium

Helium is a light gas and has a very low density, which makes it useful for its buoyancy in air. Blimps and balloons are commonly filled with helium to make them float. Also, divers that are at diving at deep depths usually breathe a mixture of oxygen and helium because unlike nitrogen, helium is less likely to dissolve into a divers bloodstream if a diver is to surface to quickly. Another very common use of helium is to create a laser. When mixed with neon, helium creates narrow beams of light. These beams are commonly used at supermarkets to read bar codes during check out. Helium is also commonly used by doctors during MRI scan to held cool the magnets. Another application of Helium is in weather balloons that can study the upper layers of the atmosphere. Lastly, liquid Helium is used to cool various things such as superconducting magnets and many detectors used by astronomers.

Element in Nature

On Earth, almost all Helium is found in natural gas and has been formed by the decay of radioactive isotopes such as uranium and radon. Theres radioisotopes emit helium nuclei as they decay. Helium is purified and harvested for use through the process of fractional distillation. Fractional distillation is a technique of separating a mixture of liquids by using their boiling points. Helium has a boiling point lower than any other gas so if natural gas is cooled, all the other gases in it will liquefy first, leaving only helium behind.

Fun Facts

-Although helium is the 2nd most abundant element in the universe, only .00053% of Earth's atmosphere contains helium.

-Since WWI the united states has stored helium. Today we store about 32 billion cubic feet of helium gas in natural caverns.

-If helium is to be inhaled(not recommended by scientists), the speaker's voice dramatically changes. See video below to learn more!

Adam Savage on Helium and Sulfur Hexafluoride


Reference List

Alexander, L. (n.d.). Balloons Available from http://epoxyoil.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/helium-gas-baloon.jpg

Alexander, L. (n.d.). Balloons Available from http://epoxyoil.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/helium-gas-baloon.jpg

Allprox (2008). Adam Savage on helium and sulfur Hexafluoride Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXcoGuzsYrM

Catanzarite, J. (n.d.). MetLife Blimp Available from https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3254/2953168835_179ac07def_z.jpg?zz=1

Helium Superfluid (2015). Available from http://www.dnatube.com/video/11910/Helium-Superfluid

Kepreos, D. (n.d.). Scuba Diver Available from http://the-element-helium.weebly.com/uploads/1/5/8/8/15887230/1045706.jpg?200

Sandher, W. (n.d.). Helium laser Available from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Helium_discharge_tube.jpg