Helium is mined and found with natural gas deposits. Only a few places in the world contain sufficient quantities of helium to justify its separation, namely Texas and Oklahoma in the USA, Poland, Algeria and Russia.
Only hydrogen gas is lighter than helium but hydrogen is highly inflammable, whereas helium is totally inert. It is therefore a natural and safe choice for filling balloons. When liquefied, helium is extremely cold (-272.2°C), just 4°C above absolute zero. It provides the means to achieve the very low temperatures needed for the super conducting magnets in hospital MRI scanners and University research equipment.
Helium is the gas formed in nuclear fusion which is the reaction in the sun converting hydrogen into helium (hence its name from the Greek helios, meaning sun).
- Completely inert
- Lighter than air
- Highly mobile and small molecular size
- Low solubility
- Coldest of all in the liquid phase
- Shielding gas for welding
- Balloon gas
- Leak detection
- Extreme cooling for super conducting magnets (MRI)
- Diving gas mixtures
- Breathing mixtures for people with impaired lung functions, e.g. asthma
Helium, symbol He, which can be found in group 18 of the periodic table, also known as the noble gases. The atomic number of helium is 2. Helium has monatomic molecules, and is the lightest of all gases except hydrogen, and like the other noble gases helium is completely inert.
|Gas density||0.17 Kg/m3|
|Critical pressure||2.3 bar|
Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen, however it is rarely found on earth. It can be found mixed with natural gas underground. Natural gas contains an average of 0.4% helium, and is the major commercial source of helium.
Helium in high enough concentrations may cause asphyxiation and death. For more detail on the hazards associated with helium check the Safety Data sheet.