Helium Shortage

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Nothing in this story is made up. I swear, this is pulled right from the news.

Perhaps, if you listen to the news for long enough, you’ll hear about this most unusual state of affairs. But for those who haven’t, then brace yourselves for some terrible news: the world is in the grip of a helium shortage! No, I am not kidding. This is not just a test. We really are getting dangerously low on the buoyant gas. Party stores have been forced to limit sales of balloons. All over the world, voices are slowly dropping an octave. Okay, I made the last one up.

Still, one might think “Well, so what? What’s helium good for, anyway?” Well, as it turns out (to my surprise) it’s actually rather important. While its most public use is for balloons, funny voices, and irritating dirigibles, helium in its liquid form has proven to be an incredibly effective coolant, and one of the only ones which can get metals cold enough for them to become superconductors. And superconductors are vital in MRI scanners.

But how the hell could we possibly be running low on helium? It is, after all, the second most abundant chemical element in the Universe. I wondered that when I first heard the report, but the newscasters were kind enough to explain it. You see, most of the world’s helium is produced as a byproduct of the extraction of natural gas. The problem is that the demand for helium isn’t really rising fast enough to justify the expense of reclaiming it from the crude natural gas. So, we may be teetering on the brink of a global disaster.

But even if global helium production dries up completely, fret not! For, apparently, America has some sort of massive helium stockpile, something like three years’ worth of global demand. I’m not even going to ask why.

So, things aren’t as bleak as they look in the world of balloons and MRI’s. And there will be one bright side, if the world’s supply finally does dry up: we will never again have to listen to some fool at a party inhaling the balloon and doing the Munchkin Land joke.

One Response to “Helium Shortage”

  1. Cartoon Me « The Life of a Math Major Says:

    […] for the Observer based on blog posts from various sources. He took an interest in my long-ago post about the helium shortage, and turned it into a comic. The result? A delightfully-illustrated comic of the post, including a […]

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