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Helium has long been known to be a stable, noble gas. New research claims it may not be. If it’s true, the periodic table as we know it may be rewritten.

Helium: A stable noble gas

Since it was first discovered in 1868 in the halos of light surrounding the sun and then later in 1895 on Earth, helium has been known to be an inert and noble gas, meaning that it is a stable element that does not react chemically with other elements.

There are only six proven noble gases, including neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and of course helium. However, new research may be suggesting that helium might not be the stable element we thought it was.

Helium is not a stable noble gas?

A team of scientists led by Utah State University have successfully published their results of an experiment in which they claim to have successfully formed a helium compound with sodium and high pressure.

If this finding can be repeated and validated, it will completely re-write all of the world’s existing chemistry books. It means that helium would no longer be considered a noble gas.

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The researchers say that the helium-sodium compound can only exist under intensely high pressures and cannot exist on Earth under natural conditions.


Planets may make helium-sodium compound naturally

As it turns out, this helium-sodium compound may have been occurring naturally all along. The researchers believe the environments inside the gas giants in our solar system — Jupiter and Saturn — may contain the helium-sodium compound naturally due to the high pressure.

There is a great article that goes into more detail about the gas planets here.

What next?

Time to rewrite the chemistry books? The researchers believe so, but not everyone is so quick to jump to a conclusion, which by the way is perfectly normal immediately after such a groundbreaking finding has been claimed. Repetition is needed in science to ensure that no rash decisions are made.

If you’re interested, check out this article from chemistry writer Carmen Drahl regarding the range of doubts that still persist surrounding the helium-sodium compound.

So, repetition is needed. The kicker is that there are very few labs on Earth that have the technology to even conduct the experiment.

It may be many years before we have an answer, but what an exciting time for the history of helium!


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Sources: Nature Chemistry