Monday, February 7, 2011

Helium---Up, Up and Away

When I was reading this month's National Geographic, I was surprised to come across a little article that said that helium is disappearing fast. Helium? The second most abundant element in the universe, that accounts for 24% of the elemental mass of our galaxy? Really?

It turns out that although helium is abundant in the galaxy and universe, it's mostly evaporated from our earth due to its "lighter than air" properties. The largest amount was found under the Great Plains states, where it was retrieved in conjunction with natural gas. The U.S. began stockpiling it in the 1960s, becoming the world's largest supplier of helium.

Helium's biggest use is for cryogenics--freezing, due to its very low freezing temperature. It's also used in MRI technology, for keeping flying ships aloft, for welding, and for various space and military applications.

By 1995, the helium reserve was $1.4 billion in debt. So Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act of 1996, which aims to sell off the helium reserve by 2015. What this means is that there's not going to be much helium left in the U.S., and we'll have to rely more on producers in Russia, Algeria, and Qatar for our helium.

Some experts are calling for much higher prices--for example saying that a helium balloon should cost $100.
So when I was in the store last week and saw that a helium balloon was $1, I couldn't resist buying it. If they're going the way of the ivory-billed woodpecker, I want to be in on one of the last helium balloons. It's hard to imagine a world without balloons bobbing on little kids' wrists as they walk through the zoo. And how will kids ever learn how to hold on tight if they don't have the experience of their helium balloon dancing off to the heavens?

We hear about all the changes that we should be expecting in this new millenium. I guess this is one of them. Sometimes it seems like we're getting more high-tech. But I don't think I'll be investing in cryogenics anytime soon.

p.s. If you want to learn lots more about helium, click here.

p.p.s. Do you think it was wrong of me to go buy a helium balloon just because I want some of the last cheap helium?

p.p.s.s. (or whatever the acronym should be): Tell the truth, do you want to go buy a helium balloon now?


The Incredible Woody said...

How will we do 'munchkin voices'?!? :)

jendoop said...

I read the article too and had similar thoughts. All those fun things that involve helium better happen soon!

Anonymous said...

post script =ps
post post script =pps

A said...

Trader Joe's used to give the kiddies free helium balloons (which I always thought a bit...decadent...we had to beg and beg for a helium balloon when we were kids!). They stopped b/c too expensive, or something like that.

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