Science – The Elements – Helium


What is an Atom?

The Elements – Hydrogen

What is Helium?

Helium is the second element on the periodic table, and the second lightest element in the universe. It has two protons, two electrons, and two neutrons.

Helium gets its name from the Greek word “helios”, which means “sun”, because it was first discovered surrounding the sun!

Atomic Number2
Atomic Weight4.003
Type of MatterGas

Helium is a gas at room temperature, and it has no color or smell. There isn’t much helium on Earth because it’s so light that it floats off into space. Jupiter’s atmosphere has a lot of helium. In fact, it actually rains helium on Jupiter!

How was Helium Discovered?

Pierre Janssen first discovered helium in 1868. While watching a total solar eclipse in India, he noticed a yellow glow around the sun. When heat or electricity runs through an element, it will glow a certain color. The element glowing yellow around the sun was helium!

An atom of Helium

In 1889, William Hillebrand put a mineral called uraninite in acid. It made a gas as it dissolved. That gas was helium. He didn’t know that though!

Finally, in 1895, Sir William Ramsay did a similar experiment. He wasn’t looking for helium, but he found it! This was the first time that helium was discovered on earth.

Fancy Science Words
Total Solar EclipseWhen the moon passes between the earth and the sun and completely covers the sun
UraniniteA mineral made up mostly of uranium and oxygen with some helium, lead, and other elements
Particle AcceleratorA machine that smashes atoms and particles together at high speed so they can be studied

What is Helium Used for?

Helium is usually collected from natural gas. It is used to make party balloons, weather balloons, and blimps float! Particle accelerators, like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, get really hot, so they use liquid helium to keep them cool. Helium is also used in car airbags to make them inflate quickly.

Science Facts
Did you know that Helium is a noble gas? Noble gases don’t react with other elements, so they don’t combine with them. Helium atoms don’t make bonds with other atoms, but they aren’t lonely. About a quarter of the atoms in the universe are Helium!

In the next article, we will learn about Lithium. Don’t forget to charge your batteries!


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