Our featured element is helium. A fascinating gas that you can’t see, taste or smell. It is the most unreactive element in the universe. In fact no other element has ever been able to join on Helium, it is considered noble…… and happy by itself.
Helium is unique on being the only element not discovered on Earth. It was first identified by looking at the spectrum of the Sun (its different colours when split up like a rainbow).
Helium comes from the Greek word Helios that means sun.
Nearly a quarter of the universe is made of Helium. It is found mainly within stars as a result of Hydrogen joins onto other Hydrogen atoms to make the new Element Helium that has an atomic number of 2. There is very little helium on earth because it floats off into outer space after reaching the edge of our atmosphere.
Helium is being continuously produced within the Earth’s crust where there is radioactive elements. As they Decay they spit out 2 protons and 2 neutrons which are the basic ingredients for helium.
In the news recently, a team of scientists have been researching how alligators communicate. They gave these unsuspecting reptiles a dose of helium to change the tone of their mating call. The team won an Ig Nobel Prize which is given to scientists that perform what seems like useless experiments but they do have a scientific aim.
I’ve chosen phosphorus as ‘Element of the Month’ for this month.
The reason…I am developing a book at the moment (so watch this space), the book is about the elements in our bodies, and in at number 6 is phosphorus. I was researching how certain living organisms glowed in the dark – fireflies in particular, and they made it into the news this week.
Phosphorus is an incredibly important element for our bodies. It is the backbone of your DNA and supplies us with energy packets in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
Phosphorus means the ‘light bearer ’because when discovered by alchemists (who boiled down and concentrated their urine….yuck!!), they discovered that it glowed an eerie green
Elemental phosphorus is found in two major forms, red phosphorus and white phosphorus, but because it’s very reactive, phosphorus is never found as a free element here on Earth.
While drawing up the artwork for the book I wanted to know if phosphorus had anything to do with the chemistry of how certain living things (insects, fungus, bacteria etc.) that glowed in the dark, and indeed fireflies use ATP as the energy packet which can fire up a chemical reaction which allows them to glow with a brilliant green light. And it was this week that I discovered that fireflies are suffering because of tourism! It’s fantastic to be able to see them at night-time but groups of tourists are using torches (that confuses them) and worse still – walking on and crushing egg carrying females that are on the floor. So if you ever get a chance to see this amazing natural spectacle…no torches and watch from a distance.