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20 Interesting Helium Discovery Facts

In our Helium facts list of previous article, we only briefly spoke about how Helium was discovered. However, there is much to speak about its discovery. Actually, Helium’s discovery can be broken down into Solar and Terrestrial discovery. In this article, we will learn about Helium Discovery facts and find out how this second-most abundant element in universe was discovered.

Interesting Helium Discovery Facts: 1-5

1. It was 1868, August 18 – a complete solar eclipse totally blanketed the Sun. At that time, Pierre Janssen – an astronomer from France was in India.

2. Janssen was in India not by accident but as a part of his mission to measure Chromosphere – the atmosphere of Sun.

3. It was during that time that Janssen observed that gas spectrum gave away a yellow line. It was strange and Janssen measured its wavelength, which turned out to be 587.49 nanometers.

4. That was the first time a human noticed Helium but it was, at that time, unknown to Janssen. He didn’t really look for the source of the yellow line that showed up in Chromosphere.

5. The same year, in 1868, in the month of October, Sir Norman Lockyer – an astronomer from England set up in London, his own spectrometer. He too noticed that same yellow line.

Interesting Helium Discovery Facts: 6-10

6. Unlike Janssen however, Lockyer was intrigued by the yellow line and he teamed up with Edward Frankland – a chemist in England. The duo concluded that the yellow line was caused by an element, yet unknown to mankind.

7. That’s when Lockyer and Frankland came up with the name Helium. It was named after Helios – the Sun God in Greek mythology.

8. It became a popular notion at that time that Helium – the newly found element existed only and only in Sun. The reason for this notion was that Helium was not seen anywhere else – definitely not on Earth, because no one ever found it.

9. With Lockyer’s and Frankland’s discovery of Helium on Sun, no further studies were conducted because of the belief that it existed beyond Earth.

10. In 1882 however, Luigi Palmieri – a physicist from Italy made an interesting observation on Earth. He was studying the gasses that Mount Vesuvius emitted. He noticed a wavelength of 587.49 nanometers. That was the first time ever that Helium was spotted on Earth.

Interesting Helium Discovery Facts: 11-15

11. Despite the fact that Palmieri found Helium on Earth, it still awaited confirmation. Of course, no one could go digging into Mount Vesuvius to find the source gas of the spotted wavelength.

12. 13 years later in 1895, Helium’s presence on Earth was confirmed when Sir William Ramsey – a Scottish chemist – was conducting an experiment. Ramsey combined mineral acids with Cleveite – an impure and radioactive Uraninite variety, which contains Uranium.

13. However, during the same time, Swedish Chemists – Nils Abraham Langer and Per Teodor Cleve also found Helium independently. So, they are also credited for its discovery on Earth. It was in 1895 that the atomic weight of Helium was found.

14. The fact that Helium is found with Natural Gas as well was still unknown and was discovered years later in 1905.

15. Though the fact that Helium is present with Natural Gas as well was discovered in 1905, the hint actually came in 1903 when in Kansas’ Dexter, a new gas well as found and celebrations were held. During the celebration, Mayor of the town decided to ignite the gas that was escaping the well but only to find that the flame went out once the gas was ignited.

Interesting Helium Discovery Facts: 16-20

16. Because the escaping gas could not be ignited, the residents of the town were really disappointed. However, the curious brain of Erasmus Haworth – the geologist of Kansas State suspected something unusual.

17. Haworth had some gas collected from the discovered well and started studying the same. To his surprise, he found that gas was composed of 12% inert residue.

18. It took another two years for University of Kansas to find out that the inert contained Helium.

19. US is today the largest supplier of Helium in whole world, accounting for 30% of world supply and weirdly enough, the whole supply comes from a reserve in US. However, small Helium concentrations have now been found in Qatar, Canada, Poland, Russia and Algeria.

20. However, only recently scientists have found a Helium gas field in a place called Rukwa, which is located in Tanzania’s East African Rift Valley region. It is estimated that this newly discovered field may have more Helium than the whole Helium reserve of entire USA.

Helium Fun Facts

Now that we are done with the Helium discovery facts, here are some helium fun facts:

(a) Helium’s lifting force is 1 gram every 1 liter. So, if you want to lift an object 10 grams with Helium, you will need 10 balloons filled with 10 liters of Helium each. Going by that calculation, if your weight is 50 kilos, you will need 5000 such balloons to lift you of the ground.

(b) The reason why inhaling Helium gives “Squeaky Voice” is that the vocal cords vibrate faster if the gas surrounding those cords is less dense. This faster vibration increases the pitch of human voice when Helium is inhaled.

(c) Helium balloons have the ability to reach space’s edge.

(d) NASA has created something known as ULDBs or Ultra Long Duration Balloons. 500 feet tall, these balloons require 20 acres of plastic each for manufacturing. They are capable of carrying or lifting 6000 lbs. all the way up to the height of 110,000 feet – that is above 99% of the atmosphere of Earth.

(e) ULDBs are used for sending heavy instruments to the edge of space for the purpose of studying cosmic rays and several other purposes.

(f) Open market sale of Helium started in 1928.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7