View Full Version : Where is all the Helium coming from?

don willard
10-28-2001, 02:11 PM
I just heard of a man breaking the helium party balloon record of how many it takes to float someone up off the ground (as in the Lucy episode where she and Viv start a children's birthday business). This made me wonder what with all the little spoiled brats getting all these parties with helium balloons, what what with helium so scarce, where can it possibly be coming from? How can it even be in the air, since it and hydrogen must just float off away from the earth! Since helium can't form from anything else, where is it in the first place in the earth! You would think that the price of helium, argon, xenon, and other rare gases would be more than the price of gold and diamonds.

10-28-2001, 02:21 PM
The Master on how do they make helium? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_277.html)

Basically, terrestrial helium comes from radioactive decay and we get it as a byproduct from natural gas wells.

You're aptly named!
10-28-2001, 02:46 PM
The big wells are in Texas panhandle. That's why the Hindenburg had to use hydrogen. That was a catastrophy we caused by denying Hitler access to helium.

10-28-2001, 03:23 PM
That was a catastrophy we caused by denying Hitler access to helium.

We should have been denying him much more than helium.

10-28-2001, 03:31 PM
Actually, it was the skin of the Hindenburg cought on fire. It was coated with Aluminum Oxide (highly flamable). It probably started with a static discharge. It would have burned even if it was filled with He. I suppose its possible the escaping He would have starved the fire or something, but it probably would not have made any difference.

Yes, on Earth He comes from radioactive decay (beta particles are basically Helium nuclii). It also comes from fusion of Hydrogen nuclii.

"controlled fusion is 5 years away, and has been that way for 20 years"

10-28-2001, 03:32 PM
The TM tackle it:

Where do we get Helium from? (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=78076)

At least one guy has an alternate take on the Hindenberg disaster (http://www.ch2bc.org/hindenburg.htm).

Addison Bain collected actual samples from the Hindenburg--the cloth bags that contained the hydrogen--which were saved as souvenirs by the crowd awaiting the Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. When these samples were analyzed by modern techniques, Bain discovered that the bags had been coated with cellulose nitrate or cellulose acetate--both flammable materials. Furthermore, the cellulose material was impregnated with aluminum flakes to reflect sunlight, and aluminum powder is used in rocket fuel. Essentially the outside of the Hindenburg was coated with rocket fuel!

Addison now believes that the Hindenburg probably caught fire from an electrical discharge igniting the cellulose-coated gas bags. Remember, the ship docked at Lakehurst with electrical storms in the area, which was against regulations.

There's more further down the page. I don't think anybody would contest that hydrogen is flammable.

This page (http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Timeline/1935-39.html) seems to imply that the refusal to sell helium to Germany came after the Hindenberg was destroyed.

February 26: Secretary of Interior Ickes approved purchase by the Federal Government of helium plants at Dexter, Kans., thus giving the Government a virtual monopoly. On May 11, his refusal to sell helium to Germany was upheld by the President.

10-28-2001, 03:33 PM
My bad, I meant alpha particles. Beta paricles, IIRC are high energy electrons