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Scientists discover a large helium gas field in East African’s Rift Valley


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Until now, the precious gas has been discovered only in small quantities during oil and gas drilling but using a new exploration approach, researchers have found large quantities of helium within the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley.With world supplies running out, the find is a “game-changer” as helium is used in hospitals in MRI scanners as well as in spacecraft, telescopes and radiation monitors.

The researchers say volcanic activity in the Rift Valley releases helium buried in ancient rocks, which rises up and becomes trapped in shallower gas fields.The next big step for the researchers is to find the best place to drill in order to exploit the gas and bring it to the surface. Also the amount of helium in the area is estimated to be at more than 54 billion cubic feet which could potentially meet global demand for several years.

Helium is formed by the slow and steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock and the global supplies are running low, with warnings that supplies cannot be guaranteed in the long term. To top it up, the price of helium has gone up by 500% in the last 15 years and it is the second most abundant element in the Universe but it’s exceedingly rare on Earth.

Also any helium that you do find if you’re not careful, will escape, just like a party balloon it rises and rises in the atmosphere and eventually escapes the Earth’s gravity altogether so we have to keep finding more since it’s used in a whole array of key instrumentation.

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images (5)Prof Chris Ballentine, one of the researchers, said: “This is a game-changer for the future security of society’s helium needs and similar finds in the future may not be far away.”

And his colleague Dr Pete Barry added: ‘We can apply this same strategy to other parts of the world with a similar geological history to find new helium resources. ”


What helium is used for?

  • It is used in the space industry to keep satellite instruments cool, to clean out rocket engines and was used to cool the liquid oxygen and hydrogen that powered the Apollo space vehicles.
  • Helium is used as a cooling medium for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the superconducting magnets in medical MRI scanners.
  • Helium is often used to fill party balloons, weather balloons and airships because of its low density.
  • A mixture of 80% helium and 20% oxygen is used by deep-sea divers and others working under pressurized conditions.
  • Helium-neon gas lasers are used to scan barcodes at supermarket checkouts.


Posted by Michael Odemba