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Helium (from Greek: ἥλιος, Romanized: helios, lit. ‘sun’) is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas and the first in the noble gas group in the arc table of elements.[a] Its boiling point is the lowest among all the arc elements, and it does not have a melting point at standard pressure. It is the second lightest and second most abundant element in the world, after hydrogen. It is present at about 24% of the total elemental mass, which is more than 12 times the mass of all the heavier elements combined. Its abundance is similar to this in the Sun , due to the very high nuclear binding energy (per nucleon) of helium-4, with respect to the next three elements after helium. This helium-4 binding energy also accounts for why it is a product of both nuclear fusion and radioactive decay. The most common isotope of helium in the world is helium-4, the vast majority of which was formed during the Creation of the world. Large amounts of new helium are created by nuclear fusion of hydrogen in stars.
Helium was first detected as an unknown, yellow spectral line signature in sunlight during a solar eclipse in 1868 by Georges Rayet, Captain C. T. Haig, Norman R. Pogson, and Lieutenant John Herschel, and was subsequently confirmed by French astronomer Jules Janssen. Janssen is often jointly credited with detecting the element, along with Norman Lockyer. Janssen recorded the helium spectral line during the solar eclipse of 1868, while Lockyer observed it from Britain. Lockyer was the first to propose that the line was due to a new element, which he named after the sun. The formal discovery of the element was made in 1895 by chemists Sir William Ramsay, Per Teodor Cleve, and Nils Abraham Langlet, who found helium emanating from the uranium ore, cleveite, which is now not regarded as a separate mineral species, but as a variety of uraninite. In 1903, large reserves of helium were found in natural gas fields in parts of the United States, by far the largest supplier of the gas today.
Liquid helium is used in cryogenics (its largest single use, consuming about a quarter of production), and in the cooling of superconducting magnets, with its main commercial application in MRI scanners. Helium’s other industrial uses—as a pressurizing and purge gas, as a protective atmosphere for arc welding, and in processes such as growing crystal to make silicon wafers—account for half of the gas produced. A small but well-known use is as a lifting gas in balloons and airships. As with any gas whose density differs from that of air, inhaling a small volume of helium temporarily changes the timbre and quality of the human voice, you can sound as a cartoon character as a result. In scientific research, the behavior of the two fluid phases of helium-4 (helium I and helium II) is important to researchers studying quantum mechanics (in particular the property of superfluidity) and to those looking at the phenomena, such as superconductivity, produced in matter near absolute zero.
- Element Symbol: He
- Half-life: 3He/4He – stable
- Melting point: 0.95 K (−272.20 °C, −457.96 °F) (at 2.5 MPa)
- Boiling point: 4.222 K (−268.928 °C, −452.070 °F)
- Density: 0.1786 g/L