Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tanzania Tuesday #14

Tiny aside: a few years ago, we were at a dinner party and the topic of helium came up. (snort) We tried to figure out how one acquires helium ... is it ... distilled? Found in liquid or solid form? Or, well ... MINED? (Spoiler alert: it is mined.)

When someone confirmed that helium is, indeed, mined, I squeaked "WE STRUCK HELIUM!"

I still say this whenever I see a balloon. Seriously. It is STILL funny to me.



As is this headline, from the Africa Today website:

THE WORLD'S HELIUM JUST BALLOONED.

(Don't forget to tip your servers!)

Apparently in late June of this year researchers discovered large quantities of helium in the Rift Valley in Tanzania... which is great news for party balloons, but also, for a large number of important reasons, such as telescopes, scientific instruments in space, the Large Hadron Collider (!!!), radiation monitors, the lasers in your supermarket checkouts, and MRI machines. Helium supplies have been dwindling (cue image of shriveled balloon ...), apparently because it is difficult to find and capture it. The price of bulk liquid hydrogen has

MRI machine fun fact: the key component of an MRI system is a powerful magnet cooled to 4.2 kelvin, or 452 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Liquid helium is the only element that is feasible for cooling a magnet to that temperature.

Apparently, a lot of helium today is actually produced as a by-product of methane production ... so finding helium deposits is good news for the environment.

Another fun fact, this one from Professor Chris Ballentine of Oxford University: helium security (that is, a secure supply of helium) "will allow users to plan and invest in helium-using technologies like heavy lifting blimps or floating drones supplying internet access."

FLOATING DRONES!!! How cool is that?

Sources: Africa Today and CNBC.com

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