Comment by Think Atheist on October 6, 2013 at 11:49pm

haha flawless!

Comment by SteveInCO on October 7, 2013 at 9:00am

Clever, delightfully so; but sorry, it's hydrogen that makes most stars shine (and it can lift you into the sky more efficiently than helium can, albeit less safely). And even the stars that are shining right now because of helium, previously shone much longer (and will overall release more total energy) on hydrogen than they ever will from helium.

About a quarter of the universe's "normal" matter is helium, and was formed in the big bang, but as for that made in stars:

Helium is the ash of nuclear fusion of hydrogen.  A sufficiently large star can "burn" helium when it runs out of hydrogen in its core, but they need to burn a lot more of it per second than a hydrogen burner does to maintain the same luminosity.  The helium->carbon process releases a lot less energy than the hydrogen->helium one does.  Add to this the fact that the star will in fact be shining brighter than it did before (since it will have swelled to a red giant just to get the core hot enough to "burn" the ash), and it turns out the helium "burning" phase is much, much shorter than the hydrogen "burning" phase.

That having been said, the helium in your party balloon, MRI magnets, etc. was not formed in a star!  Any helium that came with the earth at its formation from blown-apart star guts is long gone, having escaped the atmosphere (helium atoms at normal temperatures are moving at greater than escape velocity; once they randomly make to high altitude where they won't just ricochet off other atoms and molecules in the atmosphere, nothing stops them leaving).  The helium we have here on earth is old alpha particle radiation from decaying thorium or uranium, trapped in the rocks deep underground, and combining with a couple of electrons (which will be floating around because the lead, polonium, radon, radium or thorium decay products from the radiation won't need them any more).  Every uranium atom, as it decays to lead, creates five atoms of helium; thorium creates four.  Eventually the helium pools underground, especially in the Texas panhandle area up into Kansas, and voila! helium gas, coming out of the ground.  This was a surprise discovery because up until then it had only been observed in stars.

I actually find the thought of earthly helium being cooled-down radiation to be pretty neat in itself.

Comment by _Robert_ on October 7, 2013 at 4:20pm

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on October 7, 2013 at 7:09pm

Hydrogen’s screaming,

 I'm number one!

 I got one less proton,

 Than fat helium…

We’re both really light,

 We both float in air,

 But I’m real combustible,

 Like poppa's arm hair!

 Elemental abundance?

 I am the most!

 In our whole universe,

 Just let me boast…

Don’t give me more protons,

 I like my lightweight,

 Atomic number is 1!

 And 1's really great!

 Periodic table?

 I sit in first place!

 I’m not really stable,

 But that’s no disgrace…

I am the first,

 And 1’s really fine!

 I’ll be number one,

Until the day I combine!



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