Helium shortage forces Cumbrian shops to ration gas-filled balloons
Last updated at 12:23, Wednesday, 19 September 2012
A worldwide shortage of helium is forcing Cumbrian party shops to ration gas-filled balloons at weddings, Christenings and birthday parties.
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A simple google search would of uncovered this article from Forbes magazine - http://www.weldingandgasestoday.org/blogs/Devin-OToole/index.php/2012/05/two-myths-surrounding-the-helium-shortage/
Helium is the second lightest element after hydrogen, but the point about it escaping Earth's gravity is valid. The sun is constantly fusing hydrogen into helium, although it is no use to us there! As has been said, helium is produced (incredibly slowly) through radioactive decay deep within the Earth's crust, and drilling operations liberate it as a by-product - it is not and never has been made from oil. If we perfect nuclear fusion we may be able to produce helium, but until then there is a limited amount available.
Supplies are indeed running out, PaulM. Helium is the lightest element and as such, the Earth's gravity is not enough to keep it in the atmosphere. All the helium that we use and then let escape into the atmosphere is lost forever into space.All terrestrial helium is a 'retired' radioactive particle made by radioactive materials giving off alpha particles. In the right conditions, these alpha particles pick up a couple of electrons and form helium. This is done deep underground and prevents the helium from escaping into space. The process is very, very slow and we only have cheap helium now because the USA had massive stores held for when lighter-than-air transportation looked economical in the 1930's as a by-product of oil and gas drilling. These reserves are now running out and present drilling doesn't produce as much helium.So, remember to recycle your helium and if you want floaty balloons - tough. There's better uses for this amazing material than balloons.