Overview of Helium

Helium is an element that is fairly common but often overlooked. It’s found in the air all over the world but primarily comes from natural gas deposits. It is a clear gas that is lighter than air. It was discovered in 1868 on the sun. The most common task helium is used for is to air up balloons. Helium may be small but it is very important to the earth.

The first way to capture helium is from the air, however that is very hard considering the percentage of it in the air is extremely small. The most predominant way to extract helium is from natural gas deposits. These can be found all over the world but there is huge supply in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. Helium is a clear gas that is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. It is found in many places but was first discovered from the sun.

In 1868, Pierre Janssen discovered helium for the first time on the sun. This was during a solar eclipse in India where a spectrometer was used and Janssen discovered that a new element had to be there because there was a new yellow stripe in the spectrometer. Helium was not discovered on earth until 1895 by Sir William Ramsay. He was in Scotland examining a Norwegian ore’s gas. When he looked at it through a spectrometer, there was a yellow stripe which showed that there was helium on earth. It’s name originates from the Greek word for sun, Helios. Shortly after, Nils Langlet and P.T. Cleve were in Sweden and discovered helium. What are the properties and uses of this new found element?

The most common isotope of helium, helium-4, has two protons, two electrons, and two neutrons which makes its average atomic mass about four. It is a colorless gas that has a boiling point of -269C and a freezing point of -272C. It’s atomic radius is about .49 and has a specific heat capacity of 5.793 J/gC. It is one of the noble gases (read more properties of noble gases). Helium is not a good conductor in its gaseous state, however when in liquid form it is a wonderful conductor used for superconductivity used for processes like a MRI. For business or fun, helium is often used to inflate balloons or blimps because it is lighter than air. Helium is mostly used only in its elemental form.

Helium does not react with any other elements. However, if you electrify helium, it will become exited and glow. It does not have many compounds, but it does have one that exists naturally in the gas and dust of interstellar space (Interstellar Medium, Wikipedia). This is called Hydrohelium, HHe+ which was found by Wolfgang Ketterle in 1986 (Hydrohelium ion, Wikipedia). Another name that could be used for it is Helium Hydride Molecular Ion (Hydrohelium ion, Wikipedia).

Helium’s has two isotopes, He-3 and He-4. It fills the 1s sublevel with electrons. Helium’s physical atomic structure is a hexagonal shape (Bentor). He-3 is not used much and is very rare. Besides its, atomic structure, Helium has many other unknown facts.

Helium is the second highest element for mass. It is provided from the air or natural gas deposits, but it is replenished by radioactive decay of alpha particles. Another name for helium in its liquid form is quantum fluid. Also, the production of helium in the world every year is about four-thousand and five-hundred tons.

Helium is an amazing element that consumers rely on every day but don’t realize it. Helium is used mostly in its elemental form and used for balloons, deep sea diving, MRI, and many more. It was discovered on the sun in 1868 by Pierre Janssen, but discovered on the earth in 1895 by Sir William Ramsay. It is in the air all over the world, but the majority of helium is provided from natural gas deposits in states such as Oklahoma or Texas. Helium does provide the world with much help and entertainment, so although it may be small it is very useful.

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“Interstellar Medium.” Wikipedia. (21 October 2007)


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Barbalace, Kenneth. ” Periodic Table of Elements – Helium – He.”

Environmentalchemistry.com. (21 October 2007)