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*Rockets As well as being used to clean out rocket engines, helium is used to pressurise the interior of liquid fuel rockets, condense hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket fuel, and force fuel into the engines during rocket launches.
*Dating Helium can be used to estimate the age of rocks and minerals containing uranium and thorium by measuring their retention of helium.
The experts warn that the world could run out of helium within 25 to 30 years, potentially spelling disaster for hospitals, whose MRI scanners are cooled by the gas in liquid form, and anti-terrorist authorities who rely on helium for their radiation monitors, as well as the millions of children who love to watch their helium-filled balloons float into the sky.
Helium is made either by the nuclear fusion process of the Sun, or by the slow and steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock, which accounts for all of the Earth's store of the gas.
What helium is used for *Airships As helium is lighter than air it can be used to inflate airships, blimps and balloons, providing lift.
Although hydrogen is cheaper and more buoyant, helium is preferred as it is non-flammable and therefore safer.
Liquid helium is critical for cooling cooling infrared detectors, nuclear reactors and the machinery of wind tunnels.
Scientists have warned that the world's most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle.
The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.
But in 1996, the US passed the Helium Privatisation Act which directed that this reserve should be sold by 2015 at a price that would substantially pay off the federal government's original investment in building up the reserve.
The law stipulated the amount of helium sold off each year should follow a straight line with the same amount being sold each year, irrespective of the global demand for it.Professor Richardson believes the price for helium should rise by between 20- and 50-fold to make recycling more worthwhile.