CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again


A rare helium mother lode has been found in Tanzania

A massive supply could mean more gas for science, tech and hopefully not birthday parties

James Martin/CNET

Helium is one of the most useful elements in science. It's needed in medical instruments like MRIs and in high-powered telescopes, it's an essential coolant in space exploration, and it's used throughout industry. There's only one problem with Earth's supply: it keeps escaping. That's because, as you probably know, helium keeps rising...right out of the atmosphere.

Geologists from Durham and Oxford universities in the UK, along with a Norwegian exploration company, have found a mother lode of helium that could keep industrial and scientific supplies going for several years. Estimated at 54 billion cubic feet, the helium stash turned up in the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley. According to Chris Ballentine, one of the researchers, "This is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners." The team used a new technique to search for helium being produced near high-heat volcanic activity, which releases helium from rocks.

Helium is used to cool everything from space rockets to MRI scanners and the Large Hadron Collider, helps provide a proper air mix for deep-sea diving, and, despite a ballooning cost, fills countless birthday party balloons. Global supplies have been diminishing, and helium sourcing has been a growing concern across science and tech for years.

Now all anyone has to do is find a way to extract it from the site.