helium: Natural Occurrence and Preparation
Helium is relatively rare and costly; it typically is produced as a by-product of the extraction of natural gas. Wells in Texas (where the Federal Helium Reserve was established in 1925 near Amarillo), Oklahoma, and Kansas are the principal world source; other sources are in Wyoming, Algeria, Qatar, and Russia. 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.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Compounds and Elements