Scientists Puzzled by Higher Than Normal Helium-3 Levels in The Atmosphere

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A new scientific study has revealed that the levels of Helium-3 in the Earth’s atmosphere are higher than expected. The isotope is supposed to be rare in nature, yet in recent years, its presence has spiked, and the origin of this hasn’t been determined yet. This discrepancy exists even when anthropogenic factors are taken into account and deposits from known sources of Helium-3 are measured again to ensure that they haven’t been undermined.

The reason why this finding is significant and why it’s essential to determine the source of the isotope is that it can occur from a number of very specific processes, all of which are alarming. First, it is part of solar winds captured by our planet’s magnetic field. On Earth, it can only occur from nuclear fallout or large-scale geological processes. None of these are subtle enough to pass undetected, hence why the scientists are so puzzled.

On a positive note, detecting high levels of Helium-3 raises the appetite of those who see potential in using the isotope more widely. For example, if we can capture the isotope, we could use it as nuclear fuel, as it’s suitable for low-temperature fusion. This was already known, but to replace conventional fuels, substantial amounts are required, so having more of the precious isotope than previously thought might work to our benefit.

Helium-3 is used in medical imaging as a hyperpolarized element, in tokamak plasma experiments as a radio energy absorber, in cryogenics as an ultra-performance refrigeration substance, and in neutron detection instruments thanks to its high absorption cross-section. It’s such a precious element that scientific teams have previously proposed Moon-based mining facilities that heat lunar dust to around 600 degrees Celsius to extract the Helium-3 that is released. All in all, Helium-3 is mainly used in highly-specialized ultra-expensive applications, so having more of it is good news.

Article Source: Golem
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay