Recent research has led some scientists to believe that helium-3, a precious and uncommon element, may be leaking from the Earth’s core. Compared to ordinary helium-4, helium-3 is a non-radioactive isotope of helium that has one fewer neutron. On Earth, helium-3 is extremely rare; nevertheless, it is abundant in space, particularly on the Sun and Moon.
A research that was recently published in the journal Nature detailed the discovery. On Canada’s Baffin Island, the scientists discovered remarkably high concentrations of helium-3 in volcanic rocks. High concentrations of neon-22, another uncommon isotope that existed during Earth’s formation, were also discovered. According to these isotopes, the rocks may have originated from the core itself, or from a very deep source.
Huge amounts of hydrogen and helium were released during the big bang, which is where helium-3 in the rocks originated. These components contributed to the development of galaxies. According to scientists, a solar nebula is where our solar system created 4.5 billion years ago. This nebula’s helium most likely got trapped in the core of Earth, serving as a storehouse for noble gases. Through magma plumes, helium-3 that had spilled from the core ascended to the surface and eventually erupted on Baffin Island. The helium from deep beneath the Earth was captured and maintained by the olivine crystals in the lava.
Scientists believe that plumes or fissures in the mantle may be allowing helium-3 and neon-22 to escape from the core. Even though these leaks are tiny and slow, they may have been occurring for millions or even billions of years. It is estimated by scientists that a mere 0.1 grams of helium-3 escape from the core annually.
The principal author of the study, Forrest Horton, stated in a CNN article that the universe has more helium-4 than helium-3. Horton, an associate scientist in the geology and geophysics department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, stated that the reason why hydrogen-3 is uncommon on Earth is that it has neither been created on the planet or given to it in appreciable amounts. Instead, it is lost to space.
There is no detrimental effect that the helium-3 leak from the core has on the earth or its surroundings. The chemistry and temperature of Earth are unaffected by helium-3 because it is a noble gas that does not react with other elements. Furthermore, helium-3 does not produce radiation or hurt living things.
Helium-3 leakage from the core, however, might have some advantageous effects on science and technology. For nuclear fusion, which creates clean, abundant energy by fusing atoms together, helium-3 is the perfect fuel. Without releasing any dangerous neutrons, helium-3 can fuse with deuterium, another isotope of hydrogen, to form helium-4 and a proton.
Many of the global energy issues could be resolved by nuclear fusion utilizing helium-3, but this process is exceedingly costly and difficult to carry out. The primary obstacle is getting enough helium-3, which is extremely scarce on Earth. According to scientific estimates, a 1000 megawatt electric plant could run for a year on 100 kilograms of helium-3. Only roughly 15 tons of helium-3 exist on Earth, and they are primarily locked up in natural gas reserves.
If we can extract helium-3 from volcanic rocks or gases, it may be possible to obtain a fresh supply of this valuable element from the core’s leakage. In the future, this might make nuclear fusion more practical and accessible. Additionally, it might provide us with new insights into the formation and development of our planet and its core.