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Can a computer simulation show that helium compounds exist on Earth?

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That could impact our understanding of early Earth. Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe but finding it on Earth is tricky. So researchers resorted to a computer simulation and found a promising possible compound:

Helium-bearing compounds have, until very recently, been considered unlikely to exist under the physical conditions on or inside the Earth, Chen says, but in his opinion, his team’s new predictions change that view. Chen suggests that primordial helium reacted with FeO2 back when the Earth was new, forming a solid material. The compound is sufficiently heavy that it would only rise to the surface through so-called mantle plumes, which are columns of hot, solid rock that move up to the crust. When FeO2He nears the surface and experiences a drop in temperature and pressure, it should destabilize and release helium gas. Katherine Wright, “Focus: A Home for Helium inside Earth” at Physics

Other scientists have shown caution, citing the need for laboratory experiments to demonstrate that the compound proposed only in a computer simulation could really exist.

Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon is also cautious:

Helium is a very anomalous element. It should be building up in the Earth’s atmosphere, but it isn’t there. It should diffuse very rapidly, say, through zircons, yet its abundances are higher than expected. It should be the 2nd most abundant element in the universe, yet seems to be missing from stars and planets (as determined by astronomer’s spectroscopy). Yet helium doesn’t solidify, and not even liquify in the vacuum of space, it is supposed to show up as light travels through the helium gas.

Now we find out that helium can form solid compounds, and that not all of it is in the gaseous state. This should shake up a lot of theories. Which is why physics is an experimental science, and not a computer simulation playground.

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent

Note: There is a current shortage of helium (always escaping into space) which affects more than balloons: It is used in helium in research on superconductors and in magnetic resonance imaging.

See also: Michael Denton on why the Sun is remarkably fit for life


What About The Elusive Dream:Metallic Hydrogen? (kairosfocus)

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One Reply to “Can a computer simulation show that helium compounds exist on Earth?

  1. 1
    Latemarch says:

    Helium is one of the gasses that shows up at volcanoes so is known to be present in the mantle. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that at those pressures there might be other things going on rather than just diffusion of the element.

    Computer modeling of compounds has been quite successful in its predictions which all in all suggests that taking the time to do the experiment in the lab is a good idea.

    It’s easily in the range that a diamond anvil can achieve. They just need to go look. (Bet someone already is. Wouldn’t you like to have your name associated with the first He compound?)

    I’m cautious but optimistic that they’ll find it. It wasn’t that long ago that noble gas compounds didn’t exist.

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