Source of helium
Name: rrichard w sabaka
Where is helium found on Earth?
How does helium get placed in tanks?
Is helium mined and then separated?
Helium is a gas, but there are small amounts of it that are trapped
within the rocks of the Earth. During volcanic eruptions, some
of this helium is spewed into the atmosphere, where it accumulates.
The helium that is in the atmosphere today has accumulated for
billions of years.
Even so, the amount of helium in the atmosphere is quite small: only
about 0.005 percent of the atmosphere is helium. (Most of the
atmosphere is nitrogen--78 percent--and oxygen--21 percent.)
I don't think that helium is "mined," that is, taken directly from
rocks in the Earth. I think the helium you buy in tanks is
separated from the other atmospheric gases. (I'm
not certain about this, however.)
This information should be available in an encyclopedia. I'll tell
you what I have heard about it and then you can read to find out
which is correct -- I'll check it out too, for my own sake.
My understanding is that helium has an average velocity greater
than the earth's escape velocity and therefore does not stay in
the atmosphere -- it is therefore a limited resource. The helium
that we get from gas cylinders is mined from oil wells. I have heard
that the government requires the oil companies to capture the helium
rather than allow it to blow off into the atmosphere because these
wells are the best source for it -- I don't know if this is true.
The source of the helium in these wells is nuclear reactions (decays
of isolated atoms, not a bomb!) occuring in the heavy elements in the
rock that have been occurring for billions of years.
Remember, I don't speak from authority -- this is not my area of
expertise -- check the facts at your local library.
gregory r bradburn
Click here to return to the General Topics Archives
Update: June 2012