Helium is rare and costly. Wells in Texas (where the Federal Helium Reserve was established in 1925 near Amarillo), Oklahoma, and Kansas are the principal world source. Crude helium is separated by liquefying the other gases present in the natural gas; it is then either further purified or stored for later purification and use. Some helium is extracted directly from the atmosphere; the gas is also found in certain uranium minerals and in some mineral waters, but not in economic quantities. It has been estimated that helium makes up only about 0.000001% of the combined weight of the earth's atmosphere and crust; it is most concentrated in the exosphere, which is the outermost region of the atmosphere, 600–1500 mi (960–2400 km) above the earth's surface. Helium is abundant in outer space; it makes up about 23% of the mass of the visible universe. It is the end product of energy-releasing fusion processes in stars (see interstellar matter).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.